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OPINION | Beyond Stone-pelting and Militancy Lies Kashmir's Missing Narrative

Photo for representation only

Photo for representation only

It is easier to paint the entire state as one mired up in stone-pelting and militancy, but such a narrative will neither help Jammu and Kashmir nor its people.

Hizbul Mujahideen leader and global terrorist Syed Salahuddin had in a video message called for celebration of Hafta-e-Shuhuda (martyrs’ week), marking one year since the death of Hizbul terrorist Burhan Wani.

Since Burhan Wani was killed by the armed forces last year, there have been concerted attempts to keep the Kashmir Valley restive.

Declaring protest ‘calendars’, provoking and pressurising masses to participate in shutdowns and demonstrations, burning school buildings and financing stone-pelting have been various tools that the separatist and terrorist organisations have employed to destabilise Kashmir.

There is also a sentiment of anger in the Valley for the losses caused due to pellet guns, which is genuine. Despite the intent to save lives and maximum restraint, pellet guns did cause grave injuries. Government, too, is yet to deliver on its promise of good governance in the Valley and situation on this front after the 2014 floods has largely remained constant.

So, a year after Wani’s killing is a right time for all Indians to assess the situation in Jammu and Kashmir against the prevalent narrative. It is easier to paint the picture of the entire state as one mired up in stone-pelting, militancy and fighting for ‘azadi’ — much exploited and lesser understood word — but such a narrative will neither help the state of J&K nor will it help its people.

Since last one year, the dominant narrative around J&K has been about stone-pelting and militancy. But past 10 weeks of tracking stone-pelting in Kashmir has revealed that not more than 6% of land mass in the state has seen stone-pelting. (It’s 13% if we do not consider PoK, Gilgit-Baltistan, Aksai-Chin and Sakshgam Valley).

Only seven out of the 22 districts in Jammu and Kashmir have seen stone-pelting on 10 days or more than that in the past 10 weeks. Pulwama had the maximum number of incidents.

Even the anti-militancy operations that take place in the state are restricted to certain districts.

These data points reveal and confirm the fact that stone-pelting is not a pan-state phenomenon. The latest round of stone-pelting started in Kashmir after an incident that took place between degree college students of Pulwama and CRPF soldiers on April 17. This incident was exploited by the trouble-seekers in the Valley who wanted to create a furore after a relatively calm winter. We need to understand the various factors that drive stone-pelting in the state.

Pelting Stones for Money

There are several news reports that have tried to create a co-relation between money and the motivation to pelt stones. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), post the raids in J&K, Delhi and Haryana, is investigating this relationship between terror-funding and stone-pelting.

The impact demonetisation had on terrorists is a direct evidence of involvement of money in their activities. It had caused a huge blow to terror financing machinery in the state. The extent can be gauged from the fact that frantic attempts were made by terrorists to loot banks. In one such incident, when terrorists found the bank empty, they took away guard’s rifle.

Islamic Radicalisation

Another significant aspect which is playing a key role in influencing young minds to get into acts of stone-pelting and militancy is the spread of radical Islam in Kashmir.

Dr. Adil Rasheed, research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), has written about the wave of Salafi-Jihad in Kashmir.

India Today, quoting sources from Army in one of its report, had claimed, “The number of mosques controlled by Wahabis, including the Ahle Hadith, has gone up quite substantially in the last 10-15 years as they have almost doubled from around 1,000 mosques to around 2,000 with most of the youth opting for them than the traditional Kashmiri Sufi shrines.” Ahle Hadith mosques are considered to be more radical.

Provocations from the Mosque

Nidhi Suresh, a young journalist who writes for Kashmir Observer, shared her experience of witnessing stone-pelting in Srinagar.

She wrote, “From within the Masjid, a crowd of 150-200 people charged out with sticks and stones in hand.”

Some Islamic religious leaders influence impressionable minds by justifying pelting of stones using the doctrines. They are told that stoning of the devil is part of annual Hajj pilgrimage and hence an Islamic practice.

Propaganda machines operating in Kashmir have portrayed India as the devil. But in his explanation of the significance of stone-pelting during Hajj, Islamic theologian Ayatullah Sheikh Hussain Mazaheri writes in his book Secret of the Hajj, “...while stoning the jamarāt, one must focus entirely upon one's self. It is an attack on a person's internal temptations or base desires, and signals a moving away from the self and towards further submission to Allah’s will”.

This, for sure, is not the explanation that is dominant in the Masjids of Kashmir Valley.

While tracking the incidents of stone-pelting, my observation was that the maximum frequency of incidents of stone-pelting took place post the Friday sermons and around the Masjid areas.

The J&K government is aware of this phenomenon, hence the discussion to create dedicated de-radicalisation department should be translated into a decision.

Drug Addiction Among the Youth

Other reason for participation of youth in stone-pelting is rising drug addiction and mental distress. Cannabis and poppy are the new cash crops of Kashmir.

Out-of-school youngsters, who are unemployed, are easy traps for such purposes. According to the 2015 Kashmir Mental Health Survey conducted by Doctors Without Borders, 45% of adults in the Kashmir Valley display major symptoms of mental distress, with about one in five adults, or 19% of the adult population, displaying major symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Militancy: The Way Ahead?

Col. Vivek Chadha, research fellow at the IDSA has drawn parallels between Punjab of late 80s and early 90s and present day Jammu and Kashmir.

He has raised the question ‘Are we witnessing the last gasp of terrorism in Kashmir?’ in his article. He chronicles various incidents like the lynching of DSP Mohammed Ayub Pandith, killing of Feroz Ahmad Dar and five other policemen by Lashkar, kidnap and murder of Lieutenant Ummer Fayyaz and the latest attack on Amarnath Yatris by the terrorists.

