On January 9, Shah Faesal, feted in the national media as the ideal Kashmiri, announced his resignation from the Indian Administrative Service. It was in protest, he said, against unabated killings in Kashmir and the absence of any effort at reconciliation from the Union government, against invisibilisation of around 200 million Muslims by the forces of Hindutva, against the attack on the identity of Jammu and Kashmir, against intolerance, hate and hypernationalism. There is some speculation that Faesal might join politics, especially since National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah welcomed him to the fold on social media. It is also not confirmed whether Faesals resignation has been accepted yet. Still, the optics of the public announcement should worry the government.
Despite his unease with the label, Faesal has become the poster boy of the Indian state in recent years. He was a child of conflict, whose family had stayed non-partisan in a war that had riven Kashmiri society, at great personal cost. In spite of difficult circumstances, he had gone on to study medicine and then chosen to cast his lot with the Indian state, topping the civil services examination. Faesals success set a trend in Kashmir. Joining the administrative services had once been frowned upon; now a growing number youth were drawn to it in a region that offered few other avenues of employment. Faesals was the story of the successful rehabilitation of the Kashmiri youth after years of militancy. When Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani became a household name in Kashmir and after his killing triggered mass protests in the Valley, the contrast was emphasised by sections of the national media. If Faesal could live through conflict to choose public service instead of arms, other youth could choose the same, the argument ran.
But even the poster boy fell from grace last year, when he spoke out against the murder and alleged rape of an eight-year-old girl in Jammus Kathua district, calling out the rape culture that pervaded the subcontinent. He had then been chastised for apparently violating civil service conduct rules. The governments thin-skinned response to criticism from Faesal points to larger failures in Kashmir, where dissent is put down with force, pushing a generation of youth to arm themselves with stones and, finally, guns. The state blamed Pakistan and other anti-national forces for radicalising the youth as it pursued a policy of repression, with frequent internet shutdowns and preventive detentions.
Over the last year, the bloodiest in a decade, attempts at dialogue have dried out and the civilian leadership has receded, leaving the security forces to launch a crackdown on militancy. State policies are now so unpalatable in the Valley that even the governments chosen favourite has dissociated himself from the administrative machinery. When all other arguments have failed, this should give Delhi reason to reconsider its Kashmir policy.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.