There is no running away from it. Contrary to what political India would like to believe, the alienation in Kashmir has afflicted a new generation in the Valley in ways that have become more difficult to address. Whatever the truth behind the rumoured molestation of a schoolgirl in Handwara, the protests that it set off, with five people killed when security forces fired into the protestors, culminating in the dismantling of an army bunker in an area described as among the first to defy the 1990s militancy, carried the clear message of a deeper anger. For sure, not all, nor even many of these alienated youth have or will become gun-wielding militants. According to the security forces, at the moment, there are about 80 Kashmiri youth who have taken up arms against the Indian state. But they enjoy disturbing levels of support in a population that is overwhelmingly young. The average Kashmiri views these militants not as proxy warriors of a neighbour, but as sons of the soil fighting against the everyday humiliation heaped on Kashmir by the perceived oppressor, that is the Indian state and its representatives in the Valley. While the majority of Kashmiris will begin their tale of woes from 1947, there is now the growing conviction that the new Indian political class, which is obsessed about who eats what, who marries whom, wants everyone to wear patriotism on their sleeves, and equates the majority religion with nationalism, can have little to offer them. The incidents of Kashmiri students on campuses in other states getting thrashed for one reason or another, or being profiled by authorities, are seen as proof of this.
It is no coincidence that the heat is highest in the areas of south Kashmir, the bastion of the PDP. Its alliance with the BJP is not just seen as politically expedient, but as a betrayal of Kashmir. The two parties are together blamed for flinging Jammu and Kashmir into India’s communal cauldron in ways that are bound to hurt the Kashmiri demand for a just resolution of its political aspirations. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti clearly knew the anger, which is why she delayed taking over the reins of government after
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s passing in the hope that her reluctance would go down favourably with the party’s core constituency and help her to retrieve lost ground. This has not happened.
All is not lost yet, but retrieving the situation will need more than a development or security prism. For one, the Centre needs to address the question of scaling down troops and their paraphernalia in the state, and amending the AFSPA to end immunity for soldiers. It will also require reconsideration of the Centre’s redlines to think about internal talks with all Kashmiri leaders, and a non-catatonic dialogue with Pakistan.