After Amarnath yatris massacre, Kashmiris concerned about worsening situation
Srinagar's Pratap Park witnessed an unprecedented event on Tuesday. A day after the massacre of Amarnath yatris, a group of civil society organisations, academicians, journalists and students gathered there to express their outrage. The protestors held banners and placards printed with slogans to drive this message home.
It was no small gesture on their part. This was the first time that Kashmiri civil society formally protested a carnage – and it turned out to be for the slain innocent pilgrims from outside the state.
However, there were no cries of selective outrage from any quarter in the Kashmir Valley. Even if there were, the description would have ill-fitted the protest, which was undertaken with a genuine concern over the killings and their detrimental fallout over the image of the Azadi movement in the state.
Voicing the popular discourse
The protest also became a medium to give voice to the popular discourse in the Valley about the ongoing violence. The participants sought an impartial, transparent probe into the yatri killings, reflecting an inherent scepticism in the Valley about major violent incidents and their perpetrators. They also questioned the alleged silence of the Indian civil society about the killings in Kashmir at the hands of security forces.
“Kashmiris condemn the killings of yatris. Do Indians condemn the killings of Kashmiris?” read one placard. “Silence is criminal,” read another. “Killings are neither Hindu, nor Muslim. All killings need to be probed,” read yet another.
The protest was, thus, reflective of the prevailing mindset in the Valley. The condemnation for the Amarnath killings was explicit – no easy thing to do against an act which has allegedly been carried out by the militants who enjoy overwhelming public support – but there was also an effort to articulate the conflicted nature of the situation in Kashmir.
As is the case with many major incidents of violence, people in Kashmir tend to both believe and suspect the official claim of the role of the militants. They do so in case of yatri killings too: they are certain of the militants being behind it, but also vulnerable to the theories of the role of the 'agencies'.
But over and above this is a larger concern for the steady deterioration in the situation, and where it could take Kashmir if it is allowed to go on regardless.
According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, 95 militants have been killed since January in firefights with security forces, most of them local youth in their teens or early twenties. Around 20 civilians have died during public protests near the encounter sites to help militants escape.
Funeral processions of the militants are drawing an ever larger number of people. At each such killing, several rounds of funeral prayers are held to accommodate an unbroken stream of mourners.
Rescue bids by the people for trapped militants are becoming audacious by the day, a development that many apprehend could culminate into a massacre of the protesters.
What is more, slain militants are easily replenished by new recruits – many of them teenagers who are killed within months of picking up arms. Such is their level of motivation that none of them respond to the offer of surrender once tracked down by security forces.
This growing allure of militancy is now taking on a pronounced ideological dimension. Zakir Musa, one of the militant commanders and a protégé of Burhan Wani, is moving the discourse of the separatist movement beyond Azadi and Pakistan. He says the aim of the struggle is the establishment of a Caliphate in Kashmir, and the implementation of Shariah. He calls the nation state “un-Islamic”, and is against terming the Kashmir movement “political”. He also forbids allegiance to Pakistan or hoisting of its flags during militant funerals.
And when the PoK-based top Hizbul Mujahideen leadership took serious exception to this Islamist pitch, Musa quit the outfit and decided to operate independently. In his video messages since, Musa has stuck to this ideological line.
On the other hand, Yasin Yatoo, the Hizb commander in the Valley, in his video messages, has tried to connect the Kashmir cause to its political roots in the United Nations resolution.
“This state of affairs has pushed Kashmir into uncharted waters,” says political commentator Gowhar Geelani, who was part of the civil society protest. “One is not sure where it will end.”
Noted civil society activist Khurram Parvez thinks the recruitment in the militancy is driven by the attitude of the armed forces and police. “These young boys who are being tortured, who are being brutalised by the police and the armed forces, they are the ones who become recruits to the militancy. They do it without even enough arms and without training. We are concerned about that. And for that, what needs to be challenged is the attitude of the armed forces and the police,” he said, adding, however, that the civil society doesn't endorse all the choices people are making as part of the resistance.
“But the issue is, we don't disown the struggle, because civil society is not neutral. Civil society is part of the society and civil society will never take a position against the collective conscience or the collective struggle of the society. But we take a position when we see something is going bad. At the grassroots level, we organise programmes without much publicity, and counsel people on what should not be done.”
As things stand, however, the situation looks set to continue.
In security terms, the deepening turmoil in the Valley is sustained by the replenishment of the depleted militant ranks by local recruitment, and the unstinted public support, which has only grown since Burhan's death last year.
“For the situation to return to some semblance of normalcy, both or at least either of these trends have to reverse,” says a police officer with a long experience of counter-insurgency operations. “But this seems unlikely to be the case in the near-term.”