The general-officer-commanding of the army’s 15 Corps, Lt Gen Subrata Saha, told reporters on Wednesday that the “fresh trend” of Kashmiri youth joining militancy was a cause for “serious concern” and “all agencies must join hands to ensure the youth are engaged proactively and positively.” The statement, which gives the impression that a senior military commander was concerned about the welfare of youth who consider his army an unwanted force in their native land, is now a cliché, uttered out of habit. The concerns of the Valley’s youth cannot be addressed by engaging them “proactively and positively,” whatever that means, but by allowing them the freedoms they need to realize their own potential. Saying “they shall be engaged” smacks of a mindset viewing individuals and situations through the prism of control.
Organising a sports tournament and “engaging” youth in a string of cricket matches is not engagement. Had the youth of the Valley been allowed their political freedoms, they would not need “agencies” for inspiration to live meaningful lives and take part in sports. Playing comes naturally to humans. Playgrounds across the Valley are teeming with youth active in all kinds of sports. They have been doing this for generations. Genuine engagement would involve vacating playfields, orchards and school-buildings to allow youth to use these spaces for activities they are meant for, and without fear. Genuine engagement would mean paving the way for justice for the families of hundreds of youth who have been subjected to extrajudicial killings and torture. Such a gesture would indeed instill confidence among the youth and they would not need “agencies” to prod them into keeping themselves engaged “proactively and positively.” A genuine engagement would mean allowing sanction for prosecution against the army personnel accused of human rights abuses in the state. General Saha would be aware of the fact that successive state governments, “elected by a popular mandate,” have requested for the central government’s approval for such prosecution. On November 10 last year, Gen Saha had told reporters that the firing by soldiers of 53 Rashtriya Rifles at unarmed youth in Chattargam, killing two youngsters and injuring two others, was a mistake. This rare admission on the killing of civilians was trumpeted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a sign of “change” brought about by his administration. Gen Saha had told reporters that the probe into the killings would be completed in 10 days. It is 80 days since, and people have no idea of has become of the probe. Now, that is real cause for concern.