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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 6 New Delhi January 26, 2019 - Republic Day Special

Escalation in the Kashmir Conflict

Monday 28 January 2019


M. Ibrahim Wani and Saima Farhad

In the year 2018, more than 250 local militants have been killed in operations by the state security forces in Kashmir; this includes a 14-year-old militant, a university lecturer of sociology, Ph.D scholars, a drama actor, engineering graduates, ex-soldiers etc. (Javaid, 2018) Adding 144 civilians and 86 security force personnel to this toll, the number of lives lost in Kashmir this year is 500. (Bashir, 2018) When we include thousands of injured as well as hundreds of those whose houses were completely destroyed or suffered significant damage, a grim picture emerges for Kashmir. For a conflict, where some semblance of normalcy seemed within grasp just a decade back, the return of armed violence has now become the dominant reference-point.

Two clear observations can be made related to such a condition. The first is that even though the numbers have not reached the peak of the militancy in early and mid-1990s, there is no doubt today that local insurgency is on the upsurge in the Kashmir Valley. The second observation relates to the forceful dispelling of some state qualified myths: the new profile of the militant contests positioning of militants as external agents, mere proxies or ideological dupes, and the re-emergence of local insurgency breaks any remaining notions of calm and is in fact a testament to the failure of engagement with/in Kashmir.

How have we reached such a situation? This question becomes even more relevant vis-à-vis the claims of normalcy positioned through electoral percentages since 2002, the formation of democratically elected governments compared to earlier Kashmir standards, tourist inflows etc. Such arguments and positionings were seriously dented due to the civil mass protests since 2008, we often see their repackaged entry into the political discourse, particularly after any election where voting percentages are comparatively higher (Staniland, 2013). The fallibility, selectivity as well as the hollowness of such normalcy claims is now clearly evident through the return to armed violence in Kashmir.

It is difficult to emerge with definitive answers on what led to the current situation, but we attempt to hint at some of the processes in the backdrop of key events, occurrences and practices in Kashmir; these include failures to engage with civil protest, the legitimacy to the use of violence and its optics, and the failure of mainstream political space.

Failure to Engage with Civil Protest

EVER since the year 2008, mass civil protests have reasserted as the principal form of protests in Kashmir. These included mass agitations like the ones related to Forest Land Transfer/Amarnath land row, Shopian rape case, 2010 agitation etc. Across all these protests, the principal engagement of the state has been to treat it either as a ‘Law and Order’ problem, or in terms of a security frame which treats these protests as linked to insurgency. Linked to this is the death of hundreds of protestors, often through bullet injuries above the waist or in some cases head injuries. Thousands have suffered injuries; prominent being pellet injuries to eyes and face, injuries through beatings etc — many of the injured do not even approach the hospital/medical facilities due to fears of becoming part of police records. This is true for a number of youth who have to come to have a police record and are dealing with tough legal procedures. In particular cases, it has even been observed that the youth who joined militancy underwent experiences of police lockup, prisons, humiliation by state forces etc.

The political engagement with civil protests has been non-existent. Even in cases of engagements like an outreach through the Kashmir Interlocutors and their report submitted in 2012, the results have contributed to greater mistrust; the recommendations of the report have been summarily forgotten. Also, the predominant law and order and security orientation to the civil protest considers the end of large scale civil protests in a particular year or in a particular area as the resolution of the problem. In most cases, the protests of succeeding years, particularly in localised areas like South Kashmir, have increased in intensity.

New Vocal Legimitacy to Use of Violence and its Associated Optics.

THE pictures of a civilian tied to a jeep in 2017 brought powerful images of a human shield into public circulation. While as there have been some reports of use of human shields in Kashmir, the human shield image, as well as the powerful rhetoric favouring such an action is indicative of new vocal legitimacies to the use of violence against civilians and its acceptance. In many cases, the optics of this violence have been forcefully positioned in private TV news channels, making Kashmir an everyday spectacle of violence in millions of houses in India, but is also associated with an impulse for more forceful action/violence. Such normalisation of violence against civilians for mainland audiences in India, may also lead to similar logics for militants, as could be observed in the brutal killing of a prominent journalist in Srinagar, and kidnapping and killing of personnel of Army/police on home visits. These are examples in this regard.

