Stuck between protests and depression, Kashmir’s youth look for escape
For youth, stone pelting in not just a form of protest, but also a demand for freedom. Some feel like they’ve lost their stake in the system. However, there are few looking for a way out, like professional football.opinion Updated: Jun 01, 2017 09:11 IST
A recent visit to Kashmir took me to Pulwama that’s 50-km off Srinagar in the Valley’s disturbed southern parts. There I met three young stone-pelters on the run from security forces.
“Yes, we pelt stones; we want freedom,” said the more talkative among them, giving his name as Jehangir. The two introduced themselves as Adil and Omar.
Freedom from whom; from India, I asked. The reply came after a moment’s pause: “From India, from oppression. We’re students. Police arrest us, beat us up, haunt and harass our families…”
They all were in their early twenties; from families with meagre resources. In the 30-minute chat in a secluded corner of a crowded marketplace, they shared stories of “police excesses.” A local cop was the ‘worst’ persecutor; locking up even innocent young men and releasing them for a consideration.
As we talked, the three sat packed in the back seat of my local contact’s Maruti Alto. They smelt bad, looked disheveled and were fidgety. In distracted attention, they stared into their phones, intermittently showing me snapshots of youth blinded by pellets and incendiary message from militant leader Zakir Musa.
The former Hizbul Mujahideen commander had made headlines by threatening to kill Hurriyat leaders who called Kashmir a political dispute. Is Musa your leader? I asked. They said anyone with a gun was their leader — be it Burhan Wani, Musa or the LeT’s Abu Dujana.
They as much accepted as their leaders, parents of militants and protestors killed by security forces: “The father who lost his son is our leader, not (Hurriyat’s) Syed Ali Shah Geelani who has Z-security.” For them, Musa, an engineering drop-out, was an “engineer forced to pick up the gun”.
Omar had aspired to be a doctor. Together with Jehangir, he’s wanted in cases under the public safety act. “I’ve no option. I pelt stones because I’ve no gun to face security forces.”
Wani’s native village, Tral, located at a 25-km distance from Pulwama, is called Kashmir’s Kandahar. A series of heists forced banks to keep ATMs without cash in the area.
I tried showing the troubled threesome the downside of a life in crime, of being in conflict with the law, regardless of their cause, the sense of being wronged. What if cases against youth are withdrawn; those who’re jailed released and offered jobs or loans for small businesses?
Their eyes lit up but only momentarily. “We can’t live or eat freely, what to talk of jobs,” countered Jehangir. But it might work if it happens, conceded Adil: “We’ve lost stake in the system for aspirations unfairly denied or defeated.”
The students I met in Srinagar and Pulwama’s Degree College were from better socio-economic background. But they felt similarly betrayed by the effete, corrupt system. “Youth here lead a depressing life,” noted Shamim Meraj, editor of Kashmir Monitor. Sports stadia are in derelict state and parks ill-kept since the 2014 floods. Even cinema houses are shut down, leaving the Gen-X hooked to internet that too gets blocked when protests happen.
On his initiative, Meraj has come up with a model the state administration could adopt. He has setup a football club-— Real Kashmir — to promote local talent in United Kingdom. “If visas come through, we’d be the first Kashmiri club to play on foreign soil and be judged by European scouts looking for professional footballers,” he said.
A home-team playing abroad will indeed be a big deal for youth stereotyped as trouble mongers. Even in the chronically-disturbed Pulwama, students long for scholarship. Some among them carry extra shirts different from the college uniform. They wear them on the way home to avoid being mistaken for stone-pelters by police — who round up all those who’re in the uniform of institutions from where disturbances are reported.
Why not then the footballer shirts for fame?