The people of Jammu and Kashmir seem to have reached a stage where polarization on the basis of religion appears to have become the “new normal”. Both the communities-Hindus and Muslims- are ready to take each other head-on but due to geographical constraints, the possibility of a major clash is bleak given the concentration of Muslims in Kashmir and Hindus in Jammu respectively.
The people of Jammu use a communal lens while the people of Kashmir have lenses that show them sentimental images of pain and agony making them more emotional about Kashmir. This fissiparous approach between the two communities has developed by the day and can in no way be seen spontaneous in nature. It is as a result of chain of events that people in Kashmir have become fearless and more emotional about the idea of separatism.
Separatism has earned legitimacy to an extent that families from the mainstream parties have begun to show support for what they call ‘pro-Kashmir sentiment’.
With that context in view, when we analyze the feed that flows on in various social media platforms, people who have been explicitly claiming their association with mainstream are advocating the separatist ideology. In fact, they openly empathize with people who have, somehow fallen victim to counter insurgency operations.
It is learnt, as per reliable sources, that a family member of the most powerful man in team Mehbooba has been asked to appear for questioning before top police officials on having been found demonstrating sympathy for separatists.
Another family member, a journalist, of a cabinet minister in PDP, these days, showcases his work to appease people in his fraternity for making them believe that he supports separatism. Even the media persons associated with various Indian news organizations in their closed groups claim to each other that they do their jobs for livelihood but their hearts beat for Kashmir.
While looking at the trajectory of individual cases, the origin of this new phenomenon somewhere erupts or manifests itself rather suddenly after the Amarnath land dispute. The row sprang out a new wave of protests, peaceful ones. The uprising, later, understood to have been seen by various security agencies as more dangerous than militancy as it transferred the idea of separatism, which some agencies had, then, claimed to have had entered into its last and final stage, to the Generation Next of Kashmir.
The post 1990 born youth of the region had no idea of mass rallies, forms of slogans and the resistance ballads but, the land row proved an orientation event for them though some of them had to pay a heavy price for this new learning.
Similarly, people of Jammu, instigated and led by some Kashmiri pandits launched an agitation against Kashmiris’ resentment to the land transfer which resulted in the radicalisation of Jammu youth. They burnt down police stations, setting vehicles of Kashmiris on fire, throwing petrol bombs at Muslim drivers cum transporters of Kashmir. The photos and videos of these incidents, which went public in Kashmir, created a mass hysteria for people who had to go outside Kashmir for their education or earning livelihoods. The economic blockade was an open challenge to people of Kashmir to which people took to streets and chose to break the ceasefire line and marched towards Muzafarabad. This mega political event was stopped by the security forces at Chahal by shooting at the people in which Hurriyat leader Aziz Sheikh was killed.
This was the beginning of a new age anti-India movement as security forces launched a massive crackdown against separatists. The strictest ever curfew was imposed in the entire ten districts of Kashmir. Not even the police could move out of their jurisdictions. A police officer from anti hijacking team posted at the airport was beaten to pulp and dozens of journalists were ruthlessly thrashed.
It was a time for no mercy, so to speak. Not even the newborns could get milk. People could hardly peep through their windows. Then, suddenly some areas witnessed stone throwing at combat vehicles; photographs and videos of which went viral attracting more youth towards this new type of resistance. Government had to mobilize religious preachers to put religious embargo on the new lethal weapon- rocks.
As a result of which, a religious preacher of Jamiet Ahle Hadees school of thought had to die for, apparently, making a statement against stone pelting.
Somehow, government was compelled to announce the revocation of the land transfer order. The sense of the victory among the people of Kashmir created a hope for bigger goal while the people of Jammu as usual had no option but to grumble.
There was a lull, for some time. The gradual dimming of the agitation was which presumed to be the restoration of peace in the region. The election brouhaha added to this illusion. Brisk polling in 2008 elections was attributed to the herd behavior of Kashmiris-a part of cultural self-flagellation. Before the new government would consolidate on its agendas, another small-scale unrest erupted which did not long last.
In 2010, when the clashes erupted, a boy who was hit by a smoke shell later succumbed became the immediate catalyst for a large scale, prolonged agitation. During the whole sage, many young boys were killed and arrested. The boys behind the bars who were treated with severity made them hardcore ones. This was training the trainers’ period. Fear, which was their only deterrence, was seen going away as much as they were treated harshly. The treatment they received reinforced in them hopelessness. The blind can only dash his hand to make way for him; that is how these hopeless youngsters of this place started hunting for options.
Among them was Burhan Wani of a small hamlet in Tral, who invented a social media war in this region. He became a virtual soldier. The best IT professionals in the government had to chase him and activities on various social media platforms. He went on to make his face public brandishing an AK 47 rifle thus making gun culture an agreed reality among the youngsters.
This new precedent re-created the scene of 90’s but the only difference was non-porous borders, making it difficult for aspiring Burhans to fetch the gun easily from across the border.
Militant groups running short of guns, thus, introduced the rifle-snatching tactic. This was no look-back technique. Those who could snatch rifles would by default become hardcore criminals for state police and making it impossible for them to come back. Rifle snatching culture imbibed in them a fearless approach.
Burhan was the beginning of a new era where youngsters easily connected with him as many held themselves to be victims of state violence while as people of Jammu saw post Burhan period a threat to their existence in the state as second largest population of Jammu and Kashmir.
Some people in Jammu started worshipping weapons (shastra puja), meaning a potential conflagration can arise anytime and its concomitant, that is, preparation for a revenge and recriminations, thus threatening the very basis of communal harmony in the region.
The recent act of a party-Hindu Ekta Munch- in Jammu over the rape and murder of a minor Muslim girl can be viewed as a consequence of the sequence of events from 2008 to 2017, making people brazen about issues that are sensitive in nature (and which ought to be dealt with sensitivity).
Somehow, both the provinces of the region-Jammu and Kashmir-have attained a position they cannot retreat from unless a larger issue-Kashmir conflict- is addressed. This is the sobering reality as the world is on the cusp of entering the third decade of the 21st century but the Kashmir conflict continues to simmer at a pace and intensity which can only be alarming.
—The author is Consulting Editor at Kashmir Reader. He can be reached at: [email protected]