There is a growing concern in the country about the future of youth of Kashmir. Numerous efforts are being made to get the Kashmiri youth back into the national mainstream. There is a growing perception that the youth is 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-aggrandizement.
The present day youth of Kashmir is different from his ilk of the past. He is a product of the conflict era. He 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 Kashmiri composite culture nor has 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 Indian Army soldiers to safeguard Kashmir. His mind has been poisoned with anti-India narrative. The narrative is pillared on fundamentalism, azadi, excesses of security forces, self-seeker local leadership and indifferent approach by centre to their aspirations.
Yet the youth of Kashmir can be categorised into two: first is 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 part of a 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 youth’s estrangement. But that doesn’t seem to be true, because many youth of late who have picked up the gun were already having jobs or were on verge of getting good jobs due to their excellent educational track record. The incidents of policemen and army soldiers deserting and joining the terrorist ranks also proves that it is something beyond unemployment that is motivating them to join the Jihad.
The terrorism in Kashmir is no more confined to those seeking “Azadi.” In fact, the militancy in Kashmir was introduced in Kashmir by Pakistan as “religious militancy” as admitted by its 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-Mustaffa or an exclusive Muslim state governed by Sharia. It is with this purpose that Pakistan encouraged and promoted the spread of Wahabbi Islam in Jammu & Kashmir through organisations like Jamait Ahlle Hadees. Despite initial resistance from Jamat-e-Islami Kashmir, the two now are equally responsible for spread of radicalisation in Kashmir. The two share almost common aims.
While AhileHadees works towards 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 “come out of the dark.” “Kashmir will not be Kasmir without the Pandits. They have to be brought back,” he often used to appeal to the Kashmiri youth.
Reasons for radicalisation of the youth are manifold. Madrasa education is not the only cause. Faulty education system (including frequent closure of schools for long periods), broken families, internet, peer discourse, social media (including WhatsApp groups launched from across the border), Wahhabi indoctrination and rabble-rousing speeches of the religious leaders and clergy. We have failed so far to present a counter-narrative or alternate discourse. To a large extent, the absence of counter-narrative is responsible for hardening their beliefs.
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, almost 75 young men joined terrorism in Kashmir. Some of them were highly educated and many were employed as well. Going by the newspaper reports the number is swelling. It should raise hackles of all concerned because the trend can be dangerous.
Apart from Police and security forces extending their “outreach programme” to persuade their families to lay down weapons and join the mainstream, there is also a need to ensure that the trend is reversed and more youth is prevented from picking up the gun.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 appeal of Jihad and easily prone to radicalisation.
The process of counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation has to begin from the schools. There is need to revise our school level history books to teach to the students the glorious past of Kashmir. There is urgent need to connect the youth with 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 HabbaKhatoon, the Nightingale of Kashmir? They are only being taught the Kashmiri struggle for freedom but being deprived of the glorious past of Kashmir. How many Kashmiris know that Kashmir is home to many legends 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 AbhinavGupt, greatest scholars 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 upto Assam in the east, are 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 Dogra Maharajas but it nowhere finds mention in history taught to our young children.
“Kashmir is an integral part of India” is not a cliché but 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 is what needs to be taught. The contribution of Kashmiris to India’s fame and glory should be known to the young Kashmiris. Their mind-set 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 our glorious past and spreading secessionism in young minds. The real picture of Pakistan needs to be projected to clear many misconceptions in the young minds.
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 poisonous 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 AhileHadees need to be deported back immediately to their original states. Also, the misuse of Waqf property by AhileHadees in connivance with local religious leaders need to be stopped. The Maulvisshould be paid monthly remuneration directly by the government rather than through the Waqf. The activities of AhileHadees and Jamat-e-Islami need to be closely monitored by agencies and enforce a ban on them, if necessary.
Free flow of petro-dollars that is one of the causes of spread of Wahhabism need to be monitored and controlled.The funding of NGOs and Madarsas and audit of their accounts need to be gone into. Modernisation of Madarsas and all Madrassas being brought under a statutory body needs to be examined. All activities of Madrasas including syllabus, funding and modernisation should be controlled by this body.Islamic dress codes in schools need to be done away with. Morning school prayers should be nationalistic rather than religious.
Nationalism and secularism should form essential part of syllabus in all educational institutes. The cases of disrespect to National Anthem and National Flag must be dealt with promptly and severely. The display of Islamic State and Pakistani flags should be punished. A well-educated generation will know how to decide for its own. An educated Kashmir will know how to identify propagandas 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.
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 dividend. It is time now to change gear from body-heat to intelligence based precision operations. Also, Cordon and Search (CASO) and Seek and Destroy Operations (SADO) should be launched selectively and 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 effort also need to be put in towards holistic development of all three regions and removal of misperceptions among all stake holders. 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 limit it to killing of Commanders and foreign terrorists. Keeping military out of focus will help creating perception of reduced militarization. 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.