In 2008 when massive peaceful protests over transfer of forest land to Amarnath Shrine Board swept across Kashmir, naysayers of Kashmiri Azadi movement were taken by surprise. Receding armed militancy and a brief spell of relative ‘normalcy’ had make them believe that nationalist movement was on its throes and it would take few pragmatic measures of intelligent state policy to finally make accession of Kashmir an accepted reality. But contrary to their perceived change of Kashmiri political climate – increasing economic activities between mainland India and Kashmir, increasing participation of Kashmiris in state institutions – there was something beneath the surface that was evolving into a critical stage: “the third generation of rebels”.
In the last decade the number of young people in Kashmir has reached approximately 60 percent (Mercy Corps, 2011). This formidable section of the Kashmiri population has grown up during the most violent times of the Kashmir’s history in 1990’s, has been palpably affected by it. This is the generation that crawled down in their homes when fire shots rattled the air, this is the generation that has seen their mothers supplicating with gasping breath for keeping their husband and children away from harm’s way, this is the generation that has seen Indian troopers slap Kashmiris. This is the generation whose formative years were the years of Kashmir’s intense armed militancy and counter-insurgency. They were the part of the violent theatre.
During the heightened situation of 2008, Action Committee against Land Transfer (ACLT), who was spearheading the demonstrations, gave a call for Pampore Chalo to pay homage to Sheikh Aziz, who was killed 5 days earlier during Muzaffarabad March on 11th August. As huge number of people was expected to throng the venue – Eid Gah of Pampore – local Masjid Committees gathered rice, milk and other items from different households to prepare food for the rally participants. Arranging all these things in short time was made possible by the network of enthusiastic and passionate youth expressing their nationalist aspirations. It was the same youth who formed the major section in the mass protests. They posted leaflets, rode bicycles to rallies, climbed rooftops of vehicles, held green flags, raised passionate slogans. The energy and momentum of the protests was maintained by these young Kashmiris. They were the ones who were shot at and killed.
Two years later in the summer of 2010. The same youth of Kashmir came out to the streets to engage with Indian troops in pitched stone pelting. Among over 120 people who got killed, most of them (around 83%) were young between 10-30 years (Waadiy-e-Khoonaab, 2013).
Sections of the Indian press were quick to claim that motives behind these protests were lack of economic development and unemployment (The Hindu 2010). Some reports declared that stone-pelting youth were drug addicts, had domestic issues and broken families (DNA India 2011). The alternative media in India (Kafila, Kindle) and international news outlets (Washington post, Time Magazine, BBC world, New York Times) had a different look and described stone pelting by youth as political expression and medium of protest against Indian rule by “the third generation of rebels” (Time 2010).
The youth factor has always remained a strong element in the Kashmiri nationalist movement. It was the Reading Room of young educated Kashmiris that mobilized the people of Kashmir against the Dogra autocracy in 1930’s. Youth factor existed even in 1980’s when armed militancy was started. The stalwarts of armed uprising Hamid Sheikh, Ashfaq Majeed, Javed Mir, Yasin Malik and Nadeem Khatib were in their twenties when they became rebels.