Mainstream, VOL LV No 20 New Delhi May 6, 2017
Crisis in Valley: Hard Time for Kashmiri Muslims
Monday 8 May 2017
by Nilofar Suhrawardy
Peace in Kashmir is likely to remain a mirage till greater importance is not given to hard realities responsible for the Kashmiri Muslims being provoked to the stage of unrest and incidents of militancy troubling the area. It is time that some attempt is made to view the situation from the angle of residents living in the disturbed area. The issue should not be studied simply as that of a region that is Kashmir. The area is bound to remain disturbed till the life of Kashmiri Muslims does not return to normalcy. Sadly, there prevails a negative approach towards Kashmiri Muslims in most parts of the country. The general opinion is that they are aligned with militancy and, with a leaning towards Pakistan, have an anti-India approach.
If this was true, recent history would not have been witness to increasing number of Kashmiri Muslims clearing the UPSC. Shah Faesal was the first Kashmiri to top the exam in 2009. A few Kashmiri Muslims have succeeded each year. In 2015, 10 Kashmiris passed the exam with Athar Aamir-ul- Shafi Khan securing the second position. Their success has been welcomed in Kashmir with endless number of people visiting their houses to congratulate them. The success of a few suggests that many more Kashmiri Muslims must have tried their luck in clearing the exam. Besides, there are also reports of a few Kashmiri Muslims taking out time to help aspiring Kashmiris prepare for the civil service examinations. In addition, quite a few come to Delhi to study at the coaching centres run here. Now, from what angle can these be viewed as linked with militancy or having any pro-Pakistani feeling?
In addition, instances of Kashmiri Muslims entering the Indian sports field cannot be ignored. Among these is Parvez Rasool, the first cricketer from Jammu and Kashmir to play in the Indian cricket team. Not to be missed is the performance of eight-year-old Tajmul Islam at the World Kickboxing Championship in Italy. Last year, she created history in the sub-junior category by defeating her rival from the United States to win the gold medal. She expressed that she felt “proud” to have won “gold for India”. Certainly, these individuals have hit the headlines, but not for too long. News on militancy gets far greater coverage and for a longer period than those related to commendable steps being taken by Kashmiri Muslims to move forward.
While studying the crisis that surfaced in Kashmir following the killing of the militant Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces, it is essential to probe possible factors that provoked Kashmiris to this stage. It is equally important to consider the reasons which probably pushed Wani towards militancy. Sadly, there prevails a certain degree of suspicion and distrust between security forces and Kashmiri Muslims in general. Suspicion of the former linking the latter with militancy has on several occasions led to innocent Kashmiris being physically abused and even being killed in encounters with militants. Wani himself had been beaten up by security forces prior to his actually turning towards militancy. His elder brother had died in 2013 after being beaten by security forces. That the State Government accepted this is supported by its announcement of a compensation of Rs four lakhs and a government job for Wani’s family on December 13, 2016. Maybe, if Wani was not subject and witness to these incidents, he may not have joined the militant ranks.
Yes, after taking to militancy, he used various tactics to attract more Kashmiri Muslims to join him. Through posters and videos, without his face being masked, he became known as the “poster boy”. Wani, reportedly, according to a police source, succeeded in influencing at least 60 Kashmiris in South Kashmiri to join militancy. He apparently succeeded in making Hizbul Mujahideen stronger than Lashkar-e-Taiba in Kashmir. Also, he is believed to have become extremely popular in the Valley, being viewed as the face of new-age militancy. These factors are assumed to have played a key role in arousing the Kashmiris’ anger when he was killed in an encounter with security forces last year on July 8. It may be noted, there are also reports of Kashmiris being aroused following the killing of a Lashkar-e-Taiba commander, Abu Qasim, on October 29, 2015. However, the unrest following Qasim’s death was not as severe as was after Wani’s death. Qasim was, allegedly, a Pakistani national. The Kashmiris appear to have given some importance to national identity of militants killed in encounters.
Now, it is pertinent to view Wani’s case from another angle. Whatever appeal and popularity he may have enjoyed among Kashmiri Muslims, in roughly half-a-decade’s time, he succeeded in attracting only around 60 youth to join him. This suggests that a hype has been created about his success. Further, several reasons may have caused Kashmiris to be provoked. One of these was probably that they closely identified themselves with Wani’s case and the reasons that led him to join militancy. There was no knowing as when they may be targeted by the security forces. Secondly, since they viewed Wani as one of them, they wished to hold funeral prayers for him. From their angle, there was nothing wrong in this, but the security forces held a different view. Thirdly, it is important to note that all Kashmiris may not be interested in holding protest demonstrations and in indulging in acts like stone-throwing. However, they may be deliberately provoked to this stage by a few militants moving them. Militants are least likely to ever want peace to prevail in the Valley. They probably view unrest in the area as their victory. Kashmiri Muslims are thus caught in a very difficult position. They fear the militants and cannot trust the security forces.
Ironically, it may be noted that Shah Faesal’s success in civil services and Wani’s militant drive belong roughly to the same period. It may be noted, Faesal’s father was killed by militants in 2002. Maybe, had his father not chosen to voice his stand against militants, he may not have been murdered by them. The fear of being targeted apparently prevents most Kashmiris to voice their stand against militants. This is further compounded by the suspicion they hold of the security forces’ approach towards them. Yes, there does prevail a certain bias in these forces’ view of Kashmiri Muslims, because of which they easily suspect them as militants with pro-Pakistani leanings. This bias is also partly responsible for innocent Kashmiri Muslims being targeted as militants for no fault of theirs. Such incidents also provide the militant elements opportunities to provoke Kashmiris leading to disturbances in the Valley.
Definitely, there is some merit in the point recently made by Prime Minister Modi that Kashmiris have to choose between terrorism and tourism. But, he must also accept the fact that it is time they were stopped being treated as enemies. All Kashmiri Muslims are not terrorists nor are the majority moving towards it. They are, however, suffering the most from the crisis created in the State. Peace shall continue to elude the Valley till substantial efforts are not made to win the confidence of Kashmiri Muslims. And this certainly cannot be achieved by targeting them with bullets, pellet bullets and other weapons. A beginning should be made towards understanding their dilemma from their angle.
The author is a writer and a journalist. She has come at with two books: Ayodhya Without Communal Stamp: In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006) and Image and Substance: Modi’s First Year in office (2015).