Photographs tell a story. They have an uncanny ability to get etched into our memories along with all their details and then refuse to fade away. And if this photograph emanates from Kashmir, especially from the picturesque Kashmir Valley, then it has the potential to tell a thousand stories, most of which are fictitious though.
It was just last year when the image of a stone pelter, Farooq Ahmed Dar, tied on the bonnet of an army jeep flashed as “breaking news” across news channels and on front pages of news dailies. Within hours stories started pouring in about the excesses of security forces, human rights violations, atrocities being committed on hapless Kashmiris that all the while alluded about stone pelter’s innocence. Detailed accounts have since been presented about Farooq Dar’s vocation1, his family and that he was on his way to cast his vote when an Indian Army Major “captured” him and went on to commit the gravest human rights atrocity2. Barring a few honourable exceptions, none of the fiction writers masquerading as journalists wrote that this “innocent” Farooq Dar was part of a blood thirsty mob of stone pelters who were hurling stones on security personnel with an intent to kill. Tying him on the jeep’s bonnet to create a human shield was done only to help the security personnel wriggle out safely.
Fast forward to May 2018 when a photograph of another Kashmiri youth being crushed under the wheels of a CRPF jeep was in circulation. However, the difference this time is that along with pictures the videos of violent stone pelters kicking and hurling stones at the jeep were also shot and released. After watching the video it can be clearly understood how the mob of violent stone pelters had attacked the lone CRPF jeep and the jeep’s driver had to manoeuvre the vehicle to save his own life. It was under these circumstances that this stone pelter was crushed under its wheels and later died3.
Unfortunately, in the coming weeks this fact will quickly be brushed aside and a perception will be created that it was CRPF’s fault to crush and kill yet another Kashmiri youth in cold blood. Already a section of spin doctors aka journalists have begun to write on these lines to build upon the narrative about oppressor and occupying Indian security apparatus in Kashmir. Sadly this video that has been shared across social media platforms will soon be forgotten but the photograph of a Kashmiri under the wheels of CRPF jeep will remain and fictitious stories will continue to be written for years to come, both in the national and international media.
In fact, this is the crux of the riddle that Kashmir has become in present times. A perception has been assiduously created over the years. Oftentimes perceptions are contrary to the truths. This happens when systematic efforts are made to create a smokescreen to hide the real picture and then dole out camouflage as reality. Nowhere is this more visible than in the Kashmir Valley. The perception is that Kashmiris in the Valley, especially the youth, are alienated with India and that Indian security forces—the CRPF and the Army are inflicting numerous atrocities on the local Kashmiris. This needs to change.
Understanding the Kashmiri psyche
At an individual level Kashmiris come across as soft spoken. But this soft-spoken Kashmiri transforms into a completely different entity when part of a large crowd. Individually, a Kashmiri may be a dove but in a mob they are definitely hawks. As part of a mob even the most rational Kashmiri flows with the tide and rarely speaks up against the Azadichants, feeling too overwhelmed to think beyond the collective mentality of the mob. For several individuals, this transformation is forced upon them.
Several Kashmiri youths confide in hushed tones that oftentimes they are forced to come out of their homes to be a part of the crowd. This could be either a call to attend the funeral of a slain terrorist, to pelt stones or to be part of a procession chanting Azadi slogans. “The window panes of our homes are smashed and doors damaged if none of the male members come out when a clarion call is made by these brokers of Kashmir’s Azadi,” a young entrepreneur at Srinagar’s LalChowk confided in me during my visit to the Valley. His friend, who was preparing for the administrative service entrance exams, added that these Azadi brokers shout provocative slogans that clearly imply action against their family if one refuses to back them.
Slogans such as “jo Bharat kaayaarhai, wohkaumkaagaddarhai” (whoever is a friend of India is the enemy of Islam) are repeatedly yelled to force everyone to come out. If someone stays back the family is earmarked, their women harassed and men roughed up. For years Kashmiris have willy-nilly been forced to be mute spectators in such staged events. The net result is that a large section of Kashmiris now behave like zombies. The Azadi brokers understand all of this and exploit the same by making the local population cannon fodder for stone pelting or as passive bystanders at the funeral processions of terrorists or any such unlawful activity. “As part of the crowd and on our leader’s command we can and we will do anything. For instance, we all may go ahead and pull down an electric pole for no rhyme or reason and after a few days when better sense prevails, we will write to the municipality for its re-installation,” the young entrepreneur said with a tinge of sadness in his eyes.
