Fear is a key element of managing abnormal situations and it has been in vogue for decades now in Kashmir. With youth clashing with cops in utter disregard to their lives and now intruding spaces cordoned off for gun-battles, it is the fear actually dying or paying back, Tasavur Mushtaq explores
WHEN art lovers met in Srinagar in summer 2012 for A Path with Art: Expressing Untold Kashmir, black dominated the scene in the game of colours. As the youngsters took up the paintbrush, the expression of conflict, suffering, anger, revenge was displayed in their art works. Striking display of a ‘nude woman’ blurred by black colour attracted attention and evoked queries. “The painting reflects the helplessness of the half-widow, whose husband has disappeared. She is helpless,” the artist, a young girl, Hina Arif, said. “She is also helpless and hopeless. That is why I used black colour.”
Australian art psychotherapist, Dena Lawrence, the organizer of the programme, said about the response of youth as an expression of “trans-generational trauma” that youth have “internalized over the years.”
In 2016, four years later, the expressions are not the same, but intense. Neither art is the medium, nor brush a tool. The rise in ferocity of protests is inversely proportional to the age of protesters. The lull of six years ended in presenting a different picture of Kashmir. Apparently, red has taken over the black.
On August 20, a PDD Assistant Executive Engineer, Aijaz Ahmad was stopped by the protesters near 90-ft Soura. Riding a two-wheeler, Aijaz, resident of Ahmad Nagar had gone to get milk from Ganderbal for his children early in the morning. The protesters turned off his bike, took away keys. On repeated requests, finally one of the protester aged around eight told him to seek permission from his boss who was near the shop front. When 48-year-old engineer went to see the boss of the protesters, he was surprised to see a 10-year-old boy.
“Sir, please allow me to go,” Aijaz pleaded. The boy first reprimanded him and than put his signatures on the hand of the officer. When back, he showed his hand to others and he was permitted to move. “I have worked in difficult situations and that too in far flung areas during 1990’s, but for the first time I have faced this,” Aijaz told Kashmir Life.
More or less, this was the overall scene as teenagers controlled the streets for over four months. Compared to earlier unrests, the marked difference was that a young lot was involved. It lacked fear of getting killed, caught, blinded or maimed. The cameras rolled over the scene when in a stone and smoke filled street, a masked teenager chased the armoured vehicles and kicks it; unmindful of the two gun barrels sticking out of the back door.
A senior officer had gone to his north Kashmir village to see his relations before taking off for the Mecca pilgrimage, the Haj. On his way back, a group of youth stopped him. “We saw you driving early morning and now you are back?” they asked him. When he explained the purpose of moving during wee hours, they let him go. As he drove off, suddenly some shouted and asked him to stop. Frightened, he stopped and reversed his car. “You are going to such a sacred place, can you pray for us?” they asked him and when he said he will, they said: “Pray that we get martyred.”
IN DEFIANCE, they create their own identities. Once on streets, they use nicknames that details their expertise, the other life they live: Bunker for his courage in attacking armored vehicles, Discovery for stone-throwers scout for, Birbatein for having swirling movement, Wotulbuz for the jumping jack, Dharma – a name derived from Amitabh Bachchan’s role in Adalat befitting six-footers, Uncle Chips, who sells chips to tired stone-pelter while being part of them, Waridat– an accident, Mandela – tall and black, Gun Powder for a peculiar temperament, Kalchoet a butcher, Brett Lee – speedy, Googly for his turns and twists and Zolur who creates a web. These names are official as they are part of the FIRs registered against them.
BARZULLA resident Mushtaq Ahmad, 50, while fetching medicine, saw his 13-year-old son, Aaqib in front row of stone pelters near the bridge engaging cops in pitched battles. Terrified, seeing his teenage son throwing tear gas canisters back on cops, a concerned father rushed into the gang, got hold of Aaqib and dragged him towards home. On way home, Aaqib shouted at his father: “You are a coward, don’t take me away. I want to get killed. Let them shoot me, it is my dream to die as a martyr.”
With this he left his father and joined back the protests.
An old city resident, Muzaffar Ahmad was hit by pellets in 2012. His family’s lone breadwinner, Ahmad was in grief for the pain in his eyes and in his mind. A manageable injury, he resumed life after being in bed for eight months. As 2016 broke out, his family believed Ahmad would stay away. They were wrong. Ahmad was again in the front row despite being in pain and agony due to similar reasons.
