Azadi. The word that has been resonating at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi is more than just a slogan in Kashmir. It is an incantation of hope, assuring the chanter that there is still a possibility of a dignified life. For those in Delhi or Mumbai, the Kashmiri right to self-determination may be a delusional, even an impossible, concept. But in the Valley, it is the thought that keeps people going. They can’t forget the memory of the human rights violations, daily oppression, abuse of rights and the apathy of the Indian Republic. Nor can they ignore the memory.
So they express their sentiments with the slogan of azadi.
On Wednesday, three young members of the group Hizbul Mujahideen were killed, and thousands attended their funeral procession. One of the dead was 20-year-old Ishaq Ahmad Parrey, an amazing student who once dreamt of becoming a doctor or engineer and was given the sobriquet Ishaq Newton for his academic achievements. He gave up his ambitions and picked up arms last March.
In mid-February, just days after an event was organised in JNU to protest against the hanging of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, two civilians were shot dead in Kashmir. Shaista Hamid, 24, and Danish Mir, 25, died during protests that followed an encounter between soldiers and militants in south Kashmir. Their death sparked widespread protests the next day, and led to the imposition of a curfew.
Each fresh killing in Kashmir works as a reminder of every other incident since the beginning of the conflict. It keeps the memory alive, adding to the heap of history, be it the armed rebellion that began in the late 1980s, the hanging of Maqbool Bhat and the rigged elections of 1987, or thousands of Kashmiri men crossing the Line of Control into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to take up arms. The violent repression of the civil uprisings in 2008 and 2010 and the hanging of Afzal Guru in 2013 form some of the painful memories of today’s youth.
When peaceful protests are not allowed, seminars are banned, people are arrested merely under suspicion, stone-throwers are shot at, and any democratic dissent is crushed, people are bound to find other ways to express their ire. The transformation of Ishaq Ahmad Parrey from a bright student to an armed rebel and the rise of young Burhan Wani as a commander of Hizbul Mujahideen are examples of that. The calls of azadi seek the same object, albeit in a different way. So, addressing the Kashmir issue politically would be wiser than silencing the voices of azadi.