The Kashmir valley over the last couple of days has been engulfed in a new wave of protests over killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani; also known as the poster boy of Kashmir militancy owing to his unprecedented method of glamorising militancy through social media. Within minutes of the encounter the social media erupted over some tweets by few journalists which were seen as taking side with terrorism. There was an angry outburst over the way in which Kashmiris gathered to receive his body and organised a mass funeral procession.
Till April of this year I too would have sided with them and showcased my disappointment and anger at the current ongoing situation. However, having spent close to forty days in May-June working in Kashmir I see the incident in a whole new light. I still do not justify the act of terrorists by any stretch of imagination and believe Burhan was on the wrong side of it the moment he picked up the gun. However the question that always gets buried and desires a serious introspection is why the youth especially the educated ones are picking up guns and why is there an overwhelming support for militants which is prevalent across the valley cutting across the socio-economic differences. This question gets conveniently ignored every time under the blanket of belief that everyone attending such a funeral procession is a terrorist and deserves akin treatment.
What needs to be understood is the fact that the militancy is Kashmir is significantly different in aspirations than its counterparts in Middle East or any place else for that matter. There was a public ire when Rajdeep Sardesai compared Burhan Wani to Bhagat Singh but sadly inside Kashmir they seek inspiration in their fight from India’s independence struggle and see their heroes in the likes of Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose. They gain strength from the fact that if India’s struggle took close to 150 years, theirs is still in its infant stage.
Although one cannot completely deny the fact that religion does not play a role in the radicalisation discourse. A couple of prominent people off the record told me that although their aim is completely political sans any religious considerations, Quran is often resorted to in order to mobilise the youth and give them a collective belonging. However, the same does not stand true for everyone including Burhan who got radicalised at the age of 15 after he saw his brother being tortured at the hands of army officials when they were returning home one evening. If the election of 1987 was the reason behind the insurgency of 1990-1991, the killing of over a hundred youths in 2010 uprising is often cited as the turning point where one can find roots for today’s militancy.
However there is an even more worrisome aspect to the conflict. The current generation has successfully passed the seeds of struggle onto the coming generation. Young children from affluent families are more likely to have knowledge about Geelani than to have heard the name of the incumbent Chief Minister of the State. It is a state which has increasingly felt alienated from India over the time and India has never had a proper policy for Kashmir except for when Atal Vajpayee was the Prime Minister and he is still immensely respected amongst the Kashmiri population for his tenure. One of the reasons why BJP performed decently there is because many expected Narendra Modi to carry forward the work which was left by Vajpayee but unfortunately it did not turn out to be so.
The killing of Burhan Wani and the protests that took place in its aftermath has given India yet another chance to introspect its Kashmir policy. It would be a blunder to consider Burhan and the people gathering in his funeral in isolation. It would be rather wise to analyse the situation under a broader problem of educated youth resorting to violent means and a population that collectively and almost unanimously supports a person who follows that path.