NOT under command of anybody, these children want to run streets as per their choice. A group of 10-year-old stopped a senior KAS officer near MallaBagh, Hazratbal in ‘relaxation’ hours. “Deal chaena,” (it is relaxation time) he justified his movement. With running nose and a little rod in his hand, a rowdier one responded: “Aeschaenidichmichyapaer” (We have not permitted it, this side).
Street rage forced many senior officers to give up official transport to reach their places of posting. KAS officer, Harris Ahmad, wore white apron, took a stethoscope and drove to south Kashmir in his personal car. But when someone in the crowd identified him, he was chased away. Next day, he borrowed a bike from his cousin and would travel before dawn and after dusk for three months.
VC University of Kashmir lives barely 500 meters from his office. A protected person, he was seen riding a scooty.
Blue number plates would distinguish the fleet of state motor garages. Prone to the fury, the Garages drivers painted number plates white. Some officers closed their official residences and started living with relatives, closer to their offices.
Cops guarding VVIPs had a tough time. They dumped official identity cards and managed civil identity proofs to reach their homes.
While managing themselves outside, some of them faced music at home. Two sons of a doctor couple in a city locality, enrolled in an elite school, one day, painted all the walls of their home with anti-India slogans. “They were not normal all these months,” Dr Syed Ahmad said. “The element of hate and anger had pushed them to a sort of violence.”
KASHMIR has a huge youth bulge, comprising almost 60 percent of population. “This is age of impatience,” said PDP’s Youth President Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra. “They survive with a sense of defeat from all sides. I won’t blame others, we too are responsible.”
“When a child commands street and talks about UN resolutions, Board exams become too insignificant for him,” admits Parra. “He is out to get acknowledged and thinks security men won’t fire back as they are accountable.” Parra himself was a protester before joining politics.
Talking anonymously, a university professor described the trend as “a new and dangerous wave”. “If they don’t have fear to die, to have pain, to lose future, than how would you be able to control this generation,” the teacher asked. “Luring them with better future prospects and incentives is unlikely to help.”
South Kashmir’s situation vindicates professor’s analysis. BasitRasool Dar, son of a bank executive, was pursuing BTech from Islamic University Awantipora. SSP Islamabad, Zubair Khan says Basit had joined militancy post Burhan Wani killing.
Addressing a gathering of mourners at Basit’s home, QaziYasir explained, insisting “a militant from an economically sound family denotes that the sentiment goes beyond economics.” The argument that militants usually belong to lower strata has evaporated post-Burhan. Apparently, there is more willingness to die a martyr even for apparent symbolic reasons. None of the “new age militants” proved challenging to the security grid but that lacks an impact on ground.
Burhan, the poster boy of “new age militancy”, was just a flamboyant tech savvy polite teenager in 2010. Born to an affluent village headmaster and a post-graduate mother, he was an ardent fan of Virender Sehwag and Shahid Arfidi. One incident of assault by cops and he left home to avenge the insult.
Not much different was Newton, as they called him in Tral. One of the best students, Ishaq secured 98.4 percent in Class 10 and 85 percent in Class 12. He asked for Rs 1000 for the first time in March 2016, the last time his family saw him. Later police informed them that Ishaq Parray was among the 33 teenagers who are militants.
Zakir Rashid, who succeeded Burhan, is an engineering student from Tral’s Noorpora village. Son of an engineer, his brother is doctor and sister a banker. Passionate about his Yamaha R15, his bike has gathered lot of dust since July 17, 2013, when he left home. Abdul Rashid Bhat, his father told a newspaper that he had routine daily expenditure of Rs 200 on ice cream and chocolates and he was keen to set up his own construction company. He had excelled at carom and participated in two national junior-level tournaments. In December 2015, when Zakir visited home to mourn his grandfather, the erstwhile chocolate boy sported a long beard and wore combat uniform. “He came, wept for a few minutes and left. Immediately after, an Army officer arrived looking for him. When I told him that Zakir had come and wept for a few minutes, he said, ‘He is a tiger, why would he weep?’” The officer was also impressed by the home Zakir lived in. The officer left wondering: what made him to leave these comforts to embrace death?
