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Kashmir: Why the protests this time are very different from earlier ones

'This time, the protests are not strictly speaking, protests but an endorsement of the path chosen by a 22-year-old militant.'

Written by Bashaarat Masood | Srinagar |
Updated: August 9, 2016 12:43:25 pm
kashmir, kashmir unrest, kashmir protest, burhan wani, burhan wani killing, srinagar dsp, jizbul mujahideen, indian express news, kashmir news, india news A masked protester throws stones after a day long curfew in Srinagar. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

In the last ten years, Kashmir has witnessed all types of protests –small, big, massive, symbolic, peaceful and even stone-throwing protests. This time, it’s different: the protests seem to have been propelled by an unprecedented rage.
These protests are not against the alleged attack on Kashmiri identity (Amarnath land row agitation 2008), they are not against the allegations of rape or murder (Shopian 2009) and they are not against a civilian killing or a human rights violation by the armed forces (2010 protests). The protestors this time have not accused the security forces of an extra-judicial killing of a militant. This time, the protests are not strictly speaking, protests but an endorsement of the path chosen by a 22-year-old militant.

And this is exactly what should be worrying the security agencies – a new generation in the Valley is taking centre stage, replacing the older, fatigued generation. This youth is articulate, tech-savvy and fearless.

What happened in the Valley, especially in south Kashmir, after the killing of militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani may have come as a surprise to the government and the security agencies. Certainly, the manner in which they dealt with the protests which resulted in the death of more than 56 people and injury to around 4,000 suggests they were not prepared for it. However, for those with ears to the ground, this was chronicle of anger foretold.

Think back to Lelhar, a village in Pulwama, to Tral or Pampore. In the former, a B.Tech student and a woman were killed in Lelhar when they attacked the army with stones to give safe passage to the militants. In Pampore, as the security forces were battling the fidayeen inside the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI), another group was fighting the stone-throwing, slogan-shouting youth on its streets. The signs of trouble brewing were in the conversations the youth had with each other. The young, educated children from well-off families taking to arms was a signal of a new era in Kashmir’s violent history.

Kashmir has always been a dispute that needs a political resolution. Over the years, however, both the central and the state governments have tried to manage the issue rather than address it. When the Valley was out on streets in 2010, the Centre sent a parliamentary delegation to Kashmir and set-up a three member interlocutors’ team. The interlocutors’ report – even though not acceptable to the separatists and people in Valley – was junked; once “normalcy” returned, there were no other initiatives.

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For the last five years, the political process has been stalled with no dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad or New Delhi and Kashmir. The New Delhi approach has been what Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has termed as “digging a well at the time of fire”.

The youth in the Valley feel they have been pushed against the wall with a series of a quiet crackdowns, through the Public Safety Act (PSA), the muzzling of voices of dissent no matter how feeble they were, and by choking the political space. Insecurity faced by the students of Kashmir in the colleges and universities outside the Valley has only added to the feeling that Kashmir needs Azadi from India.

Then came the “betrayal” when the PDP forged an alliance with the BJP – that too after it had fought the elections on the promise to “keep BJP at bay”. The frequent controversies between the coalition partners – from Article 370 to the state flag to beef – and the feeling that PDP “surrendered meekly every time” has not helped. With the BJP in power in the state, the Kashmiris see a direct attack on their identity and aspirations.

In this situation, people, especially youth and children, in the Valley are angry and have hit the streets. And the violent clashes with the security forces has only fuelled this anger more and brought out more young people across the Valley.

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