His mother tried to stop 17-year-old Muneeb Shaikh from joining the protest march to the United Nations Military Observers Group (UNMOG) office last Monday. Around 20 people had been killed in police firing across the Valley while participating in similar protests the previous week.
<b1>Muneeb is a Class XI student at one of Srinagar’s best private schools. “Why should you worry? You have two sons. If one dies, the other will look after you,” he shot back.
“We were mentally prepared for his corpse to be brought home,” said his 53-year-old father Ghulam Shaikh, an employee with a local television channel. Fortunately this particular march remained peaceful and Muneeb got back unscathed.
Muneeb symbolises a generation of Kashmiri youth who, while they may share the enthusiasm of their counterparts elsewhere for consumerist goodies and having a good time, are just as keen on azadi as well. Born during the turbulent, militancy-ridden years of the late 1980s and 1990s, they display a passion for freedom that their parents, after the long years of bloodshed and bitterness in the state, have lost. “More than 90 per cent of the people taking part in these marches are below 25,” Ghulam Shaikh pointed out.
“They are born warriors,” said Mohammed Ishaq Wani, a local college lecturer, who has been observing young people closely for years.
At the forefront of the crowd at last Friday’s rally, following the prayers, were students of Srinagar’s Sri Pratap College. Some of them came zooming in on trendy motorbikes, but freedom from India remained their agenda. “They are our future. They will achieve what we could not,” said Ghulam Mohammad Dar, a 70-year-old shopkeeper Nawakadal watching them.
“This is a generation that has grown up amid the sounds of booming guns and exploding grenades,” said Dr Nazir Mushtaq, psychiatrist at Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital, explaining the young people’s fearlessness. “Lathi charges and exploding teargas shells are commonplace for them. They are not afraid of death.”