How Modi government can woo angry Kashmir youth

Participants in agitations would reduce. I hope the Centre considers this option.

 |  6-minute read |   29-04-2017
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The youth have always been at the forefront of protests in the Valley. The summer of 2016 was the bloodiest in recent times and it was the youth which led the charge. Schools and colleges were shut, drawing more onto the streets.

This is the youth which has been born into militancy, seen the Army and other security forces at close range and partially lost the fear of the power of the state. Many of those who joined militancy are educated, but unemployed.

During the agitation last year, militants burned schools in remote areas, rendering students without educational facilities, and alternatively compelling them to join madrasas, wherein indoctrination becomes the order of the day. Unless checked, the next generation of madrasa students would be steeped in religious fundamentalism.

In recent days, students have again been taking to the streets, compelling the state to close educational institutes. The visit by a security team to the university, solely to discuss an art exhibition, was misconstrued and reignited tensions in an already charged atmosphere.

Clashes between students and security forces are spreading across the region. Even girls have begun participating in agitations, something not witnessed earlier. It is also the youth who rush to encounter sites seeking to disrupt operations, paving the way for militants to escape.

In the ultimate analysis, it is the youth which is leading the struggle and bearing the brunt of casualties. The hold and power of the separatists seems to have waned and that of local leaders, inciting and paying stone-throwers, is on the rise.

In a recent interview published in The Times of India, a group of women footballers in Srinagar stated that they had resorted to stone-throwing in response to a policeman slapping one of them, but had no desire to do so. Many other young students have spoken on similar lines.

The state Board exams, held even after schools had been shut for over six months, had almost all eligible students appearing. This indicates that the youth seek to learn, to change their lives, but the situation prevents them from pursuing their dreams.

Those who have funds as also family members of instigators are away from the Valley, away from stone-pelting, pursuing professional careers in the heart of the country.

For the youth moving in groups, even those with no desire to participate, peer pressure and being part of a group compels them to join protests. At an impressionable age, being an accepted member of the group is an essential ingredient of life.

It is for this reason that parents of children who suffered injury or became casualties thought their children were just bystanders, not realising that they jumped to the front, solely to be accepted by colleagues. Those who instigate are always in the background, avoiding injury or the wrath of the police. The coming summer is likely to be a repeat, with institutions likely to close or barely function.

The government has taken a drastic step to curtail social media sites across the region, to control the spread of messages seeking agitators to gather. Whether it would prove effective, time would judge, however it has already angered the youth, who survive on social media.

kashmir-ebed_042917060740.jpgNo parent in the Valley desires losing children in bullet actions, hence would be more than willing to support this plan. Photo: Reuters

If the situation has to be restored, then the youth need to be weaned away from the turmoil and returned to classes. They simultaneously need to be moved away from madrasas to normal schooling.

However, educational institutions in the Valley would remain affected and be unable to open. Those instigating the violence would ensure that they do not open and students remain mired in violence. It suits them and Pakistan if this continues.

Students, most of whom want to study and change their lives, would blame the state and the Centre for this situation, little realising that those responsible are doing it for furthering an enemy agenda.

Hence, the only option for the state and the Centre are to move students away from this region, into institutions spread across the nation. The state itself has hundreds of schools in Jammu as also below the Pir Panjal in Rajouri, Poonch and Doda, functioning normally.

In the first instance, each school in the region, private or government, big or small, where there is no disturbance, should be forced to accept a minimum of 15 to 20 students spread across all classes. The school should provide them with free boarding and lodging, books, uniform and tuitions. It should be an enforced part of social responsibility of schools, including private schools.

After all, the Right to Education (RTE) has been enforced, and a little loss of school profits implies nothing. Any institution rejecting could easily be pressured by the state and city administration. The same should be done with all colleges, including private universities. The Centre should push for the same across the nation, including colleges and private universities.

The Army, being a major stakeholder in the region, could lead by example and commence by accepting students in its Army schools and colleges spread across the country. Initially there would be a fear of the unknown, hence some local resistance, however, once the movement commences and correct feedback begins to flow, it could become a flood.

No parent in the Valley desires losing children in bullet actions, hence would be more than willing to support this action. Ideally, in the initial phase, parents could accompany and admit their wards in these institutes, carrying back reassured messages.

It would meet immense resistance from Pakistan supporters in the Valley, who would employ every channel to spread discontent and fake stories of abuse and torture. However, if correctly handled and successfully implemented, this could become a game-changer for the region.

Participants in agitations would reduce, the desire to learn and pursue dreams would increase and the mindset of being "anti-Indian" would reduce. For those with limited means, it would be a god-sent opportunity for changing the lives which they have led and enable them to dream of a better tomorrow.

Having just a few students in each institute, spread across a variety of classes, would prevent them from forming a regional group, simultaneously enabling them to interact locally, developing a bonding with a mixed community, and changing the existing mindset. They would then become volunteer ambassadors for the rest of India, in their respective households.

The battle in Kashmir is being led by the youth, who have been indoctrinated with hate and venom, prevented from learning, and forced into agitations which they may never approve. Getting an opportunity to pursue their dreams and subsequently bring about betterment in their local society could become a game-changer.

It may not happen overnight, but once the government puts its mind into it and the Army takes the lead, confidence in the system becomes acceptable, and Kashmir could change for the better. Simplistically put, engage the youth and change Kashmir. I hope the government considers this option.

Also read: Five reasons behind radicalisation in Kashmir


Harsha Kakar Harsha Kakar @kakar_harsha

The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army and author of the book, Harsha Kakar writes.

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