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There has been sort of an unstated competition in Kashmir, between key players within the state apparatus on the one hand and non-state actors on the other. It’s a competition to identify persons to be ‘weeded’ out in one or the other sense of ‘weeding out’. The state has sought to push those it considers anti-national out of government employment. Now, anti-state forces are engaged in a much more lethal sort of 'weeding out’ – of those whom they see as demographically alien 'outsiders'.
It’s important to note these recent moves and counter-moves in order to understand the backdrop for the recent spate of terrorist killings, mainly targeting Kashmiri Pandits and citizens from elsewhere.
Both sides see the ‘weeding out’ they have taken up as vital for the sort of future they want. The anti-India forces see it – to use a bitterly ironic cliche – as a life-or-death matter.
That they don’t seem to know what to do now shows clearly that the state apparatus had not even imagined (let’s not talk of the woeful lack of information, leave alone intelligence) that the other side might be doing its own list-making.
The recent spate of killings indicates that those engaged in sensitive work within the government, pertaining to the potential transfer of land, are being particularly targeted.
While the structures of governance certainly ought to be insulated against anti-national activities, it might have been useful for the government to carry public opinion along.
In Kashmiri minds, the government's actions since 2019 have together formed an impression of economic deprivation, accompanied by the impression that possibly, a large-scale demographic change is coming.
That the authorities don’t seem to know what to do now shows clearly that the state apparatus had not even imagined that the other side might be doing its own list-making.
Youth Picking up Arms
Another round of ‘weeding out’ has specifically, and physically, targeted youth. Since the beginning of this year, a large number of Kashmiri youth have been picked up, interrogated, and often locked up. Many have been sent to jails far away from Kashmir.
Though this is not new, it has picked up pace since the beginning of this year, and has largely gone unreported.
There’s another new trend: some of these youth are being described as being part of newly conjured categories – such as `hybrid terrorists,’ or those who are likely to but have not yet taken up arms.
These trends, too, have had an opposite if unequal response: large numbers of youth have gone underground in parts of Kashmir in recent months, and many of them are not even being reported missing. So, the police and other state agencies may have inadequate information about the ground realities.
These are some of the youth who are wreaking mayhem among those they consider ‘outsiders’.
Why Heeding Public Opinion Is Important
Already, since the end of 2020, the government has been weeding out government employees suspected of having terrorist sympathies or any affiliation with the Jamaat-e-Islami. It began with lecturers and teachers and gradually dealt with other departments. Some employees were transferred, and others were sacked out of hand.
Clearly, some powerful persons or organisations must have worked diligently to draw up lists of those who were to be thus dealt with. It’s possible that the process of identification had already begun before the constitutional changes in August 2019.
While the structures of governance certainly ought to be insulated against anti-national activities, it might have been useful to carry public opinion along, perhaps by appointing inquiries, or/and building public opinion. The most effective way to do the latter would have been for people on the ground to see improved governance as a quid pro.
What is now becoming clear is that anti-state forces have been equally busy drawing up lists of those to be eliminated or otherwise removed from their positions. The recent spate of killings indicates that those engaged in sensitive work within the government, pertaining to the potential transfer of land, are being particularly targeted.
Killing a few of them was bound to send others running for their lives. It has.
Kashmiris Fear a Large-Scale Demographic Change
Right or wrong, many in Kashmir view several moves of the government as an economic assault. Unemployment has always been a keenly felt issue in Kashmir. The term does not denote a lack of work or income, only the lack of a government job, with all its attendant advantages.
Now, this ‘weeding out’ has pushed some Kashmiris out of government jobs. Not just that, a large number of officers have been brought in from outside the state. Many of the latter have been given powerful positions.
Simultaneously, the government has reversed the Roshni programme and other schemes, through which many families in the erstwhile state had gained possession of land. Some of these properties were used as orchards, which are lucrative.
In Kashmiri minds, these moves have together formed an impression of economic deprivation, accompanied by the impression that a possibly large-scale demographic change is coming.
Many of the young continue to be indoctrinated on these issues and, more widely, on fundamentalist religious exclusivism.
Knee-Jerk Reactions Won't Help the Govt
That the government is bereft of ideas has become woefully evident. In the wake of the recent killings, a few officials physically prevented some of those who feel threatened – especially Kashmiri Pandits – from leaving the Valley. Many groups of Pandits have protested from within the housing colonies that they were not being allowed to leave.
Clueless government officials had come up with a similar knee-jerk tactic to lock up panchs and municipal councillors (mainly Kashmiri Muslims) when they were the main targets of terrorist attacks a couple of years ago. Clearly, no one has applied their mind to come up with alternative tactics in the interim.
What makes such knee-jerk responses even more ironic is that for months after the constitutional changes in 2019, the government deployed troops in every nook and corner of Kashmir. With that kind of deployment, every likely target of terror could have been protected, it might be argued.
No wonder the government faces very deep resentment.
(The writer is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. 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.)