A group of Kashmiris donned the Indian Army uniform on Thursday to fight for the nation at a time when many youngsters in the Kashmir valley are violently protesting against security forces and renewed their calls for “freedom” from India.
As many as 308 recruits participated in a spectacular passing out parade to join the army’s Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment even as curfew remained enforced outside. JAKLI exclusively recruits people from the state of J-K - including Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
Of the 308 soldiers, 116 were from Kashmir valley and the Muslim-dominated areas of Jammu who took part in the rigorous 11-month training at the Rangreth centre just outside the boundary of Srinagar.
The passing out parade was organised at the Bana Singh Parade Ground in Rangreth and attended by Jammu and Kashmir governor NN Vohra and the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Srinagar-based Chinar Corps, Lt General Satish Dua.
Dua said he was pleased that a new regiment of JAKLI has joined to work for the nation. “The regiment recruits jawans from J-K and brings together all the three religions - Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism - to bring laurels to their regiment and the nation,” he said.
The families of the young Kashmiri soldiers, who came to watch their children take salute, had to travel in the night to avoid the raging protests and stone-pelting youth during the day.
Kashmir has been in the grip of a violent unrest that was triggered by the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. At least 65 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces and the Valley has remained under curfew for the 41st day on Thursday.
Media-savvy Wani was the first militant leader to extensively use social media to lure educated youth into the fight for “independence of the disputed region”.
Most of the young recruits and their families from Kashmir avoided talking about their experiences and motives for joining the army.
When asked about his son and their decision to send him to the army, Ghulam, who he did not want to give his second name, avoided the question.
“The situation is very bad. It is not easy to talk,” Ghulam, a farmer from Anantnag district that has witnessed the maximum number of deaths in during the current unrest, said.
Nearby a middle-aged woman, who had come to cheer her cousin and belongs to the same district as Ghulam, said that not everybody was rich in Kashmir. “We are poor families. That is why we send our kids into the army. We know the sentiment among people (regarding army) is also not very favourable,” she said.
The dearth of jobs in the valley and the security of a government job at a young age are factors that are driving the Kashmiri youth to the army. This paradox – pro-freedom sentiment and aspiring for a government job – has been indicative of the dilemmas of an average person in the valley.
However, the recruits from Jammu were more vocal about their decision to join the army.
“My aim from childhood was to join the army as my father and grandfather have worked with the army,” Tanveer Ahmad from Rajouri, who was flanked by his father, mother and over 100-year-old grandfather, said.
Ask him about the azadi protests; he said, “Every individual works towards his own aspirations”. “I appeal to the youth of the valley to drop their stones and live peacefully. Many students are not able to study and many people are not able to earn,” he said.
A former engineering student has emerged as Wani’s successor, asking the people of Kashmir to continue the agitation till the region achieves its goal of “azadi”. An 8-minute video message by Zakir Rashid Bhat is being seen as confirmation of his elevation to the post once held by Wani, whose killing on July 8 sparked violent street protests in the Valley.
Bhat also asked the youth to shun recruitment drive for special police officers (SPOs) saying they will be used to “create another Ikhwan”, a counter-insurgency force formed in the mid-nineties that was accused of human rights violations.