Why These Young Men Picked The Gun?

by M Yasin Malik

For the last many years now, a debate has been going on in Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri circles about the young educated Kashmiris joining the armed resistance and giving up their lives.  After the martyrdom of Prof Rafi whose journey in armed resistance lasted for only 36 hours, this debate has intensified and people on various sides of the divide are trying to paint this phenomenon according to their own liking and disliking.

Burhan Wani’s associates: A Fcebook picture

Indians, for instance, portray these entire gun bearing young men as terrorists who are misguided, radicalized and are at war with civilized and democratic India. This, of course, is a discourse used by all tyrants and oppressors and there is nothing new in this perspective.

Another opinion on this is of the international community. A bitter reality of today’s world is that human rights and civil liberties have been disdained. Now policies of states no longer get formulated on high moral stuff like human rights, ethics and human dignity. Nowadays before framing policies, the magnitude of trade, the benefits of economy and hugeness of markets are examined. It essentially means, Kashmir as a small land with its underprivileged inhabitants hardly figure in these dogmas. Hence International community also echoes the voice of mighty Indian market on Kashmir and Kashmiri youth and these educated young boys in the sight of the colossal international community also fall as unlawful.

The most catastrophic facet of this new trend is for us; the Kashmiris, whose exquisite treasure is being looted, whose shining stars are fading and whose fathers are being forced to shoulder the coffins of their young sons. Someone has rightly said that small coffins are much heavier to shoulder and Kashmiris are being compelled to lift this very heavy load on daily basis.

From 2016, we have received coffins of around 600 young boys, girls, and children. Some of them had guns kept on their chests but the majority had marks of bullets and pellets on their bodies especially eyes. Blood of Kashmiris is being spilt all over without any remorse and even blame is laid on the poor victims. So in this situation what should be our response as Kashmiris? What do we think of this new trend of young educated youth joining armed path and sacrificing their lives?

I being one who resorted to armed struggle with my other colleagues in 1988, to make the world listen to Kashmiri cry for freedom, was first to announce a unilateral ceasefire in 1994. Numerous internal issues apart, this decision of mine had outside connotation too. The persuasion of the international community including the USA and European Union to give peaceful means a chance became a stimulus for me to take that rather tough and controversial decision. Against all odds, even putting my life in the line of fire, I took the decision and received 600 body bags of my colleagues killed by Indian forces in return. This was ample incitement for me to denounce my own decision as I realized the hollowness of international pledges but I stood to my ground, adhered to my path and tried to promote a resistance based on non-violent means.

In 2004,  I started a movement known as signature campaign throughout Jammu Kashmir. I visited thousands of villages and towns took signatures of 1.5 million Kashmiris longing for a peaceful resolution of Jammu Kashmir dispute.  In 2007, I undertook another long journey named as Safr-i-Azadi through the villages and towns of Jammu Kashmir, again visited thousands of places and promoted peaceful resistance.

During both these long programs I and my colleagues interacted with thousands of youth, we found some kind of a seething anger,  a silence before the storm sort, and we got worried about the future of non-violent resistance. I tried to ring an alarm bell. I still remember that in 2008, during my address “if I could change the world” at the India Today conclave I told the gathering of influential Indians and big voices from the international community that putting the resolution of Jammu Kashmir issue on a back burner will prove disastrous and push another generation of Kashmiris to armed path.

My exact assertions were:

What has this ‘passing of the baton’ meant? For 60 years, three generations of Kashmiris have suffered this conflict and the injustice that it represents. We have seen our nation divided and disputed between India and Pakistan. Kashmiris are the people from whom everything was taken and still our voice, our aspirations, are yet to be heard and accepted as legitimate and fair. I cannot describe to you what it is like to be born in a conflict-zone in which your future is absolutely uncertain. Three generations of Kashmiris have suffered this in different ways. We have seen our society and our social fabric transformed by the forces of heavy military occupation, state manipulation and violent conflict. For 60 years, my people have persisted in an epic of struggle and sacrifice to win our dream of independence and to achieve a peaceful and certain future. We have paid a very heavy cost. We have seen our non-violent struggle crushed by violence and its adherents tortured and locked behind the bars for decades.

