Pushed To Wall

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The new generation that was raised under the shadows of gun in a situation dehumanized by the decades old crisis is now dominating the Kashmir street. Desperate and fearless, is the all party delegation in a position to calm this anger, Bilal Handoo asks

A boy daring forces to shoot him during protest in Srinagar. (Photo courtesy: Saqib Majeed/KL)

A boy daring forces to shoot him during protest in Srinagar. (Photo courtesy: Saqib Majeed/KL)

At 16, he looks wiry, witty and wacky for his sheer grit: to see himself among “martyrs”! After much persuasion and promise that his identity won’t be disclosed, he shares an intriguing event.

Barely a month before Burhan Wani’s killing, he along with his ten friends had assembled at an undisclosed Srinagar location. The boys had taken turns there to see themselves in a shroud! They even had a chat after being “alarmed” by rapid killings of their brethren in gunfights. “Murderous war waged with impunity on our brothers made it look all the more terrifying,” he says. “I mean, who would wish such a life.”

Before one can interject, he says his ilk don’t give a damn about economy, unemployment or BJP. “These are tricks to befool you,” says the teen sounding ahead of his years. “So, it’s better to die fighting for your rights than living like a sissy and keep compromising.”

A masked Kashmiri protester throws stone at policemen during a protest in Srinagar. (Photo: Bilal Bahadur/KL)

A masked Kashmiri protester throws stones at policemen during a protest in Srinagar. (Photo: Bilal Bahadur/KL)

Intelligence peddlers might not report this, but such informal rendezvous where “death wish” remains on the youth platter seems like a ticking bomb. The rebels of yore have already started drawing parallels between Now and Then. “Well if such things are happening, then it reminds me of those meetings of late-eighties chaired by young Ashfaq Majeed,” says Farooq Dar alias Bita Karatey. “Being teenagers, we used to meet in secluded city centres and downtown to discuss Kashmir issue.” Those politically-loaded meetings were taking place a few years before the armed rebellion erupted full-scale in Kashmir.

In the current uprising, when a Fateh Kadal boy Irfan Wani dressed himself in a shroud, none had an idea that he would be killed within days. “He told me once that they should kill him with bullet instead of pellet,” says Irfan’s close friend. “He feared pellets, as he used to say, ‘they render a person handicap forever.’ But he was at peace with his death than life marked with regular police summons, hounding and detentions.”

Down in south Kashmir’s Kulgam, a youth lately returned home suspending his business studies in Pune where Kashmir’s stormy summer was making him restive. Amid rampant killing, blinding and maiming, he thought his tribe was becoming an “endangered lot”.

“And little was being done to answer their terrified, silent screams,” says Kamran, a tall, handsome youth. “The renewed barbaric treatment already endured by Kashmiris for the perilous decades made me think: time to go home and be among my people.” And since then, the MBA guy is a street regular in Kashmir’s new-normalcy that is about to complete two months soon.

“A section of youth is seemingly ready to die, and we have travelled far down the road to having that wish realized,” says a politician of the ruling PDP-BJP alliance. “Today’s youth don’t trust courts, governance system, political setup and even, leadership.” The politician known for speaking his mind blames political fallouts for altering the ‘tender mindset’. “In recent years, the grave desire in youth took form of a self-inflicted heart wound when some dissidents even rejected separatist politics.”

By calling shots on Kashmir streets at the moment, these youth seem to be ready for a long struggle. Rebels, they say, will keep coming “whom Delhi won’t be able to engage”. Their belief that compromises are next to treachery seems to define them. “Many of our leaders are reminiscent of the horrid witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth,” says Muzamil, a fresh college-goer from Sopore who was lately in SMHS for his pellet treatment. “They keep chanting shrilly to public, ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air.’ ” One bureaucrat returned Srinagar in a dazed state lately after meeting this ‘militant moment’.

