By Saarthak Anand
The nation was shocked on July 10, when terrorists attacked a bus in the Anantnag region of Kashmir, killing seven and injuring more than fifteen people. The bus was carrying pilgrims returning from the Amarnath shrine near Pahalgam. It is after fifteen years that the yatra has come under attack after being targeted consecutively in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
The pilgrimage has long been seen as a symbol of communal harmony in the otherwise tense Valley where Kashmiri Muslims extend warm hospitality to their Hindu guests. Even during 2008 and 2010, the periods when the Kashmiri militancy was at its peak, the Amarnath yatra was undisturbed.
A growing discontent with security forces
The recent attack marks a tipping point in Kashmir. The current unrest was triggered in July last year when Burhan Wani, a popular commander of the insurgent group Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in an encounter with security forces. Approximately two lakh people were reported to have attended his funeral, despite the widespread curfews and the shutting down of internet services in the region. Since then, there has been a spike in incidents of stone-pelting by Kashmiris on security forces. There is great local discontent against the latter’s actions. Over ten thousand people were reportedly injured and many were blinded by the use of pellet guns by security forces to restrain the protesters.
Further, Army Major Leetul Gogoi kicked up a storm in April by tying up a local to his jeep and driving him around for hours. His action was defended as an essential move to save lives in the face of heavy stone pelting and was awarded by the Army in the aftermath of the incident. The propriety of his act has been widely debated. However, what is not debatable is that it has not helped the situation in Kashmir.
The blame game and a blood-stained history
Opposition parties blame the Centre as well as the PDP-BJP state government for the tension. On the other hand, the BJP puts Jawaharlal Nehru’s handling of the Kashmiri situation following India’s independence at fault. The political din overshadows the fact that the reasons for Kashmir being in turmoil are numerous and that the problem is largely systemic.
The insurgency in Kashmir has had a long history. It gained momentum in 1989. This was in the aftermath of the 1987 state elections, widely believed to be rigged in favour of Farooq Abdullah’s Jammu and Kashmir National Conference. The insurgents were led by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a pro-independence organisation. Swathes of Kalashnikov-wielding young men roamed the streets, amidst chants of “Azadi”(independence). The insurgency was vigorously suppressed by the Indian forces and by 1995, the JKLF had given up violence.
Kashmir’s alienation amidst growing Pakistani proximity
There is a growing sense of alienation among Kashmiris. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has an unemployment rate of almost 25 percent, much higher than the national average. About 60 percent of the Valley’s population is below the age of 30. In such a situation, vexation is a foregone conclusion. There are frequent strikes by separatist leaders and political parties that often lead to schools, universities, and shops being closed down. In addition, Kashmiris are often demonised on mainstream Indian media. People from Kashmir are often humiliated and discriminated against in other regions of the country.
Moreover, Pakistan has not helped the cause. Militants regularly cross the border into the Indian side. Of the 300-odd active militants in Kashmir, many are from Pakistan. The country is also known to have provided training to many Kashmiris from its camps in Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir.
The valley is no longer the international issue that it was twenty years ago. India is now a growing world power, towering over its western neighbour. Pakistan no longer enjoys the global support it once did. It is becoming increasingly isolated even as many of its homegrown militants have turned against it.
What India needs to do
It is imperative that India does not let the problem go out of its grasp. Calls for “Kashmiriyat” merely will not suffice. Kashmiris need to be engaged with and given a voice in the process. In light of this, Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement following the Amarnath attack assumes significance. In the face of widespread fury following the incident, the Minister lost little time in praising the unanimous condemnation of the attacks by Kashmiris and pointed out that all Kashmiris are not terrorists.
India needs to walk the extra yard and take the people protesting in the streets into confidence. Further, those with a vested interest in the unrest, and responsible for spreading hate and violence must be called to account. Kicking the can down the road is not a solution. Kashmiris must be provided with greater avenues for education and employment. Efforts should be made for a wider exchange of culture with the rest of the country in order to foster integration.
India has been sitting on a volcano for decades. It is time to finally look the problem in the eye.
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