My own generation finally lost faith in the effectiveness of nonviolent struggle and felt compelled to pick up the gun in 1988, for the same convictions our parents held. My entire generation got almost entirely wiped out. A Kashmiri funeral became one of the old burying the young. This tragic conflict gave us cruel gifts: thousands of orphans and widows, political prisoners, and martyrs graveyards. While JKLF put down the gun and returned to a nonviolent struggle more than 14 years ago – still the bloodshed and violent state oppression continued. And in the midst of all of this, a new generation of Kashmiri children was born and raised in the boiling cauldron of violent conflict. Today’s youth in Kashmir possess an even deeper sense of anger and an even more intense sense of injustice than my generation felt 20 years ago. Thousands upon thousands sacrificed their lives. There are thousands of stories ––– each one of them could justify a revolution.”

Imagine this I said in March 2008, and barely some months later we all saw a new revolution on the streets of Kashmir. A transformation of its kind from armed to unarmed resistance, exemplary peaceful people’s revolution. As usual, India chose to iron out this non-violent gesture. More than 72 innocents fell to the bullets. Thousands of peaceful protesters put in jails and torture centres, thousands injured, young boys and their families humiliated.

The year 2009 was again same, 45 killed and hundreds injured. In 2010 we received 128 body bags of innocents with thousands injured and jailed and 2016 was much worst. It was a replica of what was done prior to 1988, with Kashmiri youth, no political space, ban on political dissent, those who showed some courage to protest being arrested, tortured, humiliated and their families; mothers, sisters and elderly fathers forced to receive selective abuses at police stations.

This lack of political space forced a whole generation to arms in 1988, and as they say, history repeats itself exactly after 20 years, same was being done to the new generation of Kashmiris. Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the protagonist of the present generation of youth also faced same apathy. He along with many others in their adolescence joined the peaceful resistance in 2008 and 2010. Police as usual smothered space on them, tortured and humiliated these young boys and pushed them to armed resistance. The story did not stop here. The year 2016 saw the repetition of the same process. Torture and humiliation kept pushing Kashmiri youth to the path of ultimate sacrifice and now the world is debating on its causes.

Sometimes I wonder on the nature and need of this debate. I wonder how young educated and in some cases well-settled young men choose a path where the tunnel of life has no headway for them. In words of one such young scholar Azhar Nazir Khan’s father when a man is tortured and barred from running a Darasgah in local Masjid and humiliated on daily basis, what will he opt for?

Burhan Muzafar Wani and his elder brother Khalid Muzaffar Wani along with hundreds of others in their areas joined peaceful protests in 2008 and 2010. Young Burhan who had not even completed 15 years of his life, saw police, STF, army and CRPF raiding their house on regular basis, looking for his elder brother, arresting him, torturing him in police cells. His grandfather recalled an occasion when Khalid was arrested because American president was visiting Delhi; hundreds of kilometres away from Kashmir. One day as a custom in Kashmiri villages, his family was duty bound to prepare meals for one of their neighbours’ as someone had died. Father asked both his sons, Khalid and Burhan to go to the nearby Dadsara village and bring some grocery for the purpose.  Both boarded a scooter and were stopped by SOG and army on return. After taking them for forced labour, both were ruthlessly beaten and managed to return back home with fractured bones and ruptured ego. This changed a shy boy into Burhan the commander.

Hilal Molvi

Another bright star, Mufti Hilal from Palhalan, an Islamic scholar and jurist who had completed his degree from Gujarat and was not in favour of armed struggle, joined peaceful resistance under the banner of Hurriyat Conference. In 2010, he was seen active on the political front in his area. This boy was delivering speeches, asking people to adhere to peaceful movement. Soon Indian democracy came into action. His house started getting raided. One day SOG raided his residence, and almost vandalized and broke all his household.  He was arrested and tortured by police to the extent that his mother, father and uncle could not hug him at a local court because whole his body was bruised and bone broken. After his arrest, this peace-loving person was dragged for kilometres and his beard was pulled by policemen. He was tied to a tree and for hours, police threw stones at him.  Slapped with PSA he was sent to Kathua, released on court orders after two years but again arrested and slapped with another PSA. Now, what way was left for this boy except to hold a gun and sacrifice his life which he did.

Zubair Ahmad Turay, Shopian

Another classic case of this state oppression forcing young Kashmiris to pick gun is of a young boy Zubair Turray from Shopian. I met with this boy often in Srinagar Central Jail during last three years as I have been a frequent visitor to the place as a prisoner. A humble soul tortured and tormented by police holding a different political view. Zubair was a political activist of Hurriyat but was being treated like a monster. He often questioned me about his fault for he was being panelized. I personally issued many statements on his plight which fell on deaf ears of the rulers.

