Kashmir’s face-off in the face of multiple realities

On December 9, when bodies of two militants killed in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district were buried, thousands of people gathered to join the funeral. The two young Kashmiris who had chosen the path of violence received “hero’s farewell” – that is how it looked on the day. Kashmir has been in the grip of violent agitation since July 8 when Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter. The 2016 uprising pushed behind similar outpouring witnessed in 2008 and 2010, and if political pundits are to be believed the future does not look promising. For those who look at this uprising fading away due to fatigue – they must not misconstrue the semblance of normalcy that we see on streets in Srinagar and other parts to be the end of the intense unrest we saw in July, August and September.

It is difficult to judge and say where Kashmir is heading, but the attendance at the funerals of militants tells everything about the anger and the emotions that have firmly held the ground in past five months. South Kashmir has suffered maximum damage in terms of loss of lives and also damage to property. The pain may have alleviated with the joint separatist platform led by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik giving relaxation in the protest and shutdown calendars. But the reality is that not much has changed on ground except that people have come to terms with normalcy which is required to move on with life.

Two mainstream parties – National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party – have held several of their conventions in south Kashmir, albeit under a larger security cover. In some parts, the protests that would usually turn violent may be a thing of past. However, the way people rally behind a militant somehow conveys how people are pursuing the political conflict. The aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killing was unprecedented in the 26-year history of intense Kashmir conflict. No militant killing has evoked such a violent response, even when militants used to be local stars in early 90s.

Despite the fact that Kashmiris did not publicly disown the militants, particularly the locals, but the way people distanced themselves from the militant-side of politics had paved a way for a transition. That was perhaps the reason that a space could be created for dialogue.

People wholeheartedly supported the peace moves between India and Pakistan from 2003 to 2007 as also between New Delhi and Srinagar, though not much was achieved. As soon as both the processes went off the track a sense of despondency has been dominating the mind of Kashmiri who had pinned hopes for an interim if not permanent resolution. This has not only led to renewed cynicism but has brought the local element back in militant ranks that used to be dominated by the foreigners.

Hanging of Afzal Guru in 2013 proved to be a watershed moment as it pushed many young Kashmiris towards militancy, which they confessed during their interrogations. While the number of youth joining militant ranks was on the rise, Burhan emerged as a phenomenon garnering support of locals who gave the indigenous HM outfit a new lease of life. Absence of political engagement largely contributed to the sense of despondency that later on manifested when people started an open revolt over Burhan’s killing, thus giving a message that despite taking part in the elections they would still support a gun wielding youth.

Today when there is not even a murmur about what should be done in and about Kashmir, that too after five months of reiterating that a political approach is on way, people have shown they would not hesitate to glorify a militant. A routine visit to any rural bastion in Kashmir unveils that people have not given up and they still believe that this is the only way to make New Delhi realise that Kashmir is a political issue that needs political solution.

The apathy demonstrated by New Delhi in not reaching out to people and also dismissing with contempt the happenings have added fuel to fire which continues to enrage people in general and youth in particular.

The separatist leadership has also registered its writ by dictating when people should work and when they should stop. One may have differences with them and their way of functioning, but people do listen to them. Any effort to delegitimize the separatist leadership is fraught with an imminent danger of leaving the field open for anarchy and street gangs. Nevertheless, they also need to navigate the path cautiously. Self infliction is not the mode they should subscribe to forever. Rethinking is the best way to renegotiate with the crisis.

Though people tend to seek motives in his statements with the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Srinagar and Anantnag in view, but former Chief Minister and National Conference President Farooq Abdullah’s statement must not be dismissed as coming from his maverick nature. Abdullah is the tallest leader of mainstream in the state and his endorsement of Hurriyat Conference and extending support to them tells a lot about the ground reality. Whether Hurriyat accepts his support or not, but his remark is recognition coming from someone who had once suggested throwing them into Jhelum. This shows how space has squeezed for mainstream in the past few months. People may make a beeline for Reliance Jio SIM cards which are giving free services or for employment opportunities but the fact is that in Kashmir we live with more than one reality.

The political statement has been reaffirmed time and again in Kashmir. One of the best parts was when a group of youth in Shopian told the visiting Yashwant Sinha-led delegation that next round of trouble may be worse than 2016. Their words: “the biggest thing India has done for us is that it has removed the element of fear for death and gun from us. So we don’t care now”. This is perhaps the strongest statement that has come out. It could be put to use to draw this lesson as not to push Kashmir into another phase of trouble, unless it suits those who were responsible for it.