One thing unique about the prevailing situation in Kashmir is that it is not as much about the militancy as it is about a mass revolt in disparate, fragmented ways. Its latest proof came on Tesday at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre where the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was forced to leave a womens self-help group (SHG) function when the audience protested against her. The agitated women raised Azadi slogans. The fury was evident when Mehbooba reached the venue where thousands of women from various self-help groups had gathered. On the other hand, student protests are continuing. On Tuesday, students from MP Higher Secondary School and Gandhi Memorial College Srinagar boycotted their classwork and staged pro-Azadi and anti-India protests. They shouted slogans and pelted stones following which police fired teargas. Similarly, protests also erupted at Pattan in Baramulla district as hundreds of students of Pattan Degree College and Higher Secondary School, chanting pro-freedom slogans and clashed with police and paramilitary forces. All this ferment reveals a deep popular resentment at the hopeless state of affairs. Though militancy is also a factor, it is negligible compared to the early nineties, when around 10,000 militants roamed Kashmir. The number of the militants in Valley now is not more than 250. But despite this important difference, the current situation is easily compared to nineties. And not only by the journalists and the politicians but also by the former National Security Advisor RK Narayanan and the former RAW chief A S Dullat. In fact, Dulat has described the situation as worse than the nineties. But even on objective parameters, the assessment of the situation is largely correct.
The small number of the militants is now more than compensated by the endemic public support for them. In the nineties, the funerals for the militants were hardly a massive affair several villages didnt compete for the honour of burying the martyr in their respective graveyards. Similarly, people strictly stayed away from the encounter sites. But now they not only march towards such sites in protest but even try to help the trapped militants escape. So far, around 15 people have lost their lives in such attempts over the past year.
There are more differences. The nineties struggle was largely urban centric with downtown Srinagar and the towns like Sopore, Baramulla, Anantnag etc as its hub. Both, the militancy and the protests were confined to these areas. But now both the militancy and the civilian resistance have radiated out of the urban centres into the countryside, reaching even its deepest interiors. What is more, an all-out fearlessness has gripped people. The youth are not afraid to disrupt the encounter sites, nor flinch from stoning the Army convoys. In now routine street confrontations with the police and the paramilitaries equipped with rifles and pellet guns, the protesters dont run for their lives but stand their ground and at times advance towards the forces with little more than a stone in hand, daring them to kill them.
But it is not that there is no threat of the return of the full scale militancy. In fact, there is every chance of a new deadly phase of violence. That is unless New Delhi doesnt wake up to the gravity of the situation. One can only hope, it doesnt go down the familiar route of using disproportionate force to put the current revolt down. As the past thirty years have proved, it might help in the ad hoc management of the situation, it will resolve nothing.
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