Unlike the mass upsurges in 2008 and 2010, which had signalled a transition from the gun to the street, the drift in Kashmir is now back to militancy with folklore of Burhan enlivening the narrative of separatism.
Insha Lone, the symbol of Kashmir’s ongoing uprising, has returned home after spending two and a half months at the hospitals outside the state, including at AIIMS, where she was receiving treatment for her eyes riddled by pellet shotgun fire during a protest at her village earlier on in the ongoing strife. But after several surgeries in New Delhi and Mumbai to restore her eye-sight, the doctors gave up, declaring her completely blind.
Her story is known to everyone in Valley and comes generally up for mention in discussions on the ongoing mayhem which has already led to 94 deaths, several hundred blindings and the injuries to upwards of 14000 people. Insha was studying in the upper storey of her house when she heard the commotion outside. Out of curiosity as she opened the window, a volley of pellets hit her face, many piercing her eyes. A picture of her pellet-riddled face and the disfigured sockets, later taken at the hospital, stands now as a symbol of this spell of unrest.
Among the killed, the story of Junaid Akhoon, 12, has come to occupy the same place in public discourse as that of Insha. The boy, his family says, was at his home in downtown Srinagar when police barged in and fired pellets at his head and chest during an Azadi protest in the area on October 8. He was rushed to the hospital where he succumbed to injuries later that night. The security forces even fired tear gas shells at his funeral procession. The boy’s mother didn’t allow his burial at the far-away ‘Martyrs’ Graveyard’ but got him buried at the one next to their house, “so that I have the satisfaction that my son is close to me”.
The scores of killings and blindings, like that of Junaid and Insha, have perpetuated the current upsurge and further deepened the alienation of Kashmir from New Delhi. It is now more than four months since the current revolt began. However, security restrictions have progressively shrunk in terms of the geographical area. It is now generally the downtown Srinagar and the parts of South Kashmir which are occasionally put on lockdown, mostly on Fridays.
Back to Gun
As the ongoing ferment underlines, Burhan Wani, the popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander whose killing on July 8 began it all, is now the emblem of Kashmir’s deepened estrangement from New Delhi. More dangerously, Burhan is now a role model for the youth drawn to the gun as “the only option to drive out India”. In his years as a rebel commander, Wani had resuscitated the flagging 27 year old insurgency and now his death has set it on a firm road to revival.
Unlike the mass upsurges in 2008 and 2010, which had signalled a transition from the gun to street, the drift in Kashmir is now back to militancy, with folklore of Burhan enlivening the narrative of separatism. Of course, egged on by Pakistan which has called Burhan a martyr and a freedom fighter, as against New Delhi, which sees him as a terrorist.
The streets in Valley are once again rallying to the call for arms. The ongoing protest demonstrations led chiefly by the youth are marked by a troubling loss of fear of the local police and the Army. The youth wilfully violate curfew and attack the security personnel on riot control duty with little more than a stone in hand; in some cases, even facing the armoured vehicles and daring the personnel in them to fire.
The new slogans have extolled the armed struggle as against a peaceful resistance which owing to New Delhi’s continued intransigence is deemed to achieve nothing. “You will kill one Burhan, thousands of Burhans will be born,” goes one slogan. “Al-jihad Wal-jihad,” goes another which calls for a return to the holy war.
And if all the youth who have gone missing in the past three months turn out to have joined the militant groups – rather than fleeing the ongoing security crackdown on stone pelters as presumed by police – New Delhi will soon have a formidable challenge on its hands in Valley.
Since July, according to sources in police, around 70 weapons have been snatched by the militants and the mobs from the police men standing guard in public places or protecting politicians and government installations.
For security agencies, the gun snatching is a proof that more youth are joining militant ranks, creating a shortage of weapons. Thus, even while the unrest may end in near future, it is likely to be followed by a surge in militancy.
Little change in situation
As of now, Kashmir remains in protest mode, even though situation has remarkably improved. Protests continue to be taken out from parts of the Valley, even though their intensity has moderated to a large extent. Weekly separatist protest rosters continue to be faithfully observed, prolonging the strife. Businesses have suffered heavy losses.
So far, police has arrested more than 7000 people and booked around 500 under Public Safety Act, among them Government employees too. Most of the arrests, around 4000, have been made in South Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and the police district Awantipora.
Indifferent New Delhi
After initial feeble attempts at some engagement, the centre has given up on all pretence of a political outreach. Ever since the visit of the All Party Delegation in August, which found no takers among the separatist and civil society groups, New Delhi has not embarked on any fresh initiative to defuse the crisis.
September 18 terror attack at Uri, which killed 19 soldiers, and its consequent diplomatic and political fallout leading to surgical strikes has further taken the attention away from the deteriorating situation. Similarly, except for some token statements coming from the United Nations, America and OIC, the world, already preoccupied with even worse conflicts, has remained largely untroubled by Kashmir situation.
This has created a dead-end scenario. Separatist leaders, on their part, have once again exhibited little political imagination. With uninterrupted weekly protest rosters, they have decimated Valley’s economy. Four months on, they seem unable to innovate on the protest timetables, a strategy that they also practiced over five months in 2010 to no avail. None of the parties involved in the conflict have gone through a learning curve. For now, the situation seems to be going on regardless, with none of them pausing to think where Kashmir is heading.
This state of affairs is depressing for Kashmiris who see one more summer of discontent end up into an even deeper stalemate. And for the likes of Insha blinded by the state and the families of the scores of dead, including that of Junaid, there is no closure they can look forward to. Both have now become metaphors for Kashmir’s lingering tragedy.