This youngster had a point. Around ten percent Kashmiris, who most likely are also Azadi brokers, dominate every aspect of ordinary life in the Kashmir Valley. They are present in plum postings at government jobs and in businesses4. An average Kashmiri just cannot bypass this broker class and act on his free will. A dearth of quality jobs or income avenues other than tourism has affected the behaviour of Kashmiris. Rationality, critical thinking and analytical abilities have gone for a toss and most of the Kashmiris are willing to be a part of any activity if it guarantees a few extra bucks5. This behavioural flaw is shrewdly exploited by Pakistan and its network of Azadi brokers. In one of the audios6 slain terrorist BurhanWani can be clearly heard begging the LeT terrorist Hafiz Muhammad Saeed for funds. In return for the cash Wani promises to step up terrorist activities in the Valley.
Lack of entertainment options and other avenues to creatively engage the young and restive crowd complicates issues further. The absence of creative entertainment options has led Kashmiri teenagers and young adults into substance abuse. Psychotropic substances, injectable drugs, syrups that induce drowsiness are slowing creeping into Kashmiri homes and gnawing away whatever was left of the analytical faculties of the youth, leading them further into a bottomless abyss. Yet these issues are rarely reported and talked about.
Concocted stories, falsehoods and canards spread by Pakistan-based news outfits that are readily lapped up by Left-leaning media institutions in India have also resulted in utterly false stories being fed to the teens and youth to flare up their passions. One of these is the unfortunate but infamous rape of Neelofer Jan and Asia Jan. Despite all evidence to the contrary the average Kashmiri still talks about involvement of Indian security forces especially the Army personnel, in the rapes of two sisters-in-law7 in 2009. The impressionable mind of a teenager is easy prey to this propaganda who then talk of seeking revenge for the wrongdoing to their sisters.
On the contrary, one of the darkest kept secrets of Kashmir’s society is the systematic rape of thousands of Kashmiri women during nineties, when terrorism first came to the Valley. It was a time when foreign-funded radical Islamic mercenaries from across the world were exported into Kashmir Valley to wage jihad against infidel India. These mercenaries sought refuge in the homes of Kashmiris and raped their girls and women at will. Scores of Kashmiri girls and women became pregnant due to these daily rapes. It was concerted efforts by Indian Army and their doctors who secretively conducted thousands of abortions for these hapless women in order to save their honour and societal stigma. Most often these abortions and clinic visits happened during night or wee hours of the day. The Valley’s elders know about this ugly truth of “freedom struggle in Kashmir”. Perhaps for this reason they remain passive onlookers to the current era of unrest that is being led by teenagers and youth in their early twenties. This uncomforting truth has remained hidden for too long. The Kashmiri teenagers pelting stones at Army convoys need to know that the same Azadi broker who nowadays directs them to pelt stones or wield a gun were instrumental in getting mass rapes of Kashmiri women. It were these Separatists who had facilitated the entry of mercenaries who raped the sisters, mothers and aunts of their village and now they are eating up the youth’s adolescence.
Terrorist versus Militant debate
It is an opportune time we officially start calling the gun toting men in Kashmir as terrorists. It should be India’s overt stance to call these trigger-happy Kashmiri youth as terrorists. Designating them as militants only gives a legal and moral credibility to mindless violence in Kashmir Valley. The shrewd Pakistanis are able to brand this violence as an ongoing ‘freedom struggle’ in Kashmir.
We need not fall into the United Nations trap of coming to a universally agreed “definition of terrorism” because these definitions are often changed at will. The recent United Nations Human Rights Council report on gross human rights violations in Kashmir is a case in point. The report appears to have been written by compromised UN executives who camouflage themselves as human rights activists and continue to dole out fictitious but blatantly lopsided accounts of human rights violations in the Kashmir Valley. How else can the UN human rights body fail to acknowledge the cold blooded killings that continue week after week? ShujaatBukhari, Editor of Rising Kashmir was shot dead in Sringar along with his security guards just days after the release of this report. What was Bukhari’s crime? He advocated peace and wanted normalcy to return in Kashmir within the framework of Indian Constitution.
It’s time India puts its foot down and brands all killing of unarmed people by mercenaries in Kashmir as terrorist acts. We need to tell the world in unequivocal terms that nothing can justify the killing of unarmed Lt. Umar Fayaz in cold blood. Fayaz’s killing was indeed a blatant act of terrorism as was the indiscriminate firing on the bus ferrying AmarnathYatris in 2017. How can the abduction and killing of unarmed Rifleman Aurangzeb be justified? Aurangzeb was on his way to celebrate Eid when a group of terrorists abducted him from Pulwama and shot him in cold blood. This is indeed an act of terror. We need to tell the world in no uncertain terms.
