In the 63 years of Kashmir’s association with India, there have been many agitations and upheavals. However, the scale, the sentiment, the emotions, and the total involvement of the population seen at present are unprecedented. A strange frenzy seems to have overtaken the entire population, be it the young children, the teenagers, the women, and the elders. They are absolutely fearless of the armed soldiers and are facing bullets with their bare chests. The State Government has ceased to exist for all practical purposes. The Central Government is confused and paralyzed. They have absolutely no idea as to how the fire in Kashmir can be doused. On the contrary, instead of cooling tempers they are adding fuel to the fire by sending more troops. Kashmir is already known as the most militarised area of the world.
The present upheaval in Kashmir has been long in the making and is not a sudden eruption. In fact, one needs to go back to 1931 when the movement for Kashmir’s freedom is supposed to have started in a big way. The events of 13 July 1931 when 21 Kashmiris were martyred in front of the Central Jail where Abdul Kadeer, the fiery orator was on trial for sedition, electrified the movement. Because of this event and subsequent happenings, the movement spread and culminated in Quit Kashmir upheaval of 1946. These events had thrown up Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah as the charismatic leader of Kashmir. He became the symbol of Kashmiri resistance, and people even attributed divine qualities to him. However, Kashmir’s misfortune started with the leader taking them round and round in circles and ultimately leaving them in the lurch in 1975.
For all these 63 years Kashmiris have been taken for a ride by its leaders. Instead of getting Kashmiris a place of honour and dignity, the leaders compromised for money and power. In pursuit of this, they built a massive edifice of corruption and dishonesty under which the common Kashmiri got virtually crushed. The first attempt to defy this leadership happened in 1987 when the masses wanted to get their voice heard through a democratic process by participating in elections under the banner of Muslim United Front. However, India in reality lit the fuse of the revolution by massacring democracy by allowing Farooq Abdullah to massively rig the elections. That sowed the seeds of the armed rebellion which erupted in 1990.
For two decades of militancy, Kashmir paid a heavy price in everything. Thousands of people were killed. Thousands were injured. Thousands are still missing. Normal life was completely shattered. Kashmir was virtually converted into a military cantonment. However, even after paying such a heavy price, Kashmiris continued to wander in the wilderness. One of the main reasons for the failure in achieving their goal has been perennial internecine struggle among their leaders. The last two decades also saw the growth of a new generation brought up in the throes of conflict. They witnessed bullets, explosions, killings, and destruction everywhere. They became totally insensitive to death and destruction. The so called mainstream leaders who had always been the beneficiaries of conflict in Kashmir and had completely disappeared during militancy, resurfaced after the Indian authorities crushed the militancy with brutal force. Some of the genuine and honest leaders who could have given a new lead were liquidated by the agencies of both the countries. The new generation had no faith in the traditional leaders and for all practical purposes they became irrelevant.
It is this new generation brought up in the throes of conflict which has come of age and has been protesting for the last three years. During these years they have felt totally disgusted, not only by the bankruptcy of the leadership on all sides but by a totally bleak future in all respects. The inability of the violent struggle to produce any tangible results had convinced them that the ideal way to achieve their goal was through peaceful mass agitation. It was because of this paradigm shift that the massive marches of 2008 were led by these youth.
However, the authorities in Delhi claiming Kashmir to be an integral part of ‘democratic’ India, instead of allowing them the chance to freely express their views, again crushed them with a heavy hand. They did not initially indulge in violence. The violence like stone pelting was a reaction to the oppression unleashed on them. A Kashmiri has been historically considered a non-violent and docile person. They have learnt the art of survival in the face of adversity. However, even their tolerance has a limit. When a Kashmiri feels his very survival threatened, he rises en masse regardless of the consequences.
The only possibility is to channel this emotional outburst in a constructive rather than a destructive direction. This requires political will and sagacity. Oppression has to be replaced by healing of wounds and soothing of anger. Fulfilment of the basic aspirations has to be assured by credible persons. This may be the only option to save the burning valley from total destruction! Will the leaders in Delhi rise to the occasion? That is the burning question!