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Kashmir’s Youth Will Define Its Future, Not New Delhi & Islamabad

In Kashmir, age group of 15-35 forms the most vital demography, which influence key aspects of political life too.

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Kashmiris shout slogans during a protest after Friday prayers against the abrogation of article 370, on the outskirts of Srinagar, Oct. 4, 2019. Image used for representation.
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 Kashmir’s Youth Will Define Its Future, Not New Delhi & Islamabad

Over two months have passed since the Indian Parliament abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, and imposed a communication blackout in Jammu & Kashmir — which is slowly being lifted, with postpaid mobile phones and landlines getting activated.

In the vortex of opinions that ensued, what became clear was the complete lack of clarity with regard to the future trajectory of Kashmir.

The national discourse that has erupted since has been severely polarised, with the majority of mainland India welcoming and, in many cases, aggressively celebrating, the abrogation. Many in the mainland have saluted the Centre’s decision to have a major military clampdown in the state, put all of the mainstream leaders under house-arrest and indefinitely extend the (now partial) communication blackout.

There has further been vehement support of the government’s decision on economic grounds as well, with many feeling that the scrapping of Article 370 will allow industry investment and galvanise Jammu & Kashmir for growth and development.

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Few Critics Among Mainstream Indians

A small but vocal minority has criticised the government’s actions on grounds that it will further alienate the Kashmiris, and that it is also undemocratic.

Many also fear that this will lead to a more vicious cycle of militancy and destroy the prospects of yet another generation.

Narratives in the media have portrayed polar extremes — the bulk of the Indian mainstream media has tried to present a picture of ‘normalcy’ in the Valley since 5 August, with many even going to the extent of declaring that a majority of Kashmiris ‘support’ the move.

On the other hand, most of the international (mainly Western) media outlets have been far more critical — vehemently condemning the Indian government’s actions. The few instances of protests in the Valley had also initially been reported only by the international media, leading to many in the Indian mainstream declaring it as ‘fake news’, until the government itself ‘clarified’ their authenticity.

Detained Kashmiri Politicians Must Be Released Soon

Two months on, most mainstream political leaders of Kashmir remain under house arrest, and even though restrictions on movement and the functioning of government offices, private enterprises and educational institutions have been lifted, the situation is far from normal. The Valley is in the grips of a partially self-imposed, and at places militant-sponsored curfew, representing the people’s disappointment with what has transpired recently on one side, and the fear of militants on the other. Shops and businesses are still operating surreptitiously, and schools are functioning at abysmally poor attendance levels.

It is imperative for the detained mainstream politicians to be released soon, as that’s critical to holding elections, electing a new state assembly and people regaining faith in parliamentary democracy — if that is still possible.

Although, all this may take months to implement, the process must begin instantly.

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Influence of Kashmiri Youth Over Political Discourse

As mentioned earlier, complete obliviousness regarding Kashmir’s future has dominated the discourse. In such a scenario, only the people of Kashmir, specifically the youth, can control the future outcome of the situation.

The age group between 15-35 forms the most vital demography that can influence the situation, as this age bracket represents the largest cohort of the Kashmiri population.

Compared to the average age of India’s mainstream politicians, some of Kashmir’s top mainstream politicians are relatively young — Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Sajjad Lone, Salman Soz, etc. So, a lot will ride on how they choose to harness youth energy as and when they are released from detention. Likewise, there are people like Shah Faesal who’ve also committed themselves to a career in politics. It will be interesting to see what stance Shah Faesal for instance, takes when he is released, and whether someone like him will become a fresh or alternative political focal point, especially for the youth.

Over the last decade, the Kashmiri youth have significantly increased their influence over the political discourse and activism in the state. The new wave of militancy that erupted in Kashmir in the aftermath of the protests and instability of 2016 was also dominated by the youth, with a majority of new militant recruits being between the age group of 15-25.

After Restrictions Are Lifted, Will Kashmir’s Youth Rage or Give In?

The existing lockdown cannot go on forever; the state at some point has to restore democratic standards of living. The removal of restrictions is critical as it will determine how the youth react to the events of the past 8 weeks. Unlike now, when people can probably only gauge the mood of their locality, colony or at the most district, when restrictions are removed, voices from across the Valley will be heard, their actual feelings and opinions will surface.

This is when the youth will probably unite under a common idea, and the future of the situation will be determined.

Thus, the youth’s discretion to fight or acquiesce to the central government’s decisions will determine Kashmir’s destiny. If anger and resentment force them to push back and revolt, a new period of chaos, anarchy and violence could be upon us.

From the few ground reports that have emerged from the Valley, feelings of mistrust, resentment and alienation among the youth seem to be simmering already. On the other hand, if dejection and fatigue overpower the people, then in their helplessness they might hold the political class, separatists and militants equally responsible for the current situation and their plight over the years. Thus, the path that Kashmir will now take firmly lies in the hands of its youth, beyond the grasp of ‘policymakers’ in New Delhi and Islamabad.

(The author recently graduated from the University of St Andrews with an MA in International Relations and Management, and tracks Pakistan, China and the Indian Ocean Region. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(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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