The vocal legitimacies for the use of violence, its optics and its reactions have become a key part of the packaging of the Kashmir spectacle. In 2018, there was a stark display of such logics; incidents included mowing down of protestors by police/security force vehicles, burning and destruction of civilian houses in encounters, killing of civilian protestors at encounter sites, lynching of a policeman outside the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, violence against family members of militants and the associated violence by militants on civilian family members of policemen are examples in this regard. Associated to such a legitimacy and spectacles, is a language of securitisation for Kashmir; in this language terms like OGWs (Over Ground Workers) are positioned for civilians killed in police/Army action, protest is associated with sponsored violence, a frame of weaponry is normalised for actions on civilians like pellet guns, pepper guns, blame of violence/militancy/protest is placed on parents etc. In such a sphere, the possibility that the response works around and through similar legitimacy, spectacles and terminologies in Kashmir is heightened.

Slipping of Mainstream Political Space

THE 2017 parliamentary by-election for the seat in Srinagar saw a dismal voting percentage of less than seven per cent, but seven people were killed in the protests on Election Day. (Subramanian, 2017) The election to another constituency in South Kashmir has been kept in abeyance. This marked a rather profound slippage of the mainstream political space, and many local parties have found it increasingly difficult to engage with their constituencies. Against this backdrop, two developments were important in 2018: the breaking up of the PDP-BJP coalition government in Kashmir, and the holding of ULB and Panchayat elections in the State boycotted by local parties like the National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP). While the ULB and Panchayat elections saw better poll percentages, this marked a return to ‘shady’ elections at the peak of militancy—hardly any campaigning was seen and most people were unaware of the contestants and the elected. Connected to this is the ironic fact that the state over-incentivised election duty for government employees; employees were paid one month’s additional salary for one-day election duty. While as such an electoral exercise does not increase faith in Indian democracy, what is perhaps more damaging is that the State is in the nth period of Governor’s Rule, which has now led to President’s Rule, and it seems that the State has re-entered the phase of high intervention by the Central Government. The way in which the Assembly was dissolved after the NC-PDP and Congress hinted at a coalition is an example in this regard.


THE failure to deal with civil protest, the new legitimacy to violence, the securitisation of the Kashmir discourse in India, the mistrust in the mainstream political space etc. create a grim situation in Kashmir. Faced with a general election in 2019, where the field may be more open compared to 2014, it would not be surprising if Kashmir enters the lexicon of nationalist electoral appeal in new ways; this may not only include the use of military victories and triumphalism in Kashmir, but would also relate to the politics over Article 35 A and Article 370, a hanging sword for politics in Kashmir. Right now optimism in Kashmir is hard to find, and if such a condition persists, fears of a return to the peak of armed militancy can’t be ruled out.


Bashir, A. (2018, December 31), ‘Bloodiest year in a decade’, Greater Kashmir. Retrieved from

Javaid, A. (2018, December 27), ‘Militant Recruitment Data in 2018 Is Telling of the Centre’s Failed Strategies in J&K’, The Wire. Retrieved from

Staniland, P. (2013), Kashmir Since 2003: Counter-insurgency and the Paradox of ‘“Normalcy”’. Asian Survey,53(5), 931—957.

Subramanian, N. (2017, April 11), ‘Explained: What 7 per cent turnout in Valley means, what faultlines it brings to surface’, The Indian Express. Retrieved from HYPERLINK ""

M. Ibrahim Wani is an Assistant Professor, Institute of Kashmir Studies, University of Kashmir. Saima Farhad is an Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, University of Kashmir.

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