“Kashmir is an integral part of India” is not a cliché, but a historical fact much before the happenings of 1947. Kashmir is the keystone of India’s heritage and fountainhead of its culture through millennia. It is not just a piece of land, but abode of the soul of India. This is what needs to be taught to the young children. The contribution of Kashmiris to India’s fame and glory should be known to the young Kashmiris. Their mindset needs to be changed by removing the glaring lacunae in the history they have been taught so far. Time is ripe to correct the attempt at obliterating the glorious past of the nation and spreading secessionism in young minds. The real picture of Pakistan needs to be projected to clear the several misconceptions in the young minds.
There is growing concern in the country about the future of Kashmir and the focus is on the Kashmiri youth. Numerous efforts are being made to get the Kashmiri youth back into the national mainstream. There is a growing perception that the youth are angry and disillusioned due to the false and broken promises made over a period of time by selfish leaders of different hues and shades, propounding different ideologies and political leanings; but with one common aim of self-aggrandisement. The present day youth of Kashmir is different from that of the past. He is a product of the conflict era and is used to living in a monolithic society. He has been brought up on the stories of bravado of the local militants rather than the true history of Kashmir. He has been fed with the narratives of exclusivity rather than inclusivity; he has not witnessed the composite culture of Kashmir nor has he been exposed much to Sufism, the nectar of Kashmir. He has been indoctrinated with stories of the alleged excesses of the Indian Army rather than the sacrifices made by the soldiers of the Indian Army in their effort to safeguard Kashmir. His mind has been poisoned with anti-India narrative which is pillared on fundamentalism, azadi, excesses of security forces, self-seeking local leadership and indifferent approach by the Central Government to their aspirations.
The Youth of Kashmir
Yet the youth of Kashmir can be categorised into two. The first are the silent majority of those who have realised the futility of conflict and are willing to move forward to join the national mainstream and be a part of rising India. The other lot is the one that has been radicalised to an extent that they are willing to go to any extent to win their ‘self-respect’ and freedom. Many put unemployment as the main cause of estrangement of the youth. But that does not seem to be true, because of late, many among the youth who have picked up the gun, were already in employment or were on verge of getting good jobs due to their excellent academic track record. The incidents of policemen and soldiers of the Indian Army deserting and joining the terrorist ranks, also proves that it is something beyond unemployment that is motivating them to join the Jihadi movement.
Terrorism in Kashmir is no more confined to those seeking ‘Azadi’. In fact, militancy was introduced in Kashmir by Pakistan as ‘religious militancy’ as admitted by former President and military dictator Pervez Musharraf. One has to admit that terrorism in Kashmir today is driven by the ambition of creating Nizam-e-Mustafa or an exclusive Muslim state governed by the Sharia. It is with this purpose that Pakistan encouraged and promoted the spread of Wahhabi Islam in Jammu & Kashmir through organisations such as Jamiat Ahle Hadees. Despite initial resistance from Jamat-e-Islami Kashmir, the two now are equally responsible for spread of radicalisation in Kashmir. The two share aims and objectives that are nearly common. While Ahle Hadees works towards the establishment of a Sunni Islamic Caliphate, the Jamat-e-Islami’s avowed aim is ‘Azadibarai Islam’ (Freedom for Islam). The minority estranged youth is being radicalised by these two organisations to pick up arms and fight for Islam, an appeal for Jihad. Even the assassinated Kashmiri journalist, known for his pro-Kashmiriyat views, wanted to help the youth to “come out of the dark.” “Kashmir will not be Kashmir without the Pandits. They have to be brought back,” he often used to appeal to the Kashmiri youth.
Spread of Wahhabism, Radicalised Islam
“If the youth in J&K become victims of the new Wahhabi version of Islam, the consequences for entire India would be grave.” This warning was sounded by MK Narayanan, a former National Security Advisor in a widely published article couple of years back. He further went on to say, “That radicalisation is gaining ground is no longer a secret. Radicalisation rather than militancy and alienation should thus be seen as the new threat in Kashmir. The danger is real.” The ground reality today is exactly as visualised by the former National Security Advisor.
