Hundreds of young Kashmiris have disappeared from their homes during the three months since militant commander Burhan Wani was killed.
Two trends account for this. One, a large number of those who have enforced hartals with stones and barricades are now trying to escape arrest. This category has seen a surge in the past few weeks.
The second trend is likely to prove more worrisome: A large number of boys have gone underground to join militant groups, particularly in south Kashmir.
It is difficult to say how many, but there are surely hundreds in each category. Those in charge of gathering intelligence for the government insist that the number of new militants is not more than a couple of hundred.
However, according to the buzz at the grassroots, the number could be much higher. I had predicted last year that Burhan’s funeral would throw up a new battalion of militants.
Situation in Shopian
In Kulgam district alone, no less than 110 boys were estimated to have joined militancy since militant commander Burhan Wani was killed on 8 July.
At least 80 were said to have gone from the nearby Shopian. No doubt, the number from Pulwama district must also be large. These three south Kashmir districts have seen great unrest over the past three months.
It is particularly worrying that such a large number of boys have gone underground from Shopian, although there has been relatively less unrest there than in adjacent Kulgam and Pulwama. Anantnag is the third south Kashmir district that has been badly affected by demonstrations.
One reason Shopian saw much less open unrest is that residents of Shopian experienced long-term economic losses after the prolonged hartals there in 2009.
Residents of Shopian complain that since secessionist leader Ali Shah Geelani had called for only Shopian district to close in protest that year (over an alleged double rape and murder), wholesale trade of surrounding rural areas shifted to nearby towns like Kulgam and Pulwama. Shopian has never recovered its relative economic clout.
So, although Shopian has a long history of rebellion -- it was the only town other than Srinagar where the Dogra regime imposed martial law during the Kashmiri uprising of 1931. The traders and other community leaders of Shopian have been reluctant about the hartal since 2009.
There is clearly a difference between the attitudes of Shopian’s community leaders and the high level of alienation among the district’s youth, however. There have been vigorous agitations in the rural hinterland of Shopian. And scores of boys from the district are reported to have joined the new militancy in the 13 weeks since Burhan Wani was killed.
It is difficult to say how many of the boys who have disappeared to evade arrest might finally join militancy. Most of them had not thought things through to that extent when they got caught up in the buzzing enthusiasm for the agitations over the past 13 weeks.
Indeed, some of them joined the ranks of ‘stone-pelters’ only after the first few days, partly encouraged by the apparent success of the ongoing agitation, and the apparent reluctance of the authorities to take strong coercive action.
Some of this category of disappeared boys have gone to relatives in other towns and villages. Others have been despatched by relatively better off parents to Delhi or other parts of the country. Meanwhile, their parents, other relatives, neighbours and family friends try to negotiate with the police.
The police have apparently kept detailed records of who was ‘pelting’, and how much.
In several cases, those ‘records’ influence negotiations. For example, an officer might agree that a particular boy who was not among the instigators will not be formally arrested but will be kept in the police lock-up for a few days — but that he must surrender, express regret, and give assurances that he will not do it again.
Such assurances rarely mean much; memories tend to be short. However, there is little alternative to flexibility in Kashmir. For, in the minds of many, the relationship between action and reaction tends to be tenuous.
The downside of that, of course, is that flexibility too easily becomes arbitrariness. And of course, it opens the way to another kind of negotiation — monetary.
For a very long time, the use and misuse of power has tended to be as slippery, even illusory, as public order. Each affects the other, and the effects very easily become cyclical.
It is for slippages in the misuse of power— and the false projection of superficial public order — over the past couple of decades that we are currently paying such a heavy price.
(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)