Through the years of turmoil which engulfed Kashmir over the last two decades, one feature was remarkable.
No yatri, no tourist was ever targeted by the Kashmiri Muslims in their protests.
During the violence which swamped Kashmir in 2008 and 2010, the uprisings were directed against the Indian establishment and the security forces. Not against Indians.
|At Srigufwara in Anantnag district, Muslim youth pelted stones upon a bus carrying Amarnath yatra pilgrims. (Representational Image)|
Come to the devastating floods which ravaged Kashmir in September 2014. Rescue teams set up by Kashmiri Muslims selflessly helped hundreds of tourists and provided them food and other essentials.
Post the Burhan Wani's death, Kashmir is witnessing a horrific new phenomenon. A shift from an anti-India sentiment to an anti-Hindu sentiment.
This is something that even Kashmir's grand old patriarch, chairman of Hurriyat (G) Syed Ali Geelani may not be able to control.
Geelani has always taken a staunch stand for a free Kashmir. At the same time, he has consistently emphasised that no harm should ever come to any religious minority in Kashmir.
The Kashmir that Geelani used to swear by all his life is changing.
On July 10, an enraged mob of Kashmiri Muslims stoned the accommodation complex of Kashmiri Pandits at Haal in Pulwama.
The same day, a langar set up for devotees headed to the Amarnath shrine was attacked in Ganeshpora village, en route to Pahalgam.
At Srigufwara in Anantnag district, Muslim youth pelted stones upon a bus carrying Amarnath yatra pilgrims.
Kashmiri separatists have consistently tried to project a secular image.
In a report published in Greater Kashmir, Geelani criticised the stone-pelting at Srigufwara, and said such incidents should not take place.
These attacks led to fears among security forces regarding the safety of pilgrims who were reaching in thousands daily for the Amarnath yatra.
The frenzy of the riotous mobs in Kashmir is such that the Amarnath yatra had to be suspended.
About 23,000 pilgrims who were stranded at base camps after darshan at Amarnath shrine were moved out to Jammu, from where they will return to their homes.
Even for a region as volatile and violence-prone as Kashmir, some things are new.
In villages across south Kashmir, bands of boys as little as nine-to-ten year old are organising "checkpoints", stopping and dancing around the vehicles of Kashmiris venturing out on urgent work. The slogan of these children as they dance around the cars – "Hum kya chahtey, azadi."
Teenage girls and young women in their 20s, with dupattas covering their faces and heads, have formed cliques of stone pelters, and are excited with their newfound work.
This is unusual for the conservative Valley, which has strict social restrictions on the movement of women and girls. For the last decade or so, stone pelters have been teenage boys and young men.
Since Kashmir has a limited force of women police, dealing with agitated female protesters has become a problem for the security forces.
Across the Valley, thousands of ordinary villagers who want to keep their families out of the raging fire are finding themselves powerless. Despite bitter fights in many households, sons are defying their fathers and wives defying their husbands to join the protesters.
In numerous mosques across Kashmir, anti-India and "azadi" calls are being given.
Voices of hardline clerics can be heard from loudspeakers at these mosques, speaking of grievous injuries caused to fellow Kashmiris in the protests against India and the security forces.
Exhortations are being made to incite crowds. Men and youth are being urged to emulate Burhan Wani, and follow the same path to avenge Kashmir’s honour.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted on July 8: "Aftr many yrs I hear slogans for 'Azadi' resonate from the mosque in my uptown Srinagar locality."
These calls are being received by a highly receptive crowd.
The mob is incensed over the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani by security forces. He had a larger-than-life persona even before his death. Now, his persona has been magnified multifold. He is the newest martyr for the mobs. Everybody loves a martyr.
In a village in Anantnag district, a woman whose son recently finished B Tech but is unemployed casually told a fellow Kashmiri that it would make her immensely proud if her son met the same end as Burhan. “How fortunate Burhan’s mother is! How proud she must be!” she exclaimed in Kashmiri.
In Burhan’s house in Tral in Pulwama district, young Kashmiris by the thousands have poured in after his funeral, to touch the feet of his mother. They are seeking her blessings to follow her son’s path.