The main cause of spread of Wahhabism, radicalised Islam, is the disenchantment of the younger generations with Sufism practised by their elders. The continued violence and finding no end to their political struggle, the cadre of jihadist terrorist organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and home grown but Pakistan-sponsored Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), have been able to convince the educated Kashmiri youth that Sufism portrays an image of tolerance, meekness and pacifism taking the Kashmiris for granted. As it is the Kashmiri youth was disillusioned with the state due to growing unemployment, perceived denial of political empowerment, alleged excesses of Special Forces (SFs), fear of losing unique Kashmiri Muslim identity through engineered demographic changes, poor governance, frequent bandhs and hartals leading to long periods of confinement including disruption in education, crumbling infrastructure, faulty strategies of the both the State and the Central Governments and the feeling of “They” versus “Us.” Initial indoctrination of the youth took place in prisons outside Kashmir where the captured hardcore Jihadi terrorists and the young Kashmiris were imprisoned together. A few of the disenchanted youth were attracted to Wahhabism upon their release from the jails. Its further spread was also aided by free flow of petro-dollars from Saudi Arabia resulting in mushrooming of Madrasas espousing Wahhabi ideology, easy availability of Wahhabi literature, construction of new, modern, well-equipped Wahhabi mosques and the lure of free higher studies in Saudi theological universities.
Unfortunately, Wahhabi clerics, majority of whom were non-locals, did not confine themselves to merely spreading their school of thought but also launched a tirade against Sufism and Kashmiriyat thus poisoning young Kashmiri minds against pluralism and tolerance leading to radicalisation. Wahhabism became the epitome of separatism.
The reasons for radicalisation of the youth are manifold – Madrasa education being just one of these; a faulty education system including frequent closure of schools for long periods, broken families, internet, peer discourse, social media including WhatsApp groups operated from across the border, Wahhabi indoctrination and rabble-rousing speeches of the religious leaders and clergy are some of the others. We have so far failed to present a counter-narrative or alternate discourse. To a large extent, the absence of a counter-narrative is responsible for the hardening of their beliefs.
The need for Urgent Action
There is a need to act fast before the minority infects the majority as well. As estimated, out of 243 terrorists operating in Kashmir, only 60 are foreigners and rest are indigenous. In less than six months, around 75 young men joined terrorist groups in Kashmir. Some of them were highly educated and many were employed as well. Going by media reports, the number is swelling. It should raise hackles of all concerned because this trend can be dangerous. Apart from the police and security forces extending their ‘outreach programme’ to persuade their families to lay down arms and join the mainstream, there is also a need to ensure that the trend is reversed and more youth are prevented from taking up arms. According to psychologist Waheeda Khan, “The major concern is that generations of children, who are experiencing long-term violence in their lives, may reach adulthood perceiving that violence is a fair means of solving ethnic, religious or political differences.” They are more susceptible to the appeals of Jihad and are prone to radicalisation.
The process of counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation has to begin from the schools. There is a need to revise our school level history books to make the students aware of the glorious past of Kashmir. There is also the urgent need to connect the youth with the glorious past of their motherland. Not many young men in Kashmir today would know about Rajtarangini or Lalded or Kalhana or Sufi saint Baba Reshi or Habba Khatoon, the Nightingale of Kashmir? They are only being indoctrinated about the Kashmiri struggle for freedom but are being deprived of the knowledge of Kashmir’s glorious past. How many Kashmiris know that Kashmir is home to many legendary figures of the past whose contribution in their respective fields is acknowledged worldwide? Panini, the father of modern day grammar; Patanjali, who gifted to humanity his Yog Sutra; Sharangdev, father of both Hindustani and Carnatic music; Acharya Abhinav Gupt, the greatest scholar of all times, King Lalitaditya, the most powerful Indian emperor whose empire extended from Caspian Sea in the North to the Kaveri Basin in the South and extended up to Assam in the East, are just a few of such luminaries. How many of us know that Srinagar was established by Samrat Ashok? Buddhism was spread across China, Central Asia and Japan by Kashmiri monks? How many know about Sharda Peeth and its significance in the field of higher learning? Kashmir is the abode of Sufi Islam. The most benign and reformative period of Kashmir’s history has been the rule of the Dogra Maharajas yet they finds no mention at all in the history of Kashmir taught to the young children.
