The Valley of Death

Violence for Kashmiris is not a matter of choice, but a response to the alienation experienced by young Kashmiris since decades. The ruling BJP-PDP led coalition has failed miserably to address the 4-point agenda that formed the basic framework of BJP-PDP alliance. All agreed to review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act only to forget it after formation of the government. At no point of time a Muslim majority state Kashmir projected itself as Islamic. But today all the notorious brands of Jihadists like ISIS, al-Qaeda etc find their supporters in the valley, thanks to continuing army brutality.

No doubt widespread condemnation of the attack on pilgrims to Amarnath shrine carries a positive message. What is at stake is the systematic decline of syncretic culture in the valley of death. Ever since a Kashmiri shepherd Buta Malik discovered the cave shrine at Amarnath in 1850, the pilgrimage to the ‘Natural Shiva Temple’ has been a unique exercise of religious tolerance and co-existence. Local people engaged in making this annual ritual successful gain economically. It’s part of tourism industry which is the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy. As per conservative estimates at least 30 percent pilgrims visit different tourist destinations after completing the pilgrimage.

Not that all militant groups operating in the valley are in favour of promoting syncretic culture. Nor do they belong to a single platform fighting unitedly against the security establishment. They differ in their perception to define—or re-define—Kashmiriyat. What unites them is armed struggle to get rid of New Delhi’s control over Srinagar.

It’s not yet clear whether militants deliberately targeted the bus carrying innocent civilians. ‘The militants first attacked a bullet proof bunker at Botengoo’, a police official said, adding it was retaliated. So there was confrontation before the bus came under fire. The police disclosed later that the bus was not a part of the official pilgrimage convoy which was provided elaborate security. This way or that seven pilgrims, all of them from Gujarat, were killed and 32 injured, in the worst attack on the annual pilgrimage since the year 2000. Surprisingly, no militant outfit has so far claimed responsibility for the attack—rather, every militant organisation has reportedly issued statements condemning it. What is more, last June, Hizbul commander Burhan Wani whose death triggered the current phase of violence, actually said in no uncertain terms that the Amarnath Yatra would never be attacked. That Mirwaiz Uumar Farooq of the separatist Huriyat Conference, made his abhorrence clear, indicates the spirit of Kashmiriyat is not yet dead. Hundreds of academics, students, activists and traders, holding placards saying ‘‘silence is criminal’’ protested in the streets of Srinagar. What they conveyed to the people of India is ‘‘the attack is against the ethos of Kashmir’’. Barring the die-hard pro-Pakistan elements, the larger Kashmiri society has resented the attack.

The hard fact is that there is hardly any public outrage in major Indian cities when innocent Kashmiris, civilians—youth, women and children—are ‘‘killed, raped or blinded’’. Some human rights groups apart, no political party, national or regional, shows any sincerity to organise movement against army brutalities the Kashmiris are experiencing day in and day out. How stone pelters are being blinded by pellets is a source of permanent agony in the valley. True, a section of insurgency is too eager to see Kashmiri struggle gets communalised but all is not lost yet as the recent anti-attack protest by the people of Kashmir shows.

Meanwhile, Union Minister Jitendra Singh saw militancy in J&K was entering its ‘final phase’. His statement came just two days after the attack on Amarnath pilgrims in Anantanag district of South Kashmir. The hard reality is that no insurgency can be defeated unless insurgents are politically and ideologically isolated from broad masses. In truth the security establishment which is plagued by rampant corruption is primarily responsible for the volatile situation that prevails in Kashmir.

Whether they like it or not, the present crisis has its roots to an incident in 2010, when 4-5 people were killed by the army personnel who branded them as terrorists. It was later discovered that those killed were local Gujjar boys and the officer concerned just killed them for personal gains and promotion. This fake encounter fuelled an agitation which led to the entire state being shut down for 7-8 months. The guilty were not punished.

The persons in power continually talk of confidence building measures without doing anything concrete in the field. Islamists in Kashmir are gaining ground because of total absence of mass mobilisation against bigger enemy. Toilers have no organisation of their own to air grievances. So gun culture dominates the scenario. And Islamists and fundamentalist forces, are taking centre stage, increasingly projecting Kashmiris’ fight for self-determination as a part of jihadi outrage which it was not at the initial stage of movement.

Ordinary Kashmiris value peace above anything else and indulge in violence or armed resistance only when pushed to the brink. Then ordinary Kashmiris are caught in cross-fire between militants and security forces. They are helpless in the face of threats by militants on the one hand and lack of security by the government on the other. It seems ordinary Kashmiris are victims of circumstances over which they have no control. The age-old syncretic aspect of Shaivite and Sufi practices that were fused together in course of time to produce a composite culture, is under attack. Despite the large scale migration of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990, the yearly Amarnath pilgrimage remained a signifier of the Hindu-Muslim bond which is threatened now.

Vol. 50, No.3, Jul 23 - 29, 2017