So sharp and enraged were the public agitations in Handwara and Kupwara last week that a lot of people in Kashmir have been talking of a ‘return of 2010.’ Thankfully, things have settled down there, but the signs are worrying. Top police officers have spoken to senior army officers of the possibility that this will be the worst year yet for the forces.
Comparisons with 2010 are natural. That was the year when mobs of Kashmiri youth took to the streets with stones and rage. Around 120 young men were killed that summer as the police and the Central Reserve Police Force repeatedly opened fire on belligerent crowds of youth.
In early September that year, the Union cabinet was given a very alarming report about the situation. Indeed, so bad was the situation that the then chief minister, Omar Abdullah is said to have indicated to a cabinet committee in New Delhi that he did not want to return to Kashmir.
Already, the portents this year are so worrying that comparisons with 2010 may turn out to be underestimates. Some people in Kashmir have talked excitedly of Indo-Pakistan and Sino-India tensions. They did not in 2010. Locally too, greater rage and frustration could be manifest than in 2010. A lot of Kashmiris have expressed amazement over the levels of the rage apparent in Kupwara district, which was considered safely dormant for India in the past.
In 2010 too, rage was partly animated by disappointment with the Omar Abdullah-led government, which was formed after the elections that were held in the winter of 2008. In 2016, there is not just disappointment but disgust with the established political process. This disgust and rage focuses on the BJP, which many Kashmiris not only disparage but deeply fear as the face of Hindu Right-wing animosity against Muslims in general and Kashmiris in particular. The PDP-BJP coalition is seen as a betrayal of poll promises; during the 2014 campaign PDP leaders had urged people to vote for the party in order to keep the BJP from coming from power.
Apart from the PDP-BJP tie-up, two other factors make the situation this year more dangerous than 2010. One of these is an increased sense of Islamic identity. This is partly a response to the RSS’s Hindudva ideology. This identity has also been strengthened by global currents emanating from the Gulf and elsewhere.
There is greater acceptance of the idea that Muslims are under global siege by dominant powers, including a Christian West, Israel and a Hindu India. The third factor plugs into the second; insider-outsider antipathy has increased greatly since 2010. The sense that Kashmiris have been wronged by ‘outsiders’ has been boosted by recent events at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar, at Handwara and Kupwara, and by perceptions that the media coverage of both have been biased.
The rage of 2010 was largely animated by anger over specific killings of innocent Kashmiris. The names of Wamiq Farooq, Tufail Mattoo and Zahid Farooq, who were teenagers when they were killed by forces that year — at least one of them was only returning from tuition — still reverberate in Kashmir. Rage increased after the murder of three young men who were lured to an army camp at Machil with the promise of work, killed, defaced, buried and described as Pakistani terrorists. Rewards were claimed by the army men, who were dismissed from service by a court martial in 2014. Many Kashmiris say that that measure of justice was not only too late, it was far too little. They should have been hanged, they say, to give an adequate signal to others who might want to misuse state power to murder innocents for personal gains.
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The rage this year is clearly more generalised, and focuses more on what has now come to be widely perceived as an illegitimate establishment. This stems in large measure from the narratives and discourses that have been vigorously circulated over the past few years. A young Kashmiri taxi driver remarked with a sense of triumph that an Indian tourist had told him that Kashmir was illegally occupied. The young man does not know very much about history or geopolitics but is convinced that this must be true since an Indian says so. Sensible voices in the ruling establishment rue the fact that history and world affairs are not taught in school curricula. Orchestrated discourses naturally gain ground.
Partly owing to the recent narratives, there is more intense rage than in 2010. Despite a curfew, unarmed young men attacked an army camp last week. This was unheard of in the past. Students who were part of bands of young ‘stone-pelters’ told me in Old Town Baramulla in June 2010 that they only pelted the CRPF and the police, since these oppressed them. If an army truck came by, they let it pass. Lt Gen Naresh Marwah (retired), who was the Corps Commander in the Kashmir Valley that year, confirms that not a single army vehicle was attacked that year. This was despite the fact that there was anger against the Machil fake encounter and the killing of an elderly beggar who had approached an army camp gate in Kupwara that spring. Nor, adds Marwah, did the army fire a single shot during that summer of unprecedented rebellion with stones. Last week, by contrast, unarmed youth attacked an army camp in Kupwara, something that was unheard of in the past. They have also been attacking police stations and vehicles of both the forces. That is a very sobering indicator of just how bad things could get — and relatively soon.
David Devadas is a senior journalist based in Kashmir. The views expressed are personal.