Kashmir has more than a single reality and this was demonstrated by the examples set by two young men recently. Both of them made news but for different reasons. The charming footballer from South Kashmir, Majid Khan, decided to return home by cutting short his new-found love with AK-47. Young Mugees returned home dead. He was killed in a shootout in the outskirts of Srinagar. A little towards the side track, there is the account of another young man, a police sub-inspector from Udhampur, Imran Tak, who was also killed in the exchange of fire. Imran’s body was received at home with sobs amid gun salutes from his colleagues.
Majid’s homecoming was attributed to his mother’s love as she had made an impassioned appeal to him to return. Social media was flooded with messages hailing Majid for his decision to listen to her. The government saw it as a step that must be emulated. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the organization Majid had joined, seized the opportunity to score a point by saying that he was allowed to go home on the call of his mother. The army and police used it to build bridges by giving him the space to live a peaceful life without booking him. This was the first time that a Kashmiri youth, who had chosen a path of violence, returned to his family.
It is not yet known whether it was only his mother’s appeal that made Majid change his mind. He is an ace footballer and apparently has no history of taking part in anti-state protests, though he was seen leading the funeral of a class-12 student turned militant Yawar earlier this year. Majid’s entry into militant ranks was dramatic; he had wrapped up work for the day and had joined the LeT by the evening. Soon he was on his way to becoming the poster boy of militancy like Burhan Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander whose death took Kashmir by storm in 2016. “Why look up at the stars when the biggest star is me,” read Majid’s last Facebook post before he was seen brandishing a gun. But the prodigal son’s return and reason for leaving remains an enigma. Interestingly, the separatist camp maintained a studied silence on his return. What would their silence mean is anybody’s guess.
In the last few years a sizeable number of young and educated boys have joined the armed rebellion and the trend went up after Burhan’s killing. Majid was one such example of redefined militancy in Kashmir. He had all the elements of becoming a poster boy like Burhan. Though government forces have been successful under “Operation All Out” in the last few months, by killing 73 militants, more than 50 have joined the militant ranks since July and the number since January comes to 150. It is a hide-and-seek game between the two. The rate at which the youngsters are being lured to militancy alarms the government. What baffles ordinary people is the flood of congratulatory messages for Majid upon his return. In the recent past, militant funerals have been attended by thousands of people, implying social sanction for their choice to take the path of violence.
Of course, Kashmir is not completely militant-free but pursuing the “goal through the gun” was no longer seen as an option by many. And so, the number of locals taking this path had dwindled in the last decade or so. And while “jihad” at the global level did have some influence, for many young men, the reasons to pick up the gun were closer to home. A wave of intolerance against minorities across India and a stalemate on finding a permanent solution to Kashmir created a space that was manipulated by those who believe in gun as only solution to resolve the dispute. Afzal Guru’s hanging was the turning point in throwing Kashmir back into the lap of armed resistance as youngsters took it as challenge when he was picked up from the 28th number in the list of death-row convicts.
Another side of Kashmir was seen in Srinagar at Mugees’s funeral. Thousands of people attended it even though the authorities had imposed strict restrictions on the movement of people. His tryst with militancy did not last that long. He had joined the ranks in April this year. According to his family, he was deeply influenced by IS. This explains why he was wearing a black T-shirt with a Quranic verse used by IS at the time of the encounter. He had also expressed the wish to be draped in the IS flag. And indeed, one was put on the bier en route to the graveyard. People shouted “Na Hurriyat wali Azadi” in a clear snub to the Hurriyat Conference that claims to be the custodian of the “right to self-determination” movement. A large number of people who rallied to take Mugees to his final resting place shouted slogans that are not in line with the indigenous political struggle, but this should not be taken as representing the dominant political thought.
Leaders of the Hurriyat Conference who have united under the umbrella of Joint Resistance Leadership are faced with this major challenge: making people aware about the ideology of the political struggle they have been pursuing. Unlike with Majid, they did pay tribute to Mugees but this could have just been part of the tradition of hailing militants. Now that one militant who listened to his parents has returned home, questions have started popping up. Non-violence is certainly being pursued to settle political conflict, but Kashmir has seen an overwhelming support for militants in the recent past. With Majid’s return a new debate has opened up.
The stories of Majid and Mugees contradict each other. The story of Imran presents another reality in which the Jammu and Kashmir Police has been proactive in breaking the back of militancy. In its initial years, members of J&K Police were mute spectators. But later they took up the “mission” to fight them back. Imran is not alone in taking that path. More than three dozen Kashmiri Muslim police officers were killed fighting militancy and many more were targeted just for being policemen. Whatever the reasons for the contrasting stories, the machine of conflict continues to churn out body bags.