On January 9, Shah Faesal, feted in the national media as the ideal Kashmiri, announced his resignation from the Indian Administrative Service. It was in protest, he said, against “unabated killings in Kashmir” and the absence of any effort at reconciliation from the Union government, against “invisibilisation of around 200 million Muslims” by the forces of Hindutva, against the attack on the identity of Jammu and Kashmir, against “intolerance”, “hate” and “hypernationalism”. There is some speculation that Faesal might join politics, especially since National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah welcomed him “to the fold” on social media. It is also not confirmed whether Faesal’s resignation has been accepted yet. Still, the optics of the public announcement should worry the government.
Despite his unease with the label, Faesal has become the poster boy of the Indian state in recent years. He was a child of conflict, whose family had stayed non-partisan in a war that had riven Kashmiri society, at great personal cost. In spite of difficult circumstances, he had gone on to study medicine and then chosen to cast his lot with the Indian state, topping the civil services examination. Faesal’s success set a trend in Kashmir. Joining the administrative services had once been frowned upon; now a growing number youth were drawn to it in a region that offered few other avenues of employment. Faesal’s was the story of the successful rehabilitation of the Kashmiri youth after years of militancy. When Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani became a household name in Kashmir and after his killing triggered mass protests in the Valley, the contrast was emphasised by sections of the national media. If Faesal could live through conflict to choose public service instead of arms, other youth could choose the same, the argument ran.
But even the poster boy fell from grace last year, when he spoke out against the murder and alleged rape of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu’s Kathua district, calling out the “rape culture” that pervaded the subcontinent. He had then been chastised for apparently violating civil service conduct rules. The government’s thin-skinned response to criticism from Faesal points to larger failures in Kashmir, where dissent is put down with force, pushing a generation of youth to arm themselves with stones and, finally, guns. The state blamed Pakistan and other “anti-national” forces for “radicalising” the youth as it pursued a policy of repression, with frequent internet shutdowns and preventive detentions. Over the last year, the bloodiest in a decade, attempts at dialogue have dried out and the civilian leadership has receded, leaving the security forces to launch a crackdown on militancy. State policies are now so unpalatable in the Valley that even the government’s chosen favourite has dissociated himself from the administrative machinery. When all other arguments have failed, this should give Delhi reason to reconsider its Kashmir policy.