Freedom and hope sans gun culture

Chief minister Omar Abdullah has cut out a new task for himself – analyzing why educated youth from well off families in Kashmir are being enamoured by the gun. He probably wouldn’t have needed the octogenarian separatist leader Ali Shah Geelani to tell him why, had he simply recalled the history of over four years of his tenure or had some touch with ground realities of the state he heads and the beating pulse of its people. Perhaps, he could even have tried removing some layers of dust gathering over a plethora of reports piled up on his table or stored in his office shelves and given them just a cursory glance, not even an in-depth study – newspaper clippings, reports of expert teams, human rights groups, the prime minister’s working groups and many more compiled and tabled either during his own reign or lying there from much before. Now he wishes to add a similar endeavour to the list of these impressive ventures of the past. This is a clear case of a government that ceases to believe that it has a moral and ethical responsibility to act and respond to the challenges it is confronted with; rather lives under an illusion that its primary contribution is simply to create a repository of research and analytical data base about what the people of this state, particularly Kashmir, want from time to time. A government that fails to move beyond that role would obviously be condemned to fuel the spiral of this rage to promote the culture of gun and violence. 

Enough research and analysis has already pointed out from time to time, especially in the last one decade that Kashmir needs to be treated on a priority basis with major focus on its unsettled dispute and the consequent crushing of civil liberties. Reports have called for dialogue and addressing the human rights abuse issue. Archival records of many research papers, reports and publications will reveal a plethora of warnings, by experts, intellectuals and politicians from across the spectrum, of any failure to respond to the alienation of the people would push the people towards the gun. Instead, if the government has responded, if at all, that too half-heartedly, it is to address the economic component and the issue of unemployment and that too in a cosmetic way. The poor planning, wrong policies and even faulty implementation has revealed that efforts in this direction have not only failed but have further exacerbated the anger and alienation of the people, particularly the youth. But what lies at the core of the present rage that pushes the Kashmiri youth to the brink, disabling them from thinking of strategies other than adopting the gun, is the complete neglect of the faith that people reposed in a peace process about a decade ago, followed by excessive brutal crushing of peaceful forms of protest against human rights abuse, for ‘azadi’ or even for very basic things like sadak, bijli, paani and naukris.

Omar Abdullah would do himself and the state a great service by simply having a look at his own report card, minus the officially lopsided reading of the long list of his non-existent achievements, though impatience and anger has a history long before he assumed the reins of power. His own track record would begin from February 2009 in Bomai-Sopore, after which he began parroting the song of AFSPA revocation and demilitarization only to be snubbed by New Delhi. It would move to his own role in acting as agent provocateur in Shopian 2009 and the oppressive use of his machinery and his ability to obfuscate truth on the rapes and murders that provoked an unprecedented rage and also a campaign inspired by the faith in peaceful modes and also in the legal justice system. It may remind him of his administration’s belligerence, incompetence, helpless and ruthlessness of 2010, and thereafter of his celebratory mode to regale the festive tourism seasons that followed as the masses of Kashmir went back to their oppressive shells filled with dismay and bogged by fatigue, humiliation and seething anger. A natural fallout of this shattered faith in peaceful protests and peace process would be a complete revulsion to the word ‘peace’ and the rise of religious radicalization of the society and the resurfacing of the gun, in a far more lethal form than was witnessed in 1990s.

One cannot also lose sight of yet another dimension that contributes in this growth of radicalization and culture of violence. Recent incidents add to the complexity of the landscape. The reports of a cop running a militants module, luring youth to go for arms training and then using them for militant attacks or killing them in encounters. The reports of a man missing in custody of security forces since a decade being a part of a fidayeen squad. While the latter report remains unverified, questions emerge – how deep goes the involvement of the security agencies and the police in not just pushing youth through brutal forms of repression towards the gun but also luring them towards it? Are these just aberrations, stemming from misdventures of some individuals in uniform or is there a larger system patronizing this. Last year’s shocking revelations made in a book ‘Meadow: Where the terror began’ by two foreign journalists pointed out the problematic nuances of the counter insurgency policy that perpetuates more violence and terror by officially patronized gunmen and incidents of arson. It is not difficult to imagine the dangerous repercussions of such a policy by simply looking at the present fate of Pakistan, where its adventurous army and the ISI is now unable to rein in the monsters they unleashed a decade or so ago. It is not known whether the Omar Abdullah sponsored analytical research on the genesis of youth taking to guns would skirt such facts or it would conclude that such events are mere co-incidences or part of a larger design. It is immaterial. At the end the findings would only promote academic interest of some, not administrative energy to rectify the wrongs.

But a dispassionate analysis is important also for the Kashmiri youth, whether it turns out that it is by default or by design that the government is pushing them towards picking up the gun. The consequences would be disastrous in either case. The gun has been tried, tested and known to have not only failed but having brought massive miseries. Besides, history bears testimony to the fact that it is never ever a solution. The highly politically aware youth today are at crossroads. They have tried peaceful protests, stone pelting and hartals and things have only changed from bad to worse. In their search for strategies, many of them wearied by the repressive realms they find themselves in find gun as the only way forward, hardly realising that this mirage would only invite unimaginable miseries. They should not allow dismay to suck them into a morass of cynicism and irrationality. Rather they need to channelise this anger into peaceful strategies that haven’t been tried before – write narratives, poetry, use art, street theatre and social networking as a medium to reach out to the world, raise memorials and other creative ways. As for the government, instead of wasting time on the unwanted research and analysis on the ‘genesis of making of a militant’, it should begin engaging with youth (or atleast allowing them a free space of expression), who haven’t still given up hope in peaceful creative ways of resistance. Like, a young Kashmiri facebooker Muzammil Karim who writes and circulates a poem (addressed to the oppressor) through his wall:

“……My poems can tear your skin apart
And reveal the enormous ugliness you hide inside
My poems can turn tears into floods
Floods into storms
Storms into freedom and hope
For new beginning…….”