Mukhtar Dar

Kashmir conflict and shattered dreams of youth

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The three-decade old Kashmir conflict has sent thousands of body-bags into untimely graves. Mukhtar Dar explains how the lack of foresight and investment in education has led to more youth choosing violence as a way of life.

When militancy erupted in 1989, it was like a volcanic phenomena which suddenly drew attention to decades of underlying conflict triggers that had by then transformed into a system, designed to pull many unsuspecting and gullible Kashmiris into its snares, especially the youth. This led to loss of countless lives over the years. Education became the first casualty in the entire process. Schools were burnt. Talented Pandit teachers were killed or threatened to leave. It created a huge void which could not be filled ever. I have heard stories of how these teachers would teach our elders with care and affection. The loss cannot be compensated. Our elders still yearn to see and sit down just once in the classrooms of Pre-90’s period. They sigh: “Kujah  Batti Mashtar” which translates to, “ Ah those Pandit teachers!”

Fast forward to the recent wave of unrest; schools were again set ablaze.Clearly the pen is indeed mightier than sword. The light of education is feared by the propagators of conflict who would do anything to disrupt education in order to mislead the youth. Kashmir’s uncountable sufferings have been narrated by many. But the Kashmiris for the most part, despite all the propaganda and conflict, have almost always preferably reciprocated with peace. Kashmiris have proved their mettle at the national level. From Shah Faesal to Shahid Choudhry to Athar Aamir, from Bisma Qazi to Sheema Qasba, Kashmir has given the nation talented bureaucrats. As agents of change, they are doing laudable work on the ground. They fought against the odds and emerged as winners. The youth of Kashmir need to follow the same path. They can channelize their talent productively. Kashmiris are scattered across the globe and serving in top universities as scientists, professors and public intellectuals.

Conflict is another name for loss. In restive regions plagued by conflict and untouched by creativity in problem solving over decades, the losses are only re-emphasized. People can recover anything by investing capital but there is no substitute for education as it is the only tool to rise above the prevalent hate narrative to re-imagine a future with solutions. Tourism and business can be revived with some careful planning and investment but loss of precious school days sets back the future of Kashmir by years thus restricting progress and change from coming in because there are no work-ready employable youth to serve the economy and provide their educated inputs or expertise. As the Covid-19 threat has brought the world to a screeching halt, e-classrooms have started to keep education going. But Kashmiris are pleading for 4G internet to be restored for months now but to no avail. This is high time that the government should restore high-speed internet connectivity so that Kashmiris don’t suffer disproportionately anymore. Government should focus on the Human Welfare Index for a change. Education is the only tool to uplift our living standards. People at the helm-of-affairs must prioritize what would be beneficial for the larger good.

The three pillars for human development are: to live a healthy life and creative life; to be knowledgeable and to have access to resources needed for a decent standard of living. Kashmir is lacking and lagging behind on all of these parameters. Our LG administration should initiate policies in view of developmental goals that can facilitate individual and collective peace as well as growth in terms of resources to facilitate education and awareness. When people will have more choices and opportunities, the new avenues will open up and they will be able to prove their worth on different platforms. It will help to improve their well-being by ensuring a sustainable and stable Kashmir.

The rigged elections of 1987 became the basis for armed insurgency in the valley. It created mistrust and distrust between Srinagar and Delhi. It gave birth to various agencies and factions who started ruling different pockets of the valley as per their own plans and propaganda. Both Kashmir and Kashmiris suffered massive setbacks as collateral damage. This violence consumed the youth. Their dreams and ambitions died. It stopped their growth. Militancy and military might broke the back of a system that could have perhaps supported the growth of educated, employable youth in Kashmir . The youth who managed to get some education started looking for solutions elsewhere because the security imperatives of the state did not factor in the need to build trust and protect the future of the youth by protecting institutions and opportunities to enable the youth to contribute to designing the future of their own state. The woeful lack of regard for providing a safe space for the youth to voice their grievances, the lack of an environment to enable the youth to find the reason to choose more creative and purposeful ways of engaging in the community led to many educated youth as well as school and college dropouts to cross over the border for arms training.

On the other hand, Kashmiri Pandits, natives in Kashmir from the minority community were asked to leave during this time. This period of confusion and fear about the sudden apparently contesting claims of the different communities to the homeland damaged the psyche of Kashmiri youth. They were brainwashed by various quarters over the years. Today, they are not able to compete with their peers on larger platforms. This never ending curse like situation has angered the Kashmiris. It will get worse if they are not heard. Here, the Central government and LG administration should not watch as mute spectators but should take it seriously and devise plans and actions. Facilitating the youth must be their first priority. The generation of the 90s could not receive proper education and failed to achieve their economic goals. Development policies were not visible on the table. Schools were not so common and higher educational institutions were rarely available during peak militancy times. Large section of aspiring students could not achieve their educational and economic goals. In a nutshell, this one generation remains without proper education.

With the onset of new age militancy and street protests, people faced problems going about their daily lives. Development has completely taken a backseat. Families are in constant fear of losing their children. Kashmir’s colleges and schools remain shut. Since July 2016, educational institutions remained shut for 60% of working days. Hindustan times reported this data on 30 May 2017. It seems that the government and concerned departments have no pathways to move forward. Ordinary people think that they have reached an impasse as no progress is happening and they feel that they have reached a dead end.

After street unrest, Kashmiri youth have been detained in various jails, slapped with draconian laws, FIR’s are registered against them which in turn have ruined their careers. Many others join militant ranks and got killed as a result of the encounters. In many cases, our forces personnel have been successful in preventing youth from joining militancy. Police counsel them and help them to return to their families. It is a commendable step but more needs to be done to promote education to prevent radicalization in the first place. Reportedly security forces are using excessive force on suspected persons who are involved in secessionist activities.There has to be a balanced way to wean over the youth by helping them to consider an alternative that is constructive for their growth and their future. Empathy and a sustained dialogue with misdirected youth with local support can arrest such tendencies towards violence in the future.

On May 01, 2019, India Today reviewed around 20 Judgments on Public Safety Acts. It reported that Jammu and Kashmir High Court dropped charges on these 20 cases but Police filed multiple charges to keep them in Jail. Pertinently it becomes easy for militant outfits to recruit them or their relatives in militancy activities and on the other hand credibility of security forces becomes questionable.. The Government has launched many rehabilitation policies for militants who want to give up arms and live normal lives. Those who were framed in bogus police cases are frustrated and not able to get back on the track. If the Government is sincere in bringing about these changes on the developmental front, the policies must be youth-oriented and youth friendly. Preventive capacity building is a major priority at this stage. There can be more attempts to train students and youth in peace education along with community support to make them aware of the need to choose non-violent means for problem solving while participation of security forces in dialogues with the youth can help the youth to understand the position of the forces and result in trust building process over time. This will help the Government and administration to get more popular support for security measures which require the community to stand resiliently against violent and radical ideals which are designed to foment conflict.

  • The author is Junior Research Fellow, JK Policy Institute.

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