Burhan’s killing opened the lid to the brewing anger, resentment and hatred for the system, according to a teacher of Islamic University, who wishes to stay anonymous. “This is fire from within and it will last longer with more adverse repercussions,” he believes.
MUSHTAQ Ahmad, who lives in Nowhatta, has seen militancy closely. “During 1990s, youth crossed the border out of curiosity and the notion that they will come back with gun and defeat the army. But that did not happen and everybody knows that those groups disintegrated for various reasons,” Ahmad said. “But we are seeing a different ball game now. Today’s militant are more passionate about death.”
Locals dominated 1990s militancy and after many years foreigners outnumbered them. Now teenagers are reversing the trend.
Lt Gen DS Hooda, a top rank army official who recently demitted office, had said that life of militant is six months to 12 months, but the youngsters seems to have overcome both; fear of death and love of life.
“Fearless young boys are romanticizing the armed struggle and dating the death of angel,” Abdul Khaliq said. He lost his son to BSF bullets in early 1990’s.
“A lot of these boys (who become militants) are from fairly good families, middle class, upper middle class, qualified engineers” an old Kashmir hand and former RAW boss A S Dulat recently wrote. “So why are they getting into this? That’s the scary part.”
“These boys are tired of the atrocities in valley,” a retired police officer said. “They are hurt mentally, emotionally, physically. They will not give up so easily.”
These “boys” are defying fear by staying identified, unlike their predecessors of 1990s. Native militants now brazenly release their pictures and videos on social media — dressed in fatigues, walking about dense forests, toting a gun, cracking jokes and smiling broadly. Seemingly, they want to create a new normal for the change they are so keen to dictate.
Last week, when militants ambushed a bus from a Srinagar bound army convoy, the hit-man was seen literally chasing the bus on foot, not on bike. This was despite the soldiers deployed on road and on roofs of the surrounding shops. He still managed to flee.
“Mark my words,” Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister, tweeted days after Burhan’s killing, “Burhan’s ability to recruit in to militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media.”
But the teenage icon whom Pakistan premier mentioned in his UN speech, has proved everybody wrong. With him, he took the fear to his grave, at least for the time being.
The crisis for state apparatus does not end when they kill a militant. Off late, it starts from there, instead. Encounter sites are emerging new battle grounds between youth and government forces. Now crowds try to break security cordons in an attempt to help holed up militants to escape. As women eulogies militants, boys resort to stone pelting. In Arwani Bijbehara, the man killed by ‘stray bullet’ was one of the emotional protesters who rushed towards the house ignoring bullets flying from both sides.
On December 22, 2016, Special Operations Group (SOG) of JK Police and Army’s 13 RR unit cordoned off Parray Mohalla of Hajin town in Bandipora, after receiving specific inputs about the presence of two militants in a residential house.Within minutes there was exchange of fire. But as locals heard gunshots, they got out of theirhouses and began protesting. This helped the militants to flee from the spot. They (locals) braved cold weather and flying bullets to help militants escape the siege.
Since last one year police makes announcements and appeals, using loudspeakers, asking people to avoid getting closer to encounter site, but it has little effect.
In north Kashmir recently, the police withdrew all mobile phones excepting BSNL, to avoid a gathering in Bomai. It succeeded till the operation was over and the mixed contingent of cops and soldiers was “attacked” as they were leaving the venue.
“There was a time when if security forces fired on the street, people wouldn’t come out for days, Today, people are attacking police stations, attacking army camps.” Al-Jazeera reported recently. “India used fear as a weapon of war, but it overused it.”
PARRA sees the emerging trend of violence as the “only platform available” to the generation. He says that all the exercises that are aimed at linking the young start at 18 leaving a vast population without an engagement. “Give them alternate platforms, they will rise and shine.” There is lot of space available in campuses by way of politics, activism and sports, most of which is either denied or does not exist.
Insisting that Kashmir should have parenting and not policing, society rather than security and eldership rather than leadership, Parra says society, as a whole, should stop using youth as a commodity: throwing stones one day, becoming audience in rally of mainstream politician the other day and then standing in a queue to have IAY later. “Our problem is not India, Pakistan, Hurriyat or NC, our problem is 8-year-old child on street,” Parra said. “Even if I defeat him, it is still not my victory”.