“Kashmir is an integral part of India” is not a cliché but a historical fact much before the happenings of 1947. Kashmir is the keystone of India’s heritage and fountainhead of its culture through the millennia. It is not just a piece of land but the abode of the ‘soul of India’. This is what needs to be taught to the young children. The contribution of Kashmiris to India’s fame and glory should be known to the young Kashmiris. Their mindset needs to be changed by removing the glaring lacunae in the history they have been taught so far. The time is ripe to correct the attempt at obliterating the glorious past of the nation and spreading secessionism in young minds. The real picture of Pakistan needs to be projected to clear the several misconceptions in the young minds.
Specific Steps Required
Misuse of religious places and religious congregations to spread radicalism and promote “hate India” campaign needs to be stopped. Why is it that after every Friday congregation, the people emerge as stone throwing mobs displaying Islamic State and Pakistani flags, shouting anti-India slogans? Is this due to the religious sermons given by the clergy or due to anti-India venom spit by the preachers? It is high time that the Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1988 is made applicable to Jammu & Kashmir as well.
The non-local Wahhabi Maulvis and clergy who are preaching ‘hate’ and secession in the more than 700 Wahhabi mosques owned by Ahle Hadees need to be deported immediately to their original states. Also, the misuse of Waqf property by Ahle Hadees in connivance with local religious leaders needs to be curtailed. The Maulvis should be paid monthly remuneration directly by the government rather than through the Waqf. The activities of Ahle Hadees and Jamat-e-Islami need to be closely monitored by appropriate agencies under the Government of India and enforce a ban on them, if necessary.
The free flow of petro-dollars that is one of the causes of the spread of Wahhabism needs to be monitored and controlled. The funding of NGOs and Madarsas as well as an audit of their accounts needs to be looked into. The issue of modernisation of Madarsas and bringing all these institutions under a statutory body of the Government needs to be examined. All activities of Madrasas including formulation of syllabus, funding and modernisation should be controlled by this body. Islamic dress codes in schools needs to be done away with. Morning school prayers should be nationalistic rather than religious. Nationalism and secularism should form an essential part of the syllabus in all educational institutions.
Cases of disrespect to National Anthem and the National Flag must be dealt with promptly and severely. The display of flags of the Islamic State and of Pakistan should be punished. A well-educated generation will know how to decide on its own. An educated Kashmir will know how to identify propaganda of separatist hate mongers from well-wishers of India. They will know how to choose for themselves, whether the sword or the pen? The Indian Army’s initiative ‘Kashmir Super 50’ is a welcome step in this direction. NCC and NSS can also play a major role in mainstreaming the Kashmiri youth.
Last, but not the least, efforts have to be made to bring an end to mindless cycles of endless violence and harassment of the locals. Legitimising violence in young minds can prove suicidal for the future generation of Kashmiris. Operation All Out has produced the desired results. It is time now to change gear from body-heat to intelligence-based precision operations. Also, Cordon and Search Operations (CASO) and Seek and Destroy Operations (SADO), should be launched selectively and should be need-based. This does not mean going soft on terror, but to extend the dividends of the Ramzan initiative as it would provide much-needed relief and peace to the Awam. Adequate efforts also need to be put in towards holistic development of all three regions and removal of misperceptions among all stakeholders. The security forces must be left free to complete the assigned tasks without much media glare. Not much prominence should be given to the numbers killed daily but these should be limited to fatalities such commanders and foreign terrorists. Keeping the military out of focus will help creating the perception of reduced militarisation. The misuse of social media should be checked by going after ‘key-pad jihadists’. Glorification of local terrorists in vernacular, local and social media also needs to be curbed.
Reduction in violence will also facilitate the return of Sufism. There is a need to modify the monolith character of the Valley. Peace can only prevail if the present generation accepts the virtues of a tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural society. Sufism symbolises the same and is the backbone of the philosophy of co-existence in the Valley. The Valley is incomplete without its original inhabitants, the Kashmiri Pandits. Every effort should be made for the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley. Yet the question remains – do the Kashmiri Pandits wish to return to Valley? It appears there is a divided house on the subject. Without indulging in the politics of their return, it is mandatory for Kashmiri society to become inclusive. The idea of reverse migration can also be considered. Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims from Jammu who are keen to settle in Kashmir can be provided necessary logistic support so that a beginning at least is made. Revival of Sufism and traditional folklore will go a long way to usher in an era of peace. A majority of the Kashmiris still revere the shrines of Sufi saints and consider them as part of their cultural heritage. Fortunately, Sufism may be down, it is not out as yet.