This list of people killed in cold blood is quite long and should be the justification for calling gun wielders in Kashmir as terrorists. In fact, BJP did right by calling off the unnatural alliance with PDP and imposing Governor’s rule in Jammu & Kashmir. The agenda of alliance had forced nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from talking tough to the hooligans and irritants in the Valley. The first thing that the government can now do, is to officially call these mercenaries as terrorists.
A mere change in the taxonomy would mean a sea change at how the world looks at ‘Kashmir issue’. Calling them militants means that the international media, human rights groups and think tanks across the world consider the state of Jammu and Kashmir as the flashpoint of dispute between India and Pakistan. They regard Kashmir as some kind of unfinished agenda of India’s partition. In other words it justifies the killings as Kashmir’s ongoing freedom struggle, thus playing into the hands of Pakistan.
The terrorism angle in Kashmir will also let the world know that the Kashmir struggle is a part of a global conspiracy to establish an Islamic Caliphate. This was being done discreetly but it’s time to pull down the masks and decisively so. Let the world know that the “Kashmir struggle” has nothing to do with Kashmir and is a subset of global Islamic terrorism that was always talked about and discussed, albeit in hushed tones, for lack of evidence. As radical Islamic extremism spreads its tentacles across the globe, there is a growing realisation of the dangers of the thoughts of establishing an Islamic Caliphate. The concept of Islamic Caliphate dates back to seventh century wherein the newly formed Islamic kingdom in Middle East (West Asia) was ruled by a Caliph according to Sharia laws and enjoyed absolute power. This Caliphate persisted in various forms across the Middle East (West Asia) and frittered by the 19th Century. Radical Muslims have always dreamt of re-establishing the Caliphate and bringing new lands under Caliphate rule and consider this as Jihad. The set of laws under Caliphate include severe restrictions on a woman’s freedom and dissent to the Caliph is almost always punishable by death.
Even in Kashmir the façade has fallen thanks to a flurry of audio and video messages by the zealots of Islamic Caliphate. In 2017, Hizbul’s erstwhile India commander Zakir Musa openly advocated for Ghazwa-e-Hind and exhorted Indian Muslims to rise up in revolt against the Indian state8. Terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Taiba and HizbulMujahideen, among several others have for decades recruited youth into their ranks for the Islamic holy war and to fight for establishment of Caliphate. Politically they put up the mask of fighting against oppression and injustice and hence try to turn the international opinion in their favour. This mask has slipped and should now be ripped off completely to let the world know about the danger that Kashmir’s terrorists pose to India and to the world.
It is in our interest that the global audience now realise that the Kashmir struggle is no freedom struggle and all talks of plebiscite is farce. Pakistan has been drumming up plebiscite issue for the last seven decades, it’s time for us to do the course correction. As the world recognises that Kashmir’s struggle is all about establishing the Islamic Caliphate, all support to them would eventually end. The international media will look at the Kashmir issue with a different prism.
And this is not wishful thinking. Outlawed terror outfits such as HizbulMujahideen understand this. It is for this reason that they quickly distance themselves from all such suggestions, at least publicly. They brushed aside Musa’s comments and forced Musa to quit as its India chief. Musa, on his part, remained defiant. He stood by his comments and reiterated that Mujahids like him are fighting only for greater Islamic Caliphate and Kashmir struggle is a cog in this grandiose plan.
There are several other Mujahids who are coming out of their closets and are saying that all the killings is only to establish Islamic Caliphate. India needs to present these facts before the world and establish that the unrest in Kashmir is terrorism.
Fighting the scourge of Wahhabism
It is a fact that only five districts of South Kashmir Valley in the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir are affected with a separatist sentiment. It is also a fact that there is widespread support for stone pelters and terrorists in these districts.
Of late, a thinking has evolved that isolating the population of these districts while carrying out development works in the rest of Jammu and Kashmir will to an extent restrict the separatism sentiment. With time the teenage stone pelters and terrorists will be quelled, neutralised or will simply run out of steam.
This reasoning is fundamentally flawed, simply because the ongoing unrest in South Kashmir is driven by radical Wahhabi Islamists. There is a need to understand and recognise that a very large section of Kashmiri population is under the influence of radical Wahhabi thoughts of Islam. The youngsters who are picking up guns have been indoctrinated into fighting for the larger cause of establishing the Islamic Caliphate. The inherent ideology of Wahhabis is to increase their sphere of influence through any means. Wahhabi literature and poisonous propaganda material can be readily found in prisons of Kashmir.
Wahhabism is akin to cancer that spreads much faster than one can imagine. Already there are reports that Kashmir Valley’s relatively peaceful districts are being infiltrated by these radicals who are using the most lethal and erroneous interpretations of Islam to indoctrinate Kashmiri youth. Reports of disturbance have begun pouring in from the hitherto quaint Northern parts of Kashmir Valley.
There is an urgent need to tackle the menace of Wahhabism anywhere in Kashmir Valley. Interlocutors sent from New Delhi must talk to the state administrative machinery to keep a close watch on Friday sermons in the mosques. It’s here that most of the radicalisation takes place. Any secessionist preaching and incitement against India must be taken note of and the mullah must be immediately booked. Recording of the sermons should be done through discreet cameras to build a fool-proof case against them. Several of the madrasa teachers and maulvis at the Wahhabi mosques in Kashmir Valley have travelled from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or other parts of India. There should be a proper background check of these maulvis and mullahs and all those with dubious linkages should be immediately deported from the Valley and booked under appropriate charges.
Human Rights as a tool
Perhaps nowhere else has the phrase “human rights” been more abused than in the context of Kashmir Valley. Pakistan-trained foreign mercenaries and Kashmiri terror groups commit all kinds of atrocities on unsuspecting but patriotic Kashmiris. They forcefully enter the homes, demand food and seek refuge for days at length. Almost always the women and young girls in these houses are sexually assaulted by these terrorists. These blatant rapes are never discussed and debated by the human rights watch groups and think tanks. But when our security forces conduct a cordon and search operation and neutralise terrorists hiding in village homes, these think tanks, journalists and human rights watch groups come out of their burrows and shout their lungs out about human rights abuses in Kashmir.
The need of the hour is to conduct a thorough audit of funds received by these self-proclaimed champions of human rights. Their international appearances, hypothesis driven studies on various facets of Kashmir and speeches at international forums should all come under the scanner and must be audited. When income tax and enforcement directorate raids can happen all across India then why spare a few rich and powerful traders of information in the Kashmir Valley? Several such people have amassed wealth in a short time. It’s time to make them accountable.
Issues of PoJK (Pakistan-occupied Jammu Kashmir)
Coverage of Pakistan-occupied Jammu Kashmir (PoJK) is almost negligent in Indian media. This needs to change. Social media is flooded by instances of high handedness by the Pakistan military and repeated incarceration of PoJK activists demanding basic facilities. The more the world knows about atrocities in Gilgit-Baltistan, Mirpur and Muzaffarabad, the more easier it will be to deal with trouble mongers on this side of the LoC. Active efforts need to be made to make news from PoJK available in Kashmir Valley. The people in Valley need to see for themselves the stark contrast in the quality of life on both sides of the LoC.
It will be overly ambitious if we believe that all these issues can be resolved within a fortnight or so. The issue has been brewing for decades that has been compounded by historical wrongs and requires deep thinking. Also, when all strategies to stop stone pelting are not yielding desired results then the need is to sit back and introspect. There is an urgent need to audit the funds sent to various district headquarters of Kashmir Valley to stop stone pelting. Cash is spent by local administration in the Valley, as per their discretion, in the name of maintaining law and order and under several other heads. This needs to be properly accounted for10.
Even at the peak of terrorism in the nineties there were scores of Indian supporters within the Kashmiri society who were often at the receiving end. There is still a sizeable chunk within Kashmir who are fed up with this mindless violence and want to live peacefully. The least that the Indian government can do for them is to provide them security and build a perception of empathy towards them. At present there is a perception in the Valley that whoever sides with the Indian government gets a raw deal. Villagers often cite the example of ex-terrorist KukkaParray9 who was killed by his former comrades and the Indian government remained a mute spectator. This perception needs to change and the government needs to do much more for people whose family members are killed by terrorists.
A rethink on constitutional provisions is required. The nation cannot wait endlessly for the abrogation of Article 370 or of Article 35 (A). We need to make changes in byelaws to allow people from other parts of the country to settle across the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Any delay on this issue means playing into the hands of Pakistani establishment that says Kashmir is partition’s unfinished agenda.
Yet another peculiar phenomenon of the Kashmir Valley is directing all kinds of dissent and dissatisfaction with the administration and the government into demands for Azadi. Dissent and dissatisfaction are the bedrock of any democracy. Protests and demonstrations happen in other parts of India as well, without any secessionist feelings. The Kashmiris should be led to believe that their grievances can be solved within the constitutional and democratic paradigm. This can easily happen if people from other parts of India settle in Kashmir who will bring a fresh whiff of thinking into the society. Over the years Left-leaning media organisations and human rights groups have branded Azadi chants amidst cocktail of money and Pakistani guns as Kashmiriyat. The time is ripe for a re-definition of Kashmiriyat that is correct and reflects the ethos of Kashmir.
(VivekSinha is a Journalist and Author of novel “Chip in the Madrasa”.
His twitter handle is @VivekSinha28)
(This article is carried in the print edition of July-August 2018 issue of India Foundation Journal.)