Scenes from the funeral of slain Basit Ahmad Ahanger. (KL Images: Shah Hilal)

Scenes from the funeral of slain Basit Ahmad Ahanger. (KL Images: Shah Hilal)

On way to Sopore, a group of youth had intercepted his vehicle. “They asked me where was I heading to?” the bureaucrat says. “I told them that I am visiting my parents as I am going to Hajj.” They cued him to proceed. “Then suddenly, they stopped me again, saying, ‘please pray for our shahadath in our Holy Land!’ ” What the boys, barely in their teens, told the gentleman, is still shuddering him to a core.

Recently when cameras caught a masked boy from raged Batamaloo inserting a wooden plank into a windshield of police’s speedy gypsy, it gave goose-bumps to many. The boy swiftly disappeared into a winding alleyway after performing a near death act. “They, youth, hardly in their teens have grown up watching tragic murders of their brethren, which have left many of them numb and have cut them loose,” says Bilal Najar, a Batamaloo local. “And the logical extension of a numb society is its march toward its own death to undo the treacherous trap.”

There is a youth named Shabir from the same locality who spends nights outside his home these days for the fear of nocturnal raid. In late nineties, he says, his brother was picked up and killed in custody. “He was innocent, yet subjected to a most cruel end,” he says. “I have seen how my family disintegrated after that tragedy. I lost my childhood. I quit schooling to support my family. My mother turned half crazy. But somehow it rages me up whenever I witness innocent Kashmiris being slaughtered. The only way to end this bloodbath is to fight and die.”

A youth attacking a police jeep with wooden plank at Batamaloo. (Photo: Bilal Bahadur/KL)

A youth attacking a police jeep with wooden plank at Batamaloo. (Photo: Bilal Bahadur/KL)

Most of these youth were born in the initial years of militancy. Those who understand Kashmir’s changing dynamics reckon the “new shift” is deep-rooted in “disillusionment” of new generation brought up amid militarisation and rights abuse. Delhi’s political inertia except the dusted interlocutors’ report is equally stirring the storm. “And then,” says comrade MY Tarigami, “a lurking sense that everything in Kashmir is security-driven acts as a silent instigating factor.” The Marxist whose backyard Kulgam is ‘on fire’ believes the use of unabated force on people has only fuelled the fury. “State should have taken cue from massive attendance in militant funerals and frequent civilian confrontations at encounter sites to restrain from using force,” the Kulgam lawmaker says. “The point is, how can you force control people who love to celebrate death of every militant, every protestor?”

Like Tarigami, a sense has apparently dawned on unionist camp that youth understand it well how Burhan’s death made him “immortal”. And this is something, which is apparently appealing youngsters caught in a “hostile” setup where they are even barred from staging a protest.

But then, the state has its own theory to define the events. “By putting radical thoughts on blank minds of these boys,” says one top police officer, part of crowd control these days, “someone else is calling shots currently.” But perhaps not every theory fits in the scheme of things in valley — especially when the new “impressionist” mindset the cop is talking about has lately surfaced from Kashmir’s peace pockets. Many called it the bolt from the blue moment for state managers.

A 2010 KPS police officer rather calls it feral eruption than mere emergence that smoked many military outposts in those southern pockets. “Even in 2008 and 2010, these pockets had exhibited restraint,” says the officer, still expressing disbelief how Verinag, Kokernag and others spots erupted in rebellion. “Earlier the dissent had a permanent address in Kashmir: old habitations of Srinagar, Islamabad and Baramulla. But now, it has dispersed, far and wide.”

Some lawmakers still appear ‘clearly unclear’ about the dissent display. “Some youth seemed influenced by Burhan,” says Kokernag lawmaker Abdul Rahim Rather who fled home moments before his own hotel went up in flames, “but the massive rage still baffles me.” Things might be hazy for the lawmaker, but the progress card so far prepared by state intelligence about summer 2016 uprising is clearly underlying the “death wish”.

