Kashmir’s real icons: Faisal, Athar, Bilal, Lt Ummer


K B Jandial
Kashmir witnessed some important developments recently that have confused the Kashmir watchers about the real aspirations of young educated youth claims and counter claims notwithstanding.  If one goes by the media reports, Burhan Wani, Sabzar Bhat and their ilks in battle fatigue are the ‘iconic’ figures for today’s Kashmiri youth and the news stories do not leave any scope for misgivings on this count. The counter narrative looks somewhat absurd in the face of newspapers’ columns full of India bashing, alleged atrocities and daily violence especially the stone pelting and aftermath of killing of a prized terrorist. The press only present “war like” situation as if nothing good can happen in Kashmir. Anyone venturing to predict the positive fallout of any event runs a risk of eating the dust. Curfew and violence in the aftermath of the killing of HM ‘Chief’ Sabzar spiked Jaitely’s observations of Kashmir’s peaceful situation barely nine days after the claim. This is Kashmir.
The common refrain of local and national media is that more and more youth are joining militancy and this claim is vindicated by the ground reports of increasing terror strikes, stone-pelting on security forces both on outer ring of the operations to help the surrounded militants to escape, and on the Police and CRPF conveys, participation of large number of mourners on the burial of the slain militants, looting of banks cash and rifles etc. Media has frequently rolled out figures of more and more youth joining the ranks of armed militancy and an impression is created that the entire young population is rising in revolt against Indian establishment.  Some prominent leaders even passed the judgment of “India losing Kashmir”.
To reinforce the perception that militancy ranks are swelling after the killing of Burhan Wani, media projected Burhan Wani as an icon of “youthful militancy”.  According to the official figures tabled in Parliament, 88 youth joined militancy in 2016 after Burhan’s killing, indeed highest ever in last six years. Till March 18 this year, 16 more had joined militants’ ranks, thus adding 104 new recruits. A national daily has recently reported that South Kashmir has 112 active militants, 99 of them are local, while their number in North Kashmir is 140, 118 of them are foreigners.

