Kashmir issue

The new wave of anger in Kashmir is not just about poor governance but about preserving an identity

The BJP’s threats to rescind Article 370 and moves to resettle Kashmiri Pandits in the state have led to fears of demographic change amongst Kashmiri Muslims.

I spent two weeks of June in Kashmir, where an uneasy calm prevailed after the protests and demonstrations of April. Kashmiris seemed to be biding their time, perhaps waiting to see what the fate of the Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition would be after the by-election in Anantnag.

Most did not doubt that Mehbooba Mufti would win her father’s seat in what was a party stronghold, and yet many nurtured the hope that this might not happen, thus ushering in the collapse of the deeply-resented coalition.

Almost everyone I spoke to, from professors to journalists to auto drivers, expressed their unhappiness at the coalition, and alarm at the steady rise of a new militancy among youth.

As it happened, Mufti won, the coalition continued, and not soon thereafter, the militant Burhan Wani’s death in an encounter with security forces set off perhaps the worst anti-India protests and stone-pelting incidents since the beginning of the insurgency in 1989. The military crackdown has been massive, and yet the protests and the shut-down against India have continued unabated.

Shift in the mode of resistance

I noticed a shift in the mood in Kashmir while I was there; it was certainly not new, but was palpably visible this year. In some ways, this had been in the making since the hijacking of the violent insurgency by external organisations and its equally fierce repression by Indian security forces.

Since then, Kashmiri resistance to India has gradually morphed into a diffuse, amorphous entity, fueled by everyday acts of resistance – such as by taking part in the funerals of slain militants or by pelting stones at security forces – in which even otherwise apolitical Kashmiris can participate.

This kind of resistance does not require formal membership in a political organisation or blind devotion to a leader; instead, it is far more spontaneous, dispersed, and hence more dangerous, drawing on local heroes and localised grievances that circulate widely as they bring ever larger areas within their ambit. ​

Kashmiri youth no longer feel the need to follow separatist leaders such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani – whose influence, so evident in past years, was unmistakably on the wane this year – or even the more youthful Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, both of whom are tainted in their eyes by having engaged in dialogues with and made compromises with India.

Burhan Wani, and others like him, are elevated to the status of true idols, seen as purer in their intentions since they are willing to martyr themselves for the cause.

The new militancy

In this sense, then, the new militancy seems strangely devoid of politics; it is driven by a national and religious fervour that brooks no compromise. Resistance, suffering, and sacrifice are ultimate goals in themselves. The role of social media in this cannot be denied, as it provides a platform for individuals such as Burhan Wani and the causes that they represent, thus allowing them to become cult figures that take on lives of their own and attract large followings.

The death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter on July 8 led to widespread protests.
The death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter on July 8 led to widespread protests.

In general, religion seems to have displaced politics in public discourse in Kashmir. This trend, of course, has to be placed in larger regional and global contexts. The domestic ascension of the BJP to power at the Centre, followed by its coalition with the Peoples Democratic Party in the state, has made most Kashmiris exceedingly nervous.

The BJP’s tacit and sometimes overt approval of anti-Muslim violence in India, its threats to rescind Article 370 [which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir] and its moves to resettle Kashmiri Pandits in the state, have led to growing fears of demographic change amongst Kashmiri Muslims.

Local newspapers are rife with articles on insidious attempts to wipe out the identity of Kashmiri Muslims and all traces of Islam by settling Hindus in the Valley.

A case in point is an incident in June in which a teacher of the Delhi Public School, Srinagar, was dismissed by the principal for wearing a full abaya that included a face veil. This provoked not just a protest by the students of the school against this action as an insult to Islam, with calls for the reinstatement of the teacher, but also a slew of angry articles that accused the school of attacking Islam, which is an integral part of Kashmiri identity. This was followed, not surprisingly, by articles celebrating the face veil and the modesty of women in Islam.

Spread of conservative Islam 

Over the years, and especially in the wake of the insurgency, Kashmir has been gradually moving towards a more conservative Islam of an Arab variety as the basis of Kashmiri identity. This has become an especially significant expression of opposition to India. The face veil for women, which was practically never seen in Kashmir, is now visible everywhere, and even very young girls can be seen wearing the hijab. I was told by some female college students that while their parents did not require them to wear such covering, their brothers insisted on it, leaving them with no choice but to adopt the full veil.

As apprehensions of demographic change grow in Kashmir, and as radical Islam increasingly makes its presence felt around the world, especially through social media, the radicalisation of the already disgruntled and disillusioned Kashmiri youth is to be expected. Meanwhile, by stoking nationalist passions and demanding that Kashmiri Muslims prove their loyalty to India, the Indian media alienates even those Kashmiris who might otherwise quietly support India, while proving to those who are already against India that they will never be accepted within it.

All this reminds us that the new wave of anger against India is not just about poor governance, but quite as much, if not more, about the preservation of an identity, and an identity that has taken on a particular religious colour.

And therefore the response to it can also not merely be in making empty promises of good governance that go unfulfilled. Ordinary Kashmiris are rejecting the status quo – which includes the Kashmiri elected and unelected leadership – and making their presence felt. They will have to be engaged with respect and human dignity rather than with bullets and pellets if the current explosive situation is to be defused.

The objective of the earlier insurgent movement was political – to achieve self-determination – and violence was a means to that end; in the new militancy, plebiscite and aazadi are mere slogans, while martyrdom has become an end in itself.

This article first appeared on KashmirConnected.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

Watch Billions Now

2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

Watch Westworld Now

3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

Watch The Deuce Now

9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.