June 7, 2018
Angry young men of South Kashmir
South Kashmir is the most talked-about region of Kashmir, because of intense militant activities and the Army operations – “Operation All-Out” – being carried out in the region. A major part of South Kashmir is considered to be affected by the militancy, which gets local support. Anyone from outside (other state) thinks twice before entering into this part of Kashmir, even locals avoid coming out of their homes alone after sunset; they go out in groups of two or three. They fear that the security forces would take them for militants or sympathizers of militants and therefore invite trouble.
Angry young men
I got a call from BashirAsadfrom Srinagar, asking me to attend a seminar as a participant in a degree college in south Kashmir. He told me that the students of the region wanted to exchange their ideas with me. The call was surprising but I took it as an opportunity. When Kashmir was burning in 2016, I along with AbhayDubey and Ashok Wankhedewere the first to get there. In that trip we talked to people from every walk of life. We tried to understand their pain and acquaint the country with that pain. Although I got many opportunities to visit Kashmir afterwards, I never got a chance to interact with the students. On my previous trip, I got a chance to meet students from Kashmir Universityin Srinagar. Thecurrent invitation was an opportunity for me to understand the hearts and minds of Kashmiri youth. Therefore without wasting a moment, I gave my assent and was soon sitting in the seminar room of adegree college next to students and teachers.
Before entering into the seminar hall, the principal cautioned me: “these are students and like all students may ask questions and at time may becomenaughty.” I knew that I would get to hear some slogan shouting, and some acrimonious questions. So when I was asked to speak first, I related them some of the anecdotes associated with my student life. For example, how we gave hard time to our teachers in the class. This released the tension a bit and made the participants to be at ease. Thereafter, I related a few stories of my visit to the renowned Girl’s College of Lahore. I told them how I was bombarded with questions by girls, and how it seemed a war between India and Pakistan that was raging in that hall. But when I got up and came out of that the hall I saw a few girls in one corner. They came over smilingly and said to me, “Sir, you are similar to us.” I told the students of this degree college thatit was one of the best compliments I had ever received in my life. The atmosphere became a little more relaxed. Announcing my reason to come, I invited them to speak: “I have come here to know as to what is brewing in the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri youth and what exactly they want to achieve.”
The first speaker – who was probably a 19 or20-year-old young man – put forward the pain of Kashmir in a very coherent and logical manner. He said that the young people are not only emotionally charged, but also agitated at the level of idea.A girl student sitting next to that speaker shared her views on the things that are happening in Kashmir and the problems faced by the people. Then one speaker after another they lined up in the queue to speak. Almost eight or ten boys and girl had expressed their views. While listening to them I was trying to find out where the Indian government was making mistakes. The Government of India has no plan to engage Kashmiri youth and express to them its point of view logically. A governmentwhich claims to represent 125 crore peopleis unable to explain its point of view to a few thousand young people of Kashmir’s six million people. The pain and anger of the Kashmiri youth gave me the impression that the Indian government is losing opportunities on every-day basis.
Talk to youth
After that Ivisited a higher secondary school, about 30 kilometers away from there. The school was located in a village sixkilometers from the main road. Here too I was welcomed by the students in a room.It occurred to me that these boys and girls were the most smart and intelligent students of the school. When I was asked to speak, I requested them that I was there to listen to them. Interestingly those who rose to speak spoke in English,both at the degree college and this higher secondary school. Like the Degree College I asked the students of this school: “do you speak in English at your homes? In response, we got a small roar of laughter. I told them I like to hear their Urdu. Then everyone spoke in sublime Urdu. Five or six students of the school put forward their views. They too expressed the same sentiment as to why pain of Kashmir was falling on the deaf ear. The boys and girlswere relating the suffering of their neighbors, their relatives, their friends, and while listening to them I could see helplessness and the will to do something passing through their face. It made me realize how mistaken the Government of India was by choosing not to talk to the Kashmiri youth.
The news of my visit to the degree college reached before me,so a few reporters of local news channels, including ETV, Zee Network and Gulistan News were waiting for me. I told them that as a journalist I understand the difference between efforts of the government and thinking of young people. That’s why I would appeal to the government to start a dialogue and start the dialogue with the youth of Kashmir. I told the reporters, that the government should form three or four groups of imminent personalities and send those groups to the universities, degree colleges and secondary schools in order to read the minds of young men and women of Kashmir. The reporter told me that people in Kashmir admire me and that my face is very familiar face in Kashmir. They told me that the coverage of Kashmir in my newspaper and my public-spirited approach vis-à-vis Kashmir on TV debate had a lot of effect here. They told me that I must go to Tral. I kept asking them as why I should go to Tral, but they did not respond.
From Higher Secondary School, I came out thinking that these16-18 years old boys and girls are arriving at what point of despair!At both the places I arrived at the conclusion that these young people have forgotten the difference between life and death;they are not afraid at all of death. They think that death is better option than whatever they are seeing happening around them. If the feeling that death is better than life gain currency among youth, then that is a matter of shame for those who are in power because people choose and assign them the responsibility of solving their problems.
I returned to Srinagar with the desire to visit South Kashmir again. On the way we saw Army personnel. After almost every ten minutes, a group of army personnel was stopping vehicles and allowing people to go ahead only after checking them. But it was amazing that in South Kashmir, where ordinary people fear to tread or do not saunter around, there was only one class of people who had hardly any fear, and they were tourists. Tourists had the freedom to go to places of their liking. Perhaps the army personnel also recognize them, and probably the militants too let them move around. A few weeks ago, a tourist was trapped in a stone pelting and was killed. Everyone had expressed his heartfelt condolences on his death. On the return journey to Srinagar from the Degree College and Higher Secondary School I wondered how intelligent the boys and girls studying in these institutions are.They are well acquainted with the happenings across the world. They have burning desire to become something: some want to become engineers, some doctors, and some other IPS officers. But, they are angry with the system and furious with the government which runs the system. Why has the government failed to gaugethis anger and why it is not doing enough to assuage it? I could not find the answer even after many deliberations on the logic and strategy behind this snub.