Since 2008 two developments are unfolding side by side in Kashmir. While on the one had we have witnessed recurring popular uprising, and on the other, militancy is on an upward trajectory. Periodic popular uprisings are bringing more and more youth on the streets with some ending up joining the militant ranks and bulk as their sympathizers. 2016 saw the apex of the rage when, in the wake of the killing of the young militant commander Burhan Wani, Kashmir shut down for nearly five months, during which more than 90 protestors, mostly teen age boys, were killed and thousands injured by pellet guns besides hundreds losing their eye-sight for ever. This uprising has again forced the people to take a serious look into the nature and causes of Kashmir conflict.
The Generation of Rage in Kashmir by David Devadas, taking 2007 as a landmark year, argues that this was the year of many ‘endings and beginnings’ to which the Indian state turned a blind eye thereby letting the situation slip out of hand.
Making a comparative analysis of the generation born in the early 1990s and the one born at the turn of the millennium, David tries to look for the reasons for this rage in the new generations. As per the author this analysis is based on the interviews/interactions with more than 7,000 youth (p. 59), though we are told nothing about the methodology for selecting the respondents, categorization of respondents and so on. Given the journalistic nature of the book one can understand the lack of methodological rigour. What is important is the message of the book. The author argues that the generation that was born in the early 1990s had a traumatic childhood. They had grown up in conflict and their childhood surrounded by guns, military, crackdowns, blasts, killings, arrests, tortures and other forms of human rights violations. By the turn of the century when this generation got into teen age, militancy was on the decline (and later completely ended (p. 127). ‘By 2007, even militants who remained active had realized that they were fighting a losing battle…. Others quietly surrendered. Hardly any new one had joined since the beginning of decade…..far fewer Kashmiris than before were willing to shelter militants……couple of years leading to 2007, more and more Kashmiris who spotted militants in their villages or forests reported them to the police or armed forces’ (p. 2). Although he provides no concrete evidence for his arguments, the author leaves no stone unturned to convince his readers that by 2007 militancy had completely ended in Kashmir and Kashmiris were completely fed up with militancy. At the same time this generation was fearless, having grown in conflict and repulsed by the excessive presence of army and other paramilitary forces. The description that the author provides of this generation presents an interesting contradiction. This generation, according to David, wanted peace, economic prosperity, jobs, dreaming of modelling, acting or singing, with some willing to consider themselves as Indian (p. 4) and had ‘forgotten azadi’. At the same time this generation unlike their elders would not cower in front of forces. They would answer back, question authority (p. 5) and hated the ‘outsiders’ (meaning armed forces).
According to the author since militancy was on the decline and over by 2007 (p. 1) and people wanted peace, there was a need to push dialogue process and significantly trim down the counter-insurgency structures. However, while on the one hand the peace process that had started since 2003 came crumbling down by 2007, on the other hand both New Delhi as well as security agencies, who had developed deep vested interests in the conflict refused to acknowledge the changed circumstances. By the turn of century not only the army and other para-military forces but even the Kashmir Police had vested interests in keeping the conflict going. The policy of ‘catch and kill’, and ‘bumping-him-off’ culture, fake encounters for rewards, promotions and extorting money had seeped deep into the police force. What the army and other paramilitary forces used to do in the early 1990s, now the police had taken up and turned even more brutal. Vested interests of multiple stake-holders kept the conflict going and created what the author terms as ‘conflict economy’. So when the need was to wind-up most of the counter-insurgency network, the hawks in the government and the security apparatus refused to accept that militancy had significantly reduced and there was a need for dialogue. In order to keep the counter insurgency grid intact a new category of insurgents against the state ‘stone-pelters’ was created (p.11) and referred to as ‘new form of militancy’ (p.190). Hundreds of young boys were arrested and tortured, PSAs, slapped on them, besides large number of killings and blindings during protests. Stone pelting and the consequent arrests became a money-minting process for the police. The failure of the state to look beyond black and white narratives pushed this new generation further towards a separatist narrative and fuelled another wave of militancy.
There are many extreme generalizations and contradictory arguments throughout the book. Devadas tries to compartmentalize the two generations of youth—one born in the early 1990s and the second born at the turn of the century, while the fact remains that these two generations overlapped and complemented one another during this new phase. It was the generation born in the 1990s that was at the forefront during 2008, 2009 and 2010 protest movements. These uprisings actually socialized the generation born at the turn of the century. It was this generation which gave a new lease of life to militancy from 2009 onwards. Again, the author seems to argue that it is the teachers who push students towards a separatist discourse (p. 70, p. 72) though going by his earlier assertions this generation of teachers were more peace loving, job oriented and less inclined towards separatism. His argument that from 2007-08 a new discourse (Kashmiri narrative) using words like Kashmir as a nation, occupation, colonization and resistance was pushed by a new generation of Kashmiri journalists, writers and academics (pp. 3-4, p. 187) is both flawed and contradictory to his argument regarding this generation as well as with regard to counter-insurgency structures. This discourse has been there even before 1989 and it only got strengthened with time.
Though the author argues that since 2007 religious radicalization (therefore militancy) increased under the impact of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Salafist movement, the Ahle-Hadith, televangelists, annual ijitimas in madrasas etc. (pp. 80-88), the findings of security agencies do not support this argument. A recent CID report, ‘Radicalisation and Terrorism in J&K—A Study’ that studied the background of 156 local youth that joined militancy from 2010 to 2015 argues that there is no link between religious radicalization and militancy in Kashmir. Nobody had studied in a full time Madrasa. 74 per cent had never visited a Dargah or a Madrasa for any formal education. 56 per cent had studied in government schools, 34 per cent had studied in both government and private schools, 6 percent had studied in private schools. 71 per cent were Hanafiya in their religious inclination. Only about 3 per cent were Salafi and about 23 per cent had Jamaat-i-Islami leanings. Only 8 per cent of recruits were also stone pelters (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/new-militant-recruits-not-driven-by-ideology-most-attended-govt-schools-jk-police-5207368). Even the author’s own survey showed that the majority of respondents had no basic knowledge even of their own religion and were not hostile to other religions.
The facts and arguments presented in the book are already in the public domain. What is important is bringing them into one book.
Aijaz Ashraf Wani is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar.