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Excerpt: A New Militancy & ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’

The Quint presents an excerpt from author David Devadas’s new book ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’.

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David Devadas, who has covered Kashmir as a journalist for thirty years, and lived there for more than a decade, has written a book called The Generation of Rage in Kashmir. Based on interactions with youth across the Valley, it gives insights into factors that have given rise to a new militancy, which has been accompanied by mass demonstrations and stone-pelting. It describes what life has been like for those born and raised in a time of violence, who now comprise more than two-thirds of the Valley’s population.

The Quint publishes an excerpt from the book:

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… polarised perspectives on Kashmir led to a surreal situation in which what seemed black to some seemed clearly white to others. Both views were in fact mirror images. That applied to emergent contemporary events even more than to history.

Thus, most Indians, as well as most proponents of ‘azadi’, perceived the various protests on the streets of Kashmir simply as being anti-India revolts, regardless of the differing focus of each of the uprisings discussed in Chapter 2 (‘Mass Rage’).

There was little awareness of the various nuances in the opinions and aspirations of young Kashmiris—or of differences across space and time—which the survey findings explained in Chapter 4, ‘Varied Opinions’, showed.

Some Indian analysts described ‘stone pelting’ in 2010 as a new form of militancy. Many policymakers did not seem interested in the causes of the anger that stone pelting demonstrated. Rather, they perceived it as a calibrated provocation to destabilize the state without giving the appearance of armed rebellion. Much like calling ‘wolf’, this became an awful fulfilled prophecy after 2010. By 2015–16, common people at places near an ongoing encounter took to pelting stones at the armed forces who were engaging militants in a firefight.

It appeared that, at times, organisers of the new militancy used the pelting of stones as a part of coordinated multi-pronged attacks. Most of the pelters were genuinely agitated, but a round of pelting sometimes appeared to be launched by coordinated agents provocateurs.

While protests certainly were revolts against the state at one level, they were often layered. Many in Kashmir saw some of the protests as expressing frustration over corruption or high prices—or over the fact that protests over such mundane matters were put down with lethal force... Many of them perceived the pelting of stones as an expression of rage by unarmed civilians pushed to a wall. They were sometimes seen as letting off steam over accumulated traumas. In that light, most people in Kashmir viewed protests from the perspective of how strongly they were put down, seeing the state’s action against protests as intolerant and brutal repression.

… many Indian nationalists took the statist view that Kashmiris deserved whatever human rights abuses they might have suffered.

They had asked for it, in the view of these nationalists, by taking up arms against the state. Reports, discussions, and analyses in sections of the Indian media often focused on mobs attacking the police and other forces, which tried valiantly to control those mobs. On the other hand, descriptions by Kashmiri youth, mainly on social media platforms, often focused on the killing of a youth in police action, or in an encounter with counterinsurgency forces, as the cause for the protest demonstration. In that light, they described action by the forces to quell such protests as brutal repression.

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A Divisive Narrative

Pakistani flags became highly emotional talking points in descriptions of protests, in 2010 and in 2015. Protestors sometimes waved these in processions or placed them at highly visible public spots. Many Indians viewed these as extremely provocative anti-national acts. They also saw these as proof that Kashmiris generally wanted to join Pakistan.

On the other hand, many Kashmiris saw the waving of flags as a form of protest. Those flags did not represent the desire to actually join Pakistan among more than a few Kashmiris.

Their comments on social media compared the enormity of shooting down protestors with the act of waving a flag, and critiqued media channels that seemed to treat flag-waving as worse than firing. When Indian nationalists called for those who waved Pakistani flags to be sent to Pakistan, many Kashmiris interpreted such comments as proof of their long-standing complaint that Indians wanted Kashmiri land and not Kashmiri people.

After the Mumbai attacks, Indians by and large celebrated those of the forces who died in action as martyrs. Kashmiris, on the other hand, often viewed the police and other forces as venal and exploitative—and counterinsurgency forces in general as repressive tormentors with benefits, privileges, and extraordinary powers. So, while mainstream Indian opinion viewed action taken against errant men within the forces as lowering morale, Kashmiris generally saw punitive action as just—and indicative of good faith regarding the government’s stated commitment to uphold human rights.

Since the army highly valued morale and its image, it did not make public any action it did take on a charge of rape or unauthorised killing. That secrecy was counterproductive if one wished to bridge the gap, but the image that punitive action was not taken suited those on both sides who promoted polarised narratives.

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Media Battles

The media became a major arena for the exposition and spread of black-and-white, us-versus-them narratives. The milieu of the age contributed. Singular, exclusivist ideas of self and community were gaining ground in different parts of the world. During that decade of change, a variety of media platforms had emerged to offer mass communication not only for the masses but also by the masses.

These allowed just about anyone to put out a message, a narrative.

This undid established media standards of veracity, balance, and responsibility for not hurting others, or excluding them. Almost anything was good enough to publish.

This led to an intense competition to catch the eye of potential readers and viewers, by putting out the most sensational narratives. This encouraged one-sided narratives that overtly disparaged not only counter-views, but also any attempt at balance.

(This is an excerpt from David Devadas’s new book The Generation of Rage in Kashmir, published by Oxford University Press.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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