Born in 1999, this kid was first arrested by BSF in 2004, when he was only five. He was tortured to the extent that for two months he was not able to take meals by his own hands. In 2009, he was again arrested, slapped with PSA and shifted to Udhampur Jail. After court quashed his PSA, he was kept illegally in a police station for months. In 2013, he was again arrested and slapped with another PSA. On November 7, 2014, as his elderly resilient father recalls, he was in police custody, as Indian Prime Minister Modi had arrived in Kashmir. Police charged Zubair who was in police custody of organizing million March and slapped another PSA on him. He was shifted to Udhampur jail again. In own words of Zubair, he was slapped with eight PSA’s during four years of incarceration. Imagine an adolescent who according to human rights commission was underaged and wrongly detained under PSA by the nexus of police and civil administration and jailed for four long years for being in political movement. What should have he done, what way was left for him to choose except what he did on May 1, 2017? He ran away from police station Shopian and joined armed struggle and sacrificed his life.

Hizb militant Sameer Tiger.

In fact this is not the end of the story, from Altaf Baba to Sameer Tiger, from Shakir Showkat who was being forced to work as an informer of army and was ruthlessly beaten up by a police DSP in front of his father to Sabzaar Ahmad of Tral, the story of state repression remains the same. And one more thing to note here is that among these new generation armed resistance lovers, no one has crossed Line of Control (the ceasefire line), no one has got any training, and no one brought a gun from the other side of the divide. This is all homegrown and in 2016, during a press conference, I had asked Indians to thank Pakistan because if the young boys of Kashmir were provided arms by the former, numbers here could have grown immensely.

America’s former President Bill Clinton has mentioned Nelson Mandela saying in response to a question about why he and his African national congress started armed struggle against apartheid:

“A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a point, one can only fight fire with fire”.

Burhan Wani

This Mandela saying is exactly true for Kashmiri resistance. As I have previously said that prior to 1988, choking of political space, torturing political dissent, humiliating fathers, mothers, sisters and other relatives of those in the political struggle in police stations, third-degree torture which in my case was as fatal as it damaged my heart valve was common. A friend of legendary Muhammad Maqbool Butt is on record saying that same was done in decades of 1960’s and 70’s. He recalls an occasion when in infamous Bagh i Mehtab interrogation center, Maqbool the legend was stripped naked and paraded before other inmates with the only purpose to humiliate him. All this Indian torture and apathy in the words of great Mandela taught Kashmiri freedom fighters the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle. This was true then and this is true now. Kashmiris have no history of violence, no history of being a martial race, but no history of being cowards too.

History bears a witness that during Indian freedom struggle, two shades of opinion were working in Indian resistance camp that was fighting British hegemony. One comprising of great Subash Chander Bose, Bagaht Singh, Ishfaqullah, Ram Prakash Bismil, and Chander Shekar Azad like people who were of the opinion that British rule can be ended only through an armed struggle. The other group was led by MK Gandhi who introduced and propagated non-violent mode of resistance. It was Gandhi Ji’s point of view which succeeded not the other one.

History tells us that Gandhi Ji influenced people like Martin Luther King Jr to Nelson Mandela which is true. But today I want to pose a question that was Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Moulana Azad or any other political leader or activist ever tortured by British at any torture centre like Cargo? Was there any ban on political activities? Was Gandhi or any of his cohorts ever stopped from joining a funeral or booked under PSA like draconian laws?

The answer is no. In fact British staged one Jalyanwala Bagh and are till date repenting for that while as the nation freed by Gandhi has staged dozens of Jalyanwalas in Kashmir without any regret or shame. This is why many historians believe that credit for Gandhian theory of Non-violence to succeed actually goes to British occupation which provided genuine political space to him and his colleagues. It was because the oppressor British provided genuine political space to Gandhi and his bandwagon which did not help the armed resistance to flourish.

Contrary to that today, I see Gandhi’s land and try to find his soul somewhere but am unable to find it anywhere. A state that glorifies Gandhi as its father of nation has trampled his vision and mission of Ahimsa under military boots. A nation that named its nuclear tests after Lord Buddha, ‘smiling Buddha’, suppressed and is suppressing genuine peaceful political movement with an iron fist and leaving no space for young Kashmiris to vent out their anger and pursue a peaceful resistance.