Majorly calling it unprecedented rage, the sleuths have also pinpointed militants, some local unionists and Jama’at rank and file for the massive flare up. Even Mehbooba seems convinced with Jama’at factor after she exposed the “STF knife” in her latest presser.

Pellet-hit youth protesting inside SMHS hospital.

Pellet-hit youth protesting inside SMHS hospital.

But as dissent has taken deep roots down south, combating it has become a daunting task for state. Being ‘synonymous with dissent’, Srinagar, many say, confined to eight constituencies, was apparently manageable through an instrument of clampdown regularly imposed over its much-touted six police stations since nineties. But with apparent pendulum shift and eruption of an ‘explosive’ grass-root rage, south Kashmir has now become for Mehbooba what Srinagar became for Omar in 2010. The rage went ballistic despite Mehbooba government withdrawing stone-pelting cases against youth—about whom her party man Muzaffar Beigh once said: “They listen to none!” Perhaps that’s why, Mehbooba government is acting tough than resorting to traditional “anger management” tactics.

But so far, it has not worked. Within three days, her government had packed hospitals with nearly 2000 injured persons. Even her statements are read as ‘salt on wounds’. “Our leaders exist in three forms,” says Arsalan, a downtowner, “nemeses, frenemies and enemies. And we are fighting all at present.”

Since last year, says the boy whose room would remain plastered with posters of US rapper 50 Cent and others, he quitted playing it cool. “I was like freezing out enemies,” he says. “But not anymore — after I learned how my south Kashmir brothers were pushed to militancy. I can’t pick up gun, but I do come out on road to play my part. And I am happy to die, if it takes you there.”

At Kashmir University, a doctoral candidate shaping his decisive thesis believes that most of the youth are evidently influenced by the cult figures.

“A few years back when a campus boy joined militant ranks, his peers told me how he was once influenced by Kurt Cobain,” says Hafeez, a scholar. “On campus, he was seen sporting T- shirts of Nirvana songwriter Cobain who entertained unrealistic goals. But from Cobain to Caliphate, the transformation in that boy was astounding.”

In the same university, a psychology professor Dr Touseef Rizvi terms the “death wish” in youth opposite of Eros—the tendency toward survival and creative drives. “Repeated trauma, tricky surroundings and painful experiences are some of triggers behind death drive in a person,” she says. With Kashmiri youth apparently grappling with all three factors, perhaps the desire makes sense — at least, psychologically.

But after Burhan Wani made “resistance an existence”, many say, the intense reaction only seems a “natural response”.

“It is as if the youth have entered a cul-de-sac and see no way their plight would be mitigated,” says a mental practitioner, wishing anonymity. “It has triggered a fedayeen-type mentality in them—implying, they don’t fear for their lives anymore.” The psychiatrist strikes resemblance between the street dissenters and a 17-year-old Afaq Shah of downtown who drove a car filled with explosives into the gates of the heavily-guarded army headquarters in Srinagar on April 19, 2000. “Afaq was known to be a shy boy,” the medic says, “whose politically treacherous environment added to his despair, like it is adding to this generation’s gloom.”

A pro-freedom rally in Zabli Pora area of South Kashmir's Islamabad on Tuesday. (KL Image: Shah Hilal)

A pro-freedom rally in Zabli Pora area of South Kashmir’s Islamabad on Tuesday. (KL Image: Shah Hilal)

Up in north Kashmir’s Kupwara, a commerce graduate often hits streets these days after hugging his mother. In his unwavering voice he says how he was pushed to wall. “There is no option left for us than to settle things on street now,” says the youth, while underlining political setbacks and injustices in valley. He is clear about what he is doing. And for that, he is ready to bear the consequences—even, his life. “If I won’t fight for myself,” he says, “who will?”

With this bent of mind, the youth hailing from Kashmir’s heavily militarised town apparently feels liberated. “Someday,” he hopes, “I shall be walking as a happy man on my streets.”

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