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Detached from other Indian people’s movements, educated Kashmiri youth take to guns

What is the reason for the disillusionment among youth in Kashmir that drives them to militancy? Should the government do more than just turn to the army for bringing about peace in the region? Javaid Naikoo looks for answers

Manan Wani, PhD, was one among the many highly educated youth of Kashmir to have joined a militant group in recent times. Manan had taken up the gun to fight against Indian forces in January this year. He was killed on October 12 in a gun battle with Indian forces in Kashmir’s Kupwara district.
On 7 May this year, Rafi Bhat, another PhD holder and an associate professor in Kashmir University, was killed with three other local militants in southern Shopian district, just three days after he left his profession to join a militant group.

Manan Wani

Subzar Bashir was pursuing his PhD in Botany at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, but while on a vacation to Kashmir in 2016, he joined a militant group. He had qualified the National Eligibility Test (NET) and secured Junior Resident Fellowship (JRF).

Rafi Bhat

I spoke to the parents of the youth who joined militant groups and were killed over the years about the possible reasons that motivated their loved ones to join militancy.

“No father on Earth would like to see his son treading a path that leads to death. As to why my son joined a militant group is a secret that was buried with him in the grave – if you believe me,” Bashir’s father said.
Bashir senior says that his son would often talk, among his family members and friends, about the execution of Muhammad Afzal Guru by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

“There may have been some hidden agenda too. However, Manan was a boy exposed to happenings in the world, which majorly includes the changing global scenario with respect to the Muslim community, the day-to-day happenings in Kashmir, of which Afzal’s execution was one. These are some of the reasons, which made him wield the gun instead of the pen,” Bashir adds.

Waseem Ahmad, 23, was a postgraduate with a BEd to boot. He, too, was killed in a shootout in early November. “He would routinely talk with members of the family about the situation in Kashmir – about the routine killings, torture of youth, nepotism and negligible response of the world community,” his father, Muhammad Iqbal, said. Iqbal said Ahmad was tired of all this.

Security forces keep watch in Kashmir

According to a report published in a national newspaper, as many as 164 youths from Kashmir joined militant groups in the period January- October 2018, which is much higher than the numbers recorded in the previous years.   

General Bipin Rawat, Indian Army chief, has asked youth to shun the path of militancy. Rawat said the army want the gun-yielding youth to surrender. If they don’t surrender, Rawat said, the only option left to them will be to neutralize them.

Conflict analysts based in Kashmir and elsewhere differ in their take on the youth joining militant groups in Kashmir. “Muscle power to curb the sentiments of people has never worked in Kashmir. Youth respond to this sort of aggressive handling by picking up guns and joining militant groups,” said Muhammad Syed Malik, a senior political analyst on Kashmir.

 Noted Delhi-based political analyst Sanjay Kapoor believes that youth joining militant groups is a dangerous trend. “I think Kashmiri society should resist this trend as I believe that those who want to show Muslims as terrorists will take advantage of this nebulous trend to tar Kashmir and its society and ensure that the state is starved off tourists and its students studying in different universities in India and abroad are chased out,” Kapoor said. “It is always the educated youth who join militancy as education allows ideological indoctrination, and they are conscious of society’s grievances. Educated youth sense a loss of hope and injustice and that is the reason they are joining militant outfits. The problem of the Kashmir struggle is that they have not aligned themselves with other people’s movements in different parts of the country, which results in their cause not getting enough support from civil-society groups.”
Among some brilliant students who joined militant groups over the years was 19-year-old Ishaq Ahmad Parray, alias Isaac Newton, of southern Pulwama district.

Isaac had aspired to become a scientist and secured 98.4 per cent marks in his Grade 10 board exam and over 85 per cent in his Grade 12 exam. Ishaq had came to be known as “Isaac Newton”.

According to police sources, around 12 militant groups are currently active in Kashmir and are operating under the banner of the United Jihad Council (UJC), which is an amalgam of local and foreign militants.
At the onset of militancy in Kashmir in 1989 and till the mid-1990s, thousands of youths from Kashmir joined various militant groups such as the Hizbul Mujahideen, Liberation Front, Al-Jahad, Al-Barag and Islami Jung. After the mid-1990s, foreigners, mostly Pakistani, including Fidayeen brigades, formed the majority of the militants in Kashmir. However, this time, more locals than Pakistanis are engaged in militancy.

Copy-editing: Navraj Bhatia/Lokesh/Anil

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About The Author

Javaid Naikoo

Javaid Naikoo is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar

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