He writes, “All this should normally indicate an upswing in the levels of violence and a hardening of approach by Pakistan.... Contrary to this seemingly obvious conclusion, however, the reality could be the very opposite. In fact, we may well witness a shift in the ground situation in Kashmir.”

The reason he gives for the contrary belief is by comparing what had happened in Punjab.

“The criminalisation of terrorist groups had led to senseless violence, with humiliation and atrocities being unleashed against policemen and their families as well as common citizens. This led to a fight for survival between the people and the local police on one side and the terrorists on the other.... The alienation of the population and victimisation of the local police turned the tide in favour of the State. The gradual rise in terrorism in Punjab stood in contrast to its sudden elimination.”

As Col Vivek Chadha mentions, there is fight of survival between local police and local people on the one hand and the terrorists on the other in Kashmir Valley.

There were reports of the launch of ‘Operation All-Out’ in June this year. Some 258 militants have been shortlisted after carrying out district-wise survey. Of this, there are 128 foreign militants and 130 local militants that have been identified as potential targets.

The security establishment has created a blueprint to deliver a lethal blow to militancy in Jammu & Kashmir.

Two additional Army battalions have been moved to South Kashmir. This year alone over 100 militants have been killed till date. An important aspect that is ignored in the blame game of pellet and pelting is the intent of forces to maintain law and order. While the militants will not be spared, stone-pelters will be treated softly, though firmly.

Over the last four months, 53 boys involved in stone pelting, who were trying to cross the LoC to join the militants have been saved by the Jammu and Kashmir Police with the help of their parents.

Army, too, is zeroing in on young stone throwers in Kashmir to take them around India. A group of 20 boys from South Kashmir will be taken on an educational tour to showcase development in other parts of India.

The narrative around Jammu & Kashmir has to shift from a point where a terrorist Burhan Wani is celebrated as a 'headmaster's son'.

In all the articles that are written, terrorists who are profiled and their numbers glorified we somewhere ignore the voice of the local Kashmiri youth who just wants to lead a normal life.

They too want 'azadi' but not from India. They want azadi from the media that portrays their land, their 'desh' in negative light every day, from corruption in everyday life, from poverty, from having to prove their patriotism each day. The aspirations of the youth of Jammu and Kashmir are no different from youth of any other state in India.

In 2016, 6500 Kashmiri students appeared in UPSC prelims and there is a rising trend in the number of youth applying for the KAS.

This year nineteen individuals from J&K made to the merit list of Civil Services. Around 1,18,000 candidates applied for the posts of 5,362 constables and some 70,000 applied for the posts of 680 sub-inspectors.

Twenty eight students from the state cracked the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE)-Main with the help of Indian Army's Super-40 initiative. The media has been constantly telling us that it is the fourth and fifth generation that is participating in Kashmir conflict but they miss the point that this generation appearing for UPSC and other exams was born post 90s too. It is this generation that has seen peace and progress in the valley and will not relent that for some separatists' political gain.

Jammu & Kashmir fares better than most other states in terms of various development indicators, despite this it has poor social infrastructure. Government has announced building of medical colleges and hospitals, universities and IIM in the state. They are planning massive investment in road infrastructure in J&K with multiple new projects coming up and accelerated completion of existing projects. Certain examples are the Chenani-Nashri tunnel or proposed construction of world's tallest railway bridge over the river Chenab. The 1.315 km-long bridge will soar to a height of 359 metres over the Chenab, which is 35 metres taller than the Eiffel Tower. The Government has launched innovative schemes like 'Khelo India' & 'Sports For All' to streamline youth energy in the right direction. It is also planning to start a Football academy in Srinagar. Government on its part is trying best to tell a different story of J&K but the vision of a section of local media is jaundiced and they cannot see beyond conflict. The very fact they were looking for conspiracy theories during the recent Amarnath attack is proof enough.

The need at this juncture is that the narrative of Kashmir shifts from conflict. It isn’t that there were no protests among youth of Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh. The North-East is not suddenly devoid of all the problems. We saw the youth of Tamil Nadu coming to the shores for Jallikattu. Mizoram did not become peaceful in a day.

The aspirations of the youth are changing, they will no longer be satisfied by mere lip-service. When youth across India is in a flux, how can the youth of Jammu & Kashmir lag behind! The narrative in Jammu & Kashmir will change only when all stakeholders make it a national effort and rise above petty political gains.

The narrative will shift when various pillars of the government become efficient and free from corruption. Economic opportunities need to be built there and while GST may be the right beginning, the state should not stop at that. The narrative there should shift from militancy and radical Islam to the idea of Indian constitution and Indian democracy.

In May this year, CM Mehbooba Mufti announced that her government plans to develop militancy-affected Tral township in Pulwama. Tral is surrounded by the snow-capped mountains and is famous for its natural springs and dense forests. The area is known for its 82 springs, including hot water springs which remain hot in winter and cold in summer.

Tral is also significant because it is the home town of the terrorist Wani. Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the inaugural of the Chenani-Nashri tunnel gave a call to the youth of Kashmir valley. He said, ‘I want to tell the misguided youth of Kashmir, realise the power of a stone. On the one hand, there are some youth who pelt stones, on the other hand, there are young men from the same Kashmir who carve stones to build infrastructure’. The symbolism of choosing Tral for a development project is huge, but it is in the hands of the people there to choose between ‘tourism or terrorism’ and contribute towards the development or decline of the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

(The author is with India Foundation. Views expressed are personal)