Police and security forces are facing a new challenge in Kashmir. The growing popularity of militants among common masses has upset the security establishment. No counter-strategy has so far worked for them. On 24 August, security forces had to beat a retreat following intense stone-pelting and slogans shouting by local residents when the former laid siege of Redwani Bala and Ghat villages near Kudwani in southern Kulgam district.
Security forces had cordoned off the villages following inputs about presence of militants there.
Before they could launch house-to-house searches to flush out the hiding militants, residents of the area gathered in large numbers and attacked security forces with stones and other projectiles. The firing of pellets, tear smoke shells and cane charge, familiar weaponry of security forces to quell such protests, failed to scare away the civilian protestors which ultimately led security forces to call off the operation. The trapped militants broke free from the area.
On April 11, two militants had escaped from the same area amid intense stone-pelting and protests by the local residents. Four civilians and an army soldier were killed in this operation while militants made good their escape.
Over the past sometime, security forces have not only to battle militants during encounters but they have to face the wrath of common people as well. People—young and old, men and women—gather on encounter sites in support of militants, and engage security forces in yet another battle from a front that has so far been an unfamiliar for them. They pelt stones and bricks on security men, raise slogans in favor of militants and sing songs of azadi from mosque loudspeakers.
Police and army, both, have issued a stern warning to civilian population to remain away from encounter site or face action. But that has little deterred them. More than a dozen civilians have died and hundreds other have got wounded during such battles in the past one year.
It is a new trend not known till recent past in Kashmir’s 30-year old armed movement. And it is becoming popular among masses so promptly. This is quite contrast to the past behavior. Earlier people used to run away from encounter sites to safer places. They now brave bullets making tough for security forces to act against militant
Security forces operating in Jammu and Kashmir have the image of treating armed and unarmed people equally. Human rights groups, national and international, have been critical of this kind of attitude and serious questions have been raised at international forums against Indian government’s record of human rights violations in Kashmir. United Nations recently indicted Indian government for violating human rights in Kashmir.
But of late there had been attempts on the part of security forces to carry out surgical operations against militants without causing collateral damage. The growing public support to militants however is becoming a causing serious concern.
What adds to their worries is that it is the young Kashmir that leads support campaign for militants. They are brave, fearless, and over and above, politically cognizant of what they are doing. Their eyes spew fire and voices anger. That was more than evident in 2008 and 2010 summer uprising when teen-aged youth led the street battles against government forces all across Kashmir. Around 200 persons, majority of them young school-going boys got killed and hundreds others were wounded during this revolt. Armed with stones, bricks and pebbles, the agitating generation is viewed as new face of Kashmir resistance.
Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Burhan Wani’s death on July 8, 2016 was the culmination. It set a new trend on militancy front. Young Kashmir is showing more inclination towards the gun. This year (till July) 131 youth have joined militant ranks in the valley. This is the highest since 2010. There has been a steady rise in the number of youths taking up arms in the valley since 2014 as compared to the period from 2010 to 2013 when the figure stood at 54, 23, 21 and 6 respectively. In 2014, the number shot up to 53 and in 2015, it reached 66 before touching the highest mark of 88 in 2016, according to official data. The data says that 126 youth joined militancy in 2017.
New Delhi’s aggressive behavior is also adding to this new wave. Hindu fundamentalists feel empowered in the shadow of present central government. They are virtually controlling the streets with no fear of law. Their daily threats to minorities, more particularly to Muslims in India, are furthering the sense of alienation and anger in Kashmir. Hindu extremists’ threat-politics reverberated in Jammu and Kashmir as well during PDP-BJP coalition rule. One Kashmiri trucker was lynched by a Hindu extremist mob at Udhampur in Jammu. A nomad family was beaten up and their hutment torched by Hindu extremists in Reasi. A 8-year old nomad Muslim girl was raped and later murdered in Kathua with hundreds of Hindu extremists supporting the rapist publicly.
There is growing feeling of insecurity, and the RSS and its affiliate groups are adding to this fear by their nefarious actions. The silence from the government looks like official license to the extremist elements.