Geelani has blamed the state government for spoiling peace in Kashmir. He has appealed to protesters to maintain discipline and not damage police stations, as this would invite retaliatory action.
Other hardline separatists, who were marginalised by Kashmiri Muslims in the last few years, have suddenly become hugely relevant as they fan the rage against India. They have no qualms about young Kashmiris dying for what they call "the bigger cause".
The mob has put the Indian state on the cross for all the ills the plague Kashmir. Bad civic infrastructure, poor health and education services, unemployment, lack of opportunities in the Valley, endemic corruption in the administrative and police systems, and more.
Add to that the imagery peddled in Kashmir for over two decades now – of India as an “occupying force”.
The death toll is steadily rising. Voices of the sane, rational Kashmiris have been drowned out. Such voices are quickly discredited and dubbed as ‘Indian agents’.
It is not without reason that both Mehbooba Mufti and the BJP, the partner in the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, have remained quiet on Burhan’s killing, even as the state battles mob wrath.
In Kashmir, anything said by the political establishment during these inflamed times will be used to incite mobs further.
The mainstream politician most vocal during these times is former chief minister Omar Abdullah. With a series of tweets on July 10, was he baiting chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, or offering support in these times of distress?
"More than anyone else I know what you're going through @MehboobaMufti & I can assure you that we will follow your lead but lead YOU must.
"Please don't take the easy option of hiding behind your spokesperson & your police officers. No one elected them, the people elected you.
"This is the time to lead from the front. You must accept the responsibility both for letting things get to this point as for the recovery."
While a good percentage of Kashmiri Muslims have disaffection towards India, this groundswell of anger and the riotous mobs are not borne out of disaffection alone.
Horrific currents are at play in a region where strong, vested interests on both sides of the border have kept the conflict inbred.
Political analyst-cum-author Madhu Kishwar, who has worked for many years as part of the efforts to restore normalcy to Kashmir, tweeted on July 10: "Bet my life on it NC &Omar Abdullah fueling unrest & violence in Kashmir. Abdullah family behind ruin of the state."
While this is an overstatement, political slurs are not new for Kashmir. At the time of the violence and stone-pelting that rocked Kashmir in 2008 and 2010, similar allegations of fuelling mob anger were directed at late chief minister Mufti Sayeed.
There is an increasing clamour in the national media, urging the Centre to take “big political steps” where Kashmir is concerned.
But big political steps are a two-way connect.
In Kashmir, it is difficult to find civil society members who may create space for moderate thought vis-à-vis India even during normal times.
Illustrious Kashmiris who have economic, social and political ties with India, and strongly believe in Kashmir as an integral part of the nation, rarely speak their mind. Most of them prefer to remain quiet on this issue fearing severe social backlash.
At public forums and meetings, many civil society members can be seen indulging in India bashing. The voices which offer a fair, balanced view of the Kashmir conflict are few and far between.
But the India-bashing of some eminent Kashmiris is restricted only to their public appearances.Their offices or drawing-rooms tell a different story. Here, they have put up their photographs receiving awards from top ministers at the Centre.
Many prominent mediapersons and members of the civil society have acquired great riches and built large hotels, showrooms and other impressive movable and immovable assets with the help of the Indian state.
This is so commonly known in Kashmir, that it is not even whispered. It is stated in a matter-of-fact manner. Nobody is surprised by it.
While the Kashmiri elite keep fattening their personal fortunes, the ordinary Kashmiris are incited to take to mob action, and be the frontline during protests.
In troubled times, the Kashmiri elite stay safely indoors. They need not fear for their children and grandchildren, who are safe in mainland India or abroad, working or studying.
Ordinary Kashmiri Muslims, living in the towns and villages across the Valley, and their children are incited to fight for Kashmir’s so-called Azadi.
These Kashmiris, who are incited by hugely vested interests at a very young age and are rioting in the Valley, do not realise that they are mere pawns in a monstrous game. They are highly useful for those who want to keep Kashmir in flames.
The youth who are now promising to walk down Burhan's path are vital fuel for a grotesque, vicious insurgency machine which will keep rolling to keep Kashmir in turmoil.