A story of a soldier and his dream Kashmir bubbling amidst 2019-20 period when if anything is visible is A CHANGING TIMES to a future yet to unfold.
When I got my first posting to the valley, I was, in equal measure excited and confused about this place I was to serve in for the next two years at least, India’s achingly beautiful Kashmir Valley once described by former US President Bill Clinton as “the most dangerous place in the world”, Of course it is every YOs ( Young Officers) dream posting, after all he is brought up on tales of acts of valour and glory in the Valley. Alongside this however I was also long fascinated by the jarring contrasts, the contradictions between its stunning natural beauty and the unmitigated turbulence and the consequent misery the region has been subjected to most recently over the last few decades.
On my latest sojourn into the Valley, my fourth, I landed at a time when the Himalayan region was once again all over the headlines, Aug 19. New Delhi had just revoked a conditional provision of Article 370 and Kashmir went from being state to a union territory. Anticipating a potentially violent public reaction to the drastically changed legal status all that greeted me were deserted roads and places and the presence of forces all over the place. Travelling through these deserted roads a few questions and thoughts came to mind, I mulled over the rage that has been so manifest in the recent generations of Kashmir.
2008, 2010 and 2016 were three important points in recent history when mass rage erupted in the Valley. Interestingly however, the reasons that pushed Kashmir to the brink on these three occasions were different from each other from a perceived threat to identity to rage over killings of innocents (as people claim) in-ostensible support to militancy.
The year 2007 they say was a year of endings and beginnings in Kashmir. It is easy to identity a few of those endings and beginnings as events on a calendar. The most important of such unnoticed endings was the then perceived dwindling of Kashmir’s militancy. Beginning in late 1988 no one thought that by the end of the 1990s It would make Kashmir known as the most dangerous place on earth. But by the end of 2007, it was widely believed, by both locals and the security apparatus within the Valley that barely a couple of dozen militants were actually active then and most of these confined to four pockets; Lolab, Shopian, Tral and Kokernag. By that time there were signs that even the militants who remained active had realized that they were fighting a losing battle but continued for the much touted glory and rewards their death in battle might bring them in another world.
Perhaps the most important of the beginnings in 2007 was a new generation of Kashmiris, many of those who came of age that year were deeply cynical, contemptuous of their elders who had taken up arms. They saw militancy as futile and secessionist leaders as self – serving hypocrites. It also helped that the actions and decorum of the forces were also of a much higher standard of discipline than in the seminal days of deployment.
Although it can be put forth that the first cycle of militancy had seemed to have run it’s course by late 2007, in hindsight we do know that that was a hiatus and barely a decade later it rose it’s ugly head, this never stopped the rage from spilling out onto the streets. Three times during that decade 2008, 2010 and 2016 young Kashmiris rose in revolt against the state in angry mobs that pelted stones against police and paramilitary forces across the valley. The rage was a palpable, living thing and those of us who bore witness to it could feel it in no small measure. It must be noted here that at that time, in public perception within and without the Valley, militancy was as good as dead and ostensibly had very little support. But that seemed to have no bearing on the angst and dissatisfaction of the Kashmiri youth that manifested in wide spread public anger on the streets of the bigger towns of Kashmir and Srinagar.
Then came 2016, a year which once again seemed to throw the Valley into a vortex of violence and militant related atrocities. Of course for the nation as a whole, unforgiving incidents like the Uri Attacks stand out, but largely for the Kashmiri it seemed to be the killing of the militant Burhan Wani. Large numbers protested angrily all across Kashmir over the death of a young, misleadingly charming Burhan, who had become an iconic hero in Kashmir over the previous years, and had been assiduously projected on social media platforms. Here once more one thing stood out, the naked rage of the young Kashmiri.
Oh yes it is an established fact that youth are paid to come out on the streets, they are brain washed, etc but that still cannot account for the manifestation of naked rage on their faces, the anger evidenced in every action and word when they come out in force on the streets.
As a regular of the Valley since 2004, I have often dwelt upon this. Militancy or no militancy why is there so much latent anger in succeeding generations of Kashmiris? Have they been so wronged that it doesn’t take much to have them spewing hate and venom at the state? Have they been so neglected as to feel so alien to the rest of the nation? Have they been so fed with anti-state propaganda that they will blindly go out and die for some rhetorical, surreal cause?
More importantly, off late I have begun to cast about in the deep recesses of my mind for solutions, insignificant as they may seem, affecting maybe only those few that I interact with, but solutions all the same, maybe just a smile, a kind and respectful word.
Maybe the change has to begin with us, first our mindset towards the Kashmiri, subsequently our attitude and then I am certain the same will be amply manifested in our speech and actions. I am in no doubt that if we can achieve the same we can replace the rage of the young Kashmir with respect, instead of the streets filled with jobless youth pelting stones and invective against the state we will see the streets filled with young, professionals productive and contributing to a happy society and great nation.
I am grateful to see my dream Kashmir manifesting into reality, when a young Kashmiri boy, Hussain hops on my shoulders from behind, "JD Uncle, Akhrot tod do." (JD Uncle, please break walnut shells for me)
Love brims off in togetherness and i see in young Hussain's eyes.