Another twist in this tail is that Indian hawkish rulers, authorities and their bias media blame Islamic radicalization among Kashmiri youth for an upsurge in militant activities. I want to ask them: ‘if it is radicalization today, what was then the cause for us to initiate armed struggle in 1988?’. Kashmir is still the same, we see no change it the character of people despite all they have seen. Kashmir still longs for humanity, religious tolerance, peaceful co-existence and non-violence. But we have been denied a space….a peaceful political space by the biggest democracy, space on our young ones has been and is being choked, You cannot push a young boy of 15 or 16 to the wall, humiliate his family in police stations, torture and torment him during political movement, abuse and accuse him on daily basis, blind him with pellets and kill him with bullets and still expect submission from him. This is not done. You never have a beautiful resistance to an ugly oppression. And alas! This is what is going on in Kashmir.

So, this debate, on why and how is absurd in my view. At least in Indian circles, this is deliberately being debated to shift blame on the oppressed. This debate has a simple answer, stop snatching political space, stop undemocratic means to curb political dissent, stop using black laws to cage your opponents, stop humiliating mothers, sisters and fathers of young political activists in police stations and army camps, have the courage to allow peaceful resistance and see the change. I know these words of mine cannot change the hearts of modern day Hitler’s and Mussolini’s, but as a responsible citizen, I take it as my duty to beat the drum again and again. I know Indian rulers and their Kashmiri helpers have only one option to offer and that is surrender. This is where they fail to grasp heartbeats of the people of Jammu Kashmir. Kashmiri did not surrender and submit when they were nicknamed as cowards when a lone-ranger ‘Maqbool’ was fighting their cause. Not then when a single bullet fired was able to chase away thousands, today’s Kashmir is different, and today’s youth runs towards bullets and fights with it bare handed. Today surrender or submission is no option.

Another irony of this saga has been of changing stances and colours, which I am a witness to, myself. India and the international community have never been consistent vis a vice Kashmir. In 1988, I along with many other brave-hearts started armed struggle prior to which no one in the world was ready to even look towards us. Soon this armed resistance transpired into a full-fledged people’s revolution in 1990. Indian political class, civil society and international diplomats sitting in Delhi were shaken to deep; soon they started their fire-fighting work.

Appealing Kashmiris to give peace a chance, to go non-violent, use Gandhian way of Ahimsa, all came with pledges that if Kashmiris considered their appeal, they will stress upon or rather compel Delhi to start the process of resolving Kashmir. And when Kashmiris heeded to their repeated implorations and chose to give peace another chance, India claimed the victory of defeating Kashmiri resistance and claimed normalcy and these civil societies, diplomats and dignitaries and their pledges all vanished in thin air. These fire-fighting tactics of Indian civil society and the international community is also responsible for the desperateness of Kashmiri boys whose belief is traumatized and shaken and who are left with no other option but to sacrifice their lives for their dignity.

JKLF Chairman Muhammad Yaseen Malik (File Image: Bilal Bahadur)

This is my considered opinion that sooner or later India and the international community will realize their mistakes in Jammu Kashmir. They will listen to us as there is no other option but that. Recently in July 2017, I wrote an open letter to USA when it declared Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist. I will end up my write up with a quote from that letter:

From 2008, thousands of our young educated youth are facing the wrath of Indian oppression. They are being arrested, put in jails under black laws, tortured, blinded; their families are humiliated by Indian forces and police resulting in many of them joining the armed struggle. We want to ask India and the international community a simple question that who is responsible for this annihilation of our young generation. Who choked peaceful political space on them, disregarded their peaceful defiance and pushed them to the wall? Isn’t this a high time that international champions of human rights, liberty and humanism introspect their role on Kashmir? Aren’t we humans and part of human civilization, if yes! Why then sacrifice us to fulfill your needs and aspirations of economic benefits? History is not determined by interests and power but by ideals and ideas. We are all tourists on this earth. We too will pass but ideas will remain. The most powerful ideas of our times are freedom, liberty and self-determination. Great powers rise and fall but ideas have a permanency that excels time and spans generations. The seeds of the idea of freedom and liberty have been sown in my land. It will surely sprout one day. But it may then be too late for the international community to be on the right side of history. It will have chosen interest and power but history will have settled on freedom. The international community will have, however, disregarded the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the USA who said, “The last hope of human liberty in this world rests on us. We ought, for so dear a stake, to sacrifice every attachment and every enmity”.

(Author is Chairman JKLF. Ideas expressed in the write-up are personal)


  1. Malik’s comparison of India with Britain is plain absurd and nonsensical. The British never regarded India as their country only their colony (the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ or Empire) – for Indians Kashmir (including POK) is very much part of India and NOT some colony. Hence people like Malik or Burhan Wani or any like them will always be regarded as traitors. Even the international community has recognized that. Hence nobody gives a damn for this so called ‘freedom struggle’!


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