(This story was first published on 29 July 2019 and is being republished to mark three years of the Pulwama terror attack.)
In the distance, I could see Adil Dar’s house through one of the windows of the room in which I was chatting with half-a-dozen Kashmiris. Dar was the young man who blew himself up along with 44 paramilitary personnel on 14 February this year. This is possibly the most radicalised part of Kashmir.
Driving through this belt, one can spot villages and hamlets where some of Kashmir’s more prominent militants were raised. One of those in this room remarked that Dar, and another militant he had taught, were both well-liked in school.
‘Militants Offer Safety’
It’s a different world here — almost bizarre from certain perspectives. Notions of good and bad, right and wrong, mean different things here — the lines are blurred. The men in the room chorus, for example, that it is the militants who keep them safe.
Enthusiasm for militancy remains seemingly strong, at least among some sections.
More boys are joining militant ranks, despite the large number who have been killed over the past 13 months.
It appears that boys in their twenties are among those joining. They represent a slightly older cohort than many of those who have joined over the past few years. They appear to be more radicalised too. Some people in the area say that more youngsters want to join pan-Islamist groups than pro-Pakistan ones. Indeed, pro-Pakistan sentiment is lower than it’s been over the past decades.
To be sure, many adherents of the Jamaat-e-Islami continue to be dedicated to the idea that Kashmir will ‘become Pakistan’. They continue to give primacy to the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, which has been closely linked to the Jamaat-e-Islami. But their enthusiasm reflects loyalty rather than ground-level strength.
Ineffective Ban on Jamaat
The government’s ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami five months ago does not seem to have dampened the organisation's functioning on the ground. Although its top leaders are in jail, its activists remain buoyant, at least in this part of south Kashmir.
A Jamaat-e-Islami preacher says he gets instructions regularly from the ‘markaz’ (centre) about which mosque he is to lead prayers at each Friday.
The Jamaat’s headquarters (markaz) in Kashmir is meant to be sealed, but it evidently operates underground quite effectively.
The authorities obviously know about these activities. The preacher shows his hands to indicate that his nail are cracked. But, undeterred by torture, he continues to preach radical ideas at Jamaat mosques.
This is an area where there was no election at all—no voters, no candidates—either for the Lok Sabha or for the panchayat polls last autumn.
So how does the community organise locally, if not around political parties? Quite effectively, it seems. Prominent citizens of a village get together in mosque committees to discuss local problems, and go in delegations to lobby in government offices. They also take collections from residents for their projects.
Corruption: Any Improvement Under Guv’s Rule?
One reason why state institutions have lost ground is because of corruption. The issue dominated a press conference which Governor Satya Pal Malik, his advisors, and his chief secretary, addressed recently.
There is an odd divergence in opinions regarding corruption. Some Kashmiris believe that there has been targeted action against corruption under Governor’s Rule, but many others insist that corruption in government offices is in fact at a high — even more than when politicians ruled the state.
People are by-and-large happy with the ‘back to the village’ programme under which junior officials stayed overnight in villages and noted people’s grievances. However, people at the grassroots level say that there is no visible impact of responsive governance — at least not yet.
Challenge of Education
School education remains a major challenge. Often, the quality of the curriculum and that of the teaching staff is poor. Teachers are often not motivated to put their best foot forward. A government school teacher claims he has not been paid for six months.
Many of those who were recruited to teach in schools under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan about a decade ago, were not paid for several months, after the Centre stopped underwriting their pay.
The teachers agitated, and most of them are now being paid by the state government.
There have been complaints from private schools too. Teachers at a privately-run school in Pulwama say that they haven’t managed to get the local authorities to repair a broken wall along the school perimeter.
While the state government has done a lot over the past year to deliver good governance, it is through the little things — like that broken wall — that people measure accountability and delivery.
(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.)