Straight Talk

A great deal of effort has gone into digging out  academic profiles of some of the newly inducted militants that established that the new crop of militants are well educated with their qualification ranging from 10th class to B.Tech & PhD. Listing impressive profiles of these recruits, the media report revealed that the new recruits include a PhD, an M Phil, two post-graduates, six graduates, two B Tech, one BE, and five abandoned their engineering and technical courses to join militancy after being motivated by the life and death of Burhan Wani. Quite revealing and disturbing too! But still they don’t constitute the entire segment of Valley’s youth. And there is a counter narrative to this alarming development that regretfully nobody bothered to project to clear the air within and outside the State, not even by the Govt.
Have the powerful images of gun-toting young ‘rebels’ in battle fatigue really caught the imagination of an ordinary educated Kashmiri youth? Are youth really making a beeline to join the armed militancy? Somehow, no one has questioned such perception despite existence of powerful counter narrative.
Participation of a large number of educated Kashmiri youth in civil services examinations, recent test for recruitment into Indian army’s JCOs & other ranks and earlier overflowing recruitment rallies of security forces and the police unmasked the counter scenario that depicts a much  positive image of Kashmiri youth. How can one conveniently overlook this continual trend in Kashmir in any objective analysis on the vision and choice of career and future of Kashmiri youth, daily flashing of newsy pictures of stone-pelters across the globe notwithstanding? At best, both trends can said to exist in Kashmir but with a difference:  stone-pelting is the “mercurial outburst” of some, with or without motivation of some anti-India elements while  attempting to crack a worthwhile mainstream career in civil services, army, security forces, academics, flourishing corporate sector etc  is “well considered” urge for which preparation is done.
Strange or unpalatable it may sound to many, the fact remained that a much larger number of educated youth, not under the influence of radicalizing peers, have appeared in national and state level competitions year after year, even during unrest. They are exploring available opportunities for their promising career in tune with their academic and mental attribute that would transform, not only their own lives but also of their families besides doing something positive for their area and the State. They probably know that the life of a militant is not more than four to five years and many of them got killed much earlier under a misplaced notion of “zanat” and unachievable “azadi” to the benefit of those who are trading Kashmiri blood to keep themselves relevant. This is the biggest tragedy of Kashmir!
Negating the efforts for radicalisation and perception of Kashmiri youth espousing the cause of “azadi” with projected hatred against India and Indian army, large number of candidates participated in Army’s national level competition for JCOs and other ranks at Srinagar and Pattan held on the next day of HM’s “Chief Commander” Sabzar Bhat’s killing amidst Hurriyat’s shut down call and two weeks’ after the martyrdom of Lt. Ummer Fayaz. Neither the gory killing of young promising local army officer by the militants nor anti-India sentiments whipped on the encounter killing of Sabzar could deter Kashmiri youth desirous of joining country’s army, to appear in the scheduled test in curfewed Srinagar. For them, Lt. Ummer is the icon and not Sabzar. For many political leaders and columnists, Farooq Dar (of human shield row) is a huge human right violation and not the dastardly killing of Lt. Ummer. How sad!
Earlier in the year, nearly 6500 Kashmiri youth appeared in IAS prelims this year, nearly 20 % more than of last year. Displaying this trend, the response of J&K youth especially from Kashmir to State’s own civil services examination (KAS) too has shown steady upward trend since 2010. As many as 17696 candidates had applied for KAS examination in 2012 which rose to 25006 in 2013. This year all time high number of 36681 appeared in KAS prelim (45 % from the valley) held in March this year when the valley was reeling under the aftermath of “stone-pelting unrest” and stepped up militancy.
In this year’s UPSC civil services result, all time high number of youth of J&K found place of honour in the list of 1099 successful candidates from all over the country in which share of Muslims is happily increasing with J&K’s share is 25%. Nineteen bright youth made to the list this year against last year’s 12. Both years happened to be in total turmoil.  Majority of successful candidates are Muslim and one of them, hailing from Langate, Handwara, Bilal Mohidin Bhat got 10th rank for IAS. Last year, Anantnag’s Athar Aamir had got second rank. Khurshid Genai, present CVC did the same honour 35 years ago. More and more Kashmiri youth are cracking IAS exam since 2010 when Shah Faisal made J&K proud by topping the competition for the first time. He is the real role model of Kashmiri youth, albeit J&K, but his comparison with any other living or killed would be unfair and unjustified and so are with the subsequent achievers of succeeding years. Some of the achievers said that they were motivated by the President Kalam while others named Shah Faisal and his likes or it.
Doesn’t it present a different narrative than what the people have been reading in newspapers or viewing on TV? Was there any prime time meaningful TV debate focused on this positive trend? Why? It is in whose interest to telecast only acrimonious and distasteful TV debates on Kashmir with outrageous observations and arguments that doesn’t motivate Kashmiri youth to break the shackles of misconception? In fact, it has potential to negate a real positive story of India.
One take away from this not-much-known facts is that the overwhelming segment of quiet and well educated youth  are not easily influenced by the ‘engineered’ unrest and rising militancy who are determined to grab every available  opportunity to make their career as well as to  serve their people in real sense.
See the happiness that is writ at large on these achievers’ own faces and also on their families that is what the parents always look for. They bring with them a promise to help others, eliminate injustice, redress people’ woes through good governance and develop their area, State and the country. And in the process they get a treasure of satisfaction and people’s goodwill. On the contrary, who picks up a gun to be a terrorist (be it ‘mujahid’ for some) he and his family only awaits his violent death that may come in days, weeks or months unless he drops the gun. These misguided youth are always on the run to escape arrest or death putting their parents to avoidable constant mental agony or spill blood of others or their own.  Look at the picture of 11 smart members of “Burhan brigade” in battle fatigue, nine of them already eliminated in encounters and  one has surrendered while only one is alive.  Which is better for Kashmir?
The preference of Kashmiri youth is very obvious but at the same time it is a matter of concern that why even a small segment of Kashmir’s well qualified youth is taking recourse to a sure suicidal path for an unachievable agenda? The parents, peers, faculty in the educational institutions, intellectuals, civil society, political leaders, media ( and why not even separatists if they really love the children and their dead bodies) ponder over it and take collective as well as individual efforts to prevent youth from treading a self-destructive path, and refrained from using them for their agenda. Kashmiri youth are entitled to a better and meaningful future for which opportunities are available in abundance. Why snatch these opportunities from them unless one has vested interest in spilling their blood?