Summer of Discontent: Considering Conditions in Kashmir

Article excerpt

On July 7, 2010, for the first time in over 17 years, troops from the 15th corps of the Indian army were deployed in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, to assist civilian authorities in maintaining law and order. Although the army's presence remained low key, it was a startling recognition of the fact that the valley of Kashmir was moving toward crisis once again. And yet, less than two years before, Jammu and Kashmir had witnessed the most inclusive elections in its history that led to the formation of a coalition government headed by a young, modern, and well-educated chief minister, Omar Abdullah. Veteran Kashmir watchers may experience a sense of deja vu, and be reminded of the 1990s. Unlike the situation two decades ago, however, the writ of the state is not primarily being challenged by a popular insurgency or Pakistan-sponsored militant organizations or even by separatist cartels like the Hurriyat. Instead, it is the anger of a new generation of young men and women who have grown up in these two decades of conflict, which has translated into a resilient wave of protests in many parts of the Kashmir valley. They are not armed with guns, but often only with stones, in what has become a resistance movement.

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The troubles in Kashmir have two dimensions: the conflict between India and Pakistan over the province, and the conflict between New Delhi and the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Here we focus primarily on the latter, the "internal" dimensions of the problem.

The Present Crises

The immediate catalyst for the street protests of the summer has been the killing of innocent Kashmiris. On June 11, 2010, a student, Tufail Mattoo, was killed by a tear gas shell, which triggered a vicious cycle of protests, killings, and more protests. More than a hundred Kashmiris died between June 11 and the first week of November. Most of them were teenagers, either protesters or just innocent bystanders caught in the turmoil.

Although this rebellious urge may have been sparked by specific incidents of violence and killings, it is also a broader expression of anger, disillusionment, and frustration. While it is tempting to reduce the protests to indoctrination by extremist Islamic groups, Pakistan's machinations, or the influence of other vested interests, this radicalization has been caused by multiple factors, and above all by a sense of hopelessness. This is a generation that has seen suffering, killings, and political uncertainty, and has had to remain sequestered in their homes for great lengths of time. This group has often witnessed daily tragedy, seen no light at the end of the tunnel, endured harassment, and been distrusted by sections of the Indian establishment--consequently, its members simmer with deep discontent and angst. And yet this generation is not at an age where it can introspect and take a long-term view of matters.

This is also a generation that, somewhat paradoxically, has been empowered by technology. The internet is a powerful instrument of social communication, radicalization, and political mobilization. One has to conduct only a sample survey of the Kashmiri lists on Facebook to witness the anger and the appeal of the "stone pelters" as well as the collective expression of rebellion through the "Quit Jammu and Kashmir" campaign. A Kashmiri version of Everlast's song "Stone in My Hand" has been uploaded on Youtube with deeply suggestive lyrics: "I got no pistol, ain't got no sword; I got no army, ain't got no land, ain't got nothing but the stone that's in my hand ... You say you want a revolution, well get on board."

Ironically, there does not seem to be a leader or a group of leaders who is inspiring or directing these protests. Some may be ideologically or logistically guiding these protests, but there is no mainstream or separatist leader who can legitimately be blamed for the street protests--or who can claim credit. …