On September 28, Waseem Ahmad Khanday, a youngster from Kellar village in south Kashmir’s Shopian district, snatched a rifle and 30 rounds of ammunition from the personal security officer of a former legislator and disappeared to join the Hizbul Mujahedeen. He was killed in an encounter in Shopian around a month later, on November 5.
Khanday belonged to the latest crop of youngsters to have joined militancy in the region during the turmoil which began after the death of Hizbul militant Burhan Wani on July 8. Over 90 people have been killed and thousands injured and maimed.
During the unrest, scores of youngsters disappeared and joined militant groups. Of the three identified local militants killed by security forces this month, all had joined in September-October.
Saddam Hussain Mir of Shopian, who had reportedly left home in September, was killed in an encounter in Wangam, two days after Khanday.
In Kakpora in Pulwama district, Rayees Ahmad Dar (25), who was missing since October 6, was killed in an encounter on November 19. He had joined the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Many such youngsters are being arrested and brought back, police say. But others are getting killed within a period of a month or two after joining militancy.
“If they fire back, what option do we have? We first try that the boys surrender and we arrest them, but if they don’t do that and fire back, then we have no other option,” director general of police, law and order and coordination, SP Vaid told HT.
He said the number of youths joining militant ranks in the entire year would be at least 55.
“The number of local youth who have joined militancy this year is almost same as last year. I don’t feel the agitation has had any special effect regarding this,” he added.
At least 23 youth from strife-torn southern region of Kashmir have gone to join militant ranks during the uprising, said DIG, south Kashmir, Nitish Kumar.
Kumar added that weapon-snatching and youth leaving homes to join militancy has been a “common phenomenon” in Kashmir insurgency for many years now, nothing specific to the current unrest.
Political observers, however, believe that youth joining militant ranks during the unrest could be a result of being “inspired from Burhan”.
“Youth are on the one hand inspired by Burhan and on the other they feel the government of India does not care about the pain of Kashmiris. But these youngsters do not have any training or understanding of the consequence of their becoming a militant. They are driven by a sudden emotion,” said prominent political scientist Noor Ahmad Baba.
In October, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had urged the police to try if local youth who have left home to join militancy can be brought back into the mainstream instead of being killed in encounters.
Separatist leaders blame the state and central governments for pushing the youth to the wall.
“Youth feel they have absolutely no space to propagate their views and ideas. They are being hunted down, killed, maimed and blinded. They feel their voices are scuttled and they fear peaceful dialogue will lead nowhere,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairperson of the moderate Hurriyat faction, told HT.