Kashmir is an emotive word in India. It melds poetry and pathos with blood and bullets. Kashmir is where “paradise blooms with death flowers” as poet-photographer Aamir Wani puts it. It is also a part of the country that evokes images of shelling, tear gas and stone throwing. The troubled Valley is typically seen as a problem, intimately linked to Pakistan and the larger question of war and peace in South Asia.

Can Kashmir be imagined separately from the people who live there? What are the hopes, fears and lived realities of the generation of young Kashmiris who were born and grew up amid mayhem and violence?

The Generation of Rage in Kashmir by David Devadas attempts to explore these questions by describing in granular detail the roots of rage in Kashmiri youth, especially millennials. Devadas has lived and worked in Kashmir for years. His book is not so much a look at Kashmir from a geopolitical viewpoint as it is a detailed sociological study about “why and how angst rose from peaceable calm to enraged rejection between 2007 and 2017”, as he writes in his introduction.

A new generation

There is a very good reason why Kashmir’s new generation deserves attention. Two-thirds of the population of the Kashmir Valley, as of 2017, was born after militancy began in the late 1980s. This is a population that has lived with death and destruction but has no direct experience of the violence of the 1990s.

Rage is not new to Kashmir, but the rage of its new generation is of a different kind. Devadas argues that it would be a mistake to treat a new generation of insurgents as a continuation of previous ones, as the Indian state has done, because it has been shaped by a host of different influences and experiences.

The hope raised by late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace initiatives, for example, has faded away. The new generation that has grown up in the Valley is inoculated against fear, having undergone interminable cycles of violence since childhood. These youngsters also experienced the counterinsurgency apparatus mounted by the state, which resulted in deep resentment. Many teenagers in Kashmir particularly resented harassment by soldiers. “Not only had they been too young to become used to cowering during the 1990s, they had been immunised to tactics that had terrorised their parents,” writes Devadas. “Even a demand to see an identity card – which every Kashmiri had to carry if they did not want to be detained, tortured, or perhaps killed – was now treated as an indignity.”

Multiple forces

The new face of militancy in Kashmir is also a result of other factors. After 2007, there were three key processes that influenced Kashmir – connectivity, global Islamic consciousness and fundamentalist ideologies. Cumulatively, these generated a new perception about the situation in Kashmir and its people. A growing numbers of youngsters, especially men, began to view military presence in the Valley as “part of a global pattern of oppression of Muslim communities.”

One of the most fascinating parts of the book deals with how Kashmiri youth have been impacted by the spread of mobile phones, internet connectivity and social networking sites such as Facebook. In 2002, Devadas points out, Kashmir had very limited access to mobile phones – barely 1,000 mobile numbers, exclusively through a government-owned telephone company. In 2004, the government allowed a private phone service provider to move in. Between just September and December that year, 70,000 new connections had been sold, and by 2007, that number had crossed a million, as private service providers proliferated. Phone usage continued to gallop, and data services soared with 3G connectivity in the years that followed. All this had an impact on Kashmiri youth. These communication networks also helped spread ideas propagated by fundamentalist groups such as Tablighi Jamaat.

In Devadas’ telling of the Kashmir story, what also helped in the gradual emergence of new militancy in Kashmir were counterinsurgency excesses. “Several of the new recruits to militancy were from south Kashmir where many boys had been tortured and horribly humiliated in police stations in the months after the 2010 uprising,” he writes. Kashmir’s millennials, Devadas writes, were bright and curious, full of aspirations but they were also handicapped by an education system that was in poor shape.

Devadas’ analysis, based on primary research, leads him to conclude that corruption, rank opportunism, and callousness and indifference on the part of the state cumulatively contributed to the change from hope to rage. He is convinced that the government’s blindness to the facts undergirding the new militancy exacerbated the problem.

What lies ahead?

Some readers may think Devadas overstates his point. The book is repetitive in parts. But this is a minor flaw, which does not take away from its intrinsic strength – the author’s deep involvement with the subject of the book and his lived experiences in the Valley. He did not fly in and fly out of Kashmir nor is the book a synthesis of insights collated from secondary sources.

There no one truth about Kashmir; there are multiple truths, conflicting with one another. Given the subject, it is difficult to be a neutral bystander. Devadas, a former journalist, has described the truth of Kashmir as he saw it and based on his own conversations with a vast number of people from different sections of society. Some of the most valuable insights in the book, in fact, are from a survey the author conducted in mid-2011 in more than 60 schools and colleges in the Valley.

Devadas’ attempt to tell this story clearly stems from his conviction that the way to a more peaceful future lies through discussions on what shaped the rage of young Kashmiris and the ways in which counterinsurgency shaped their choices.

Other experts on Kashmir may or may not agree with Devadas’ observations but the book is an eye-opener for many of us who want to know what ordinary young Kashmiris think and feel and what has been happening on the ground, beyond guns and despair.

The Generation of Rage in Kashmir, David Devadas, Oxford University Press.