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The many voices of young Kashmir: Popular narrative doesn’t reflect them

There is no single voice of the Kashmiri youth like today’s popular media narrative seems to convey: the voice of the anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans. But there are myriad voices — filled with anger, disappointment, disenchantment, even hatred — and even some filled with hope and eager to fulfil their young dreams and aspirations.

There are voices like that of Insha Mir, the programme lead of IEF Entrepreneurship Foundation, who seems to have come to terms with the idea that the Kashmir issue is beyond resolution and that the youth need a “Plan B” to learn how to live with the conflict.

There are voices like that of cultural entrepreneur Syed Mujtaba Rizvi, who is fed up with corruption in the Jammu and Kashmir administration and frequent internet shutdowns which are either driving young entrepreneurs out of Kashmir or holding them back from making something out of their lives.

There are also voices like that of Shazia Bakshi, the co-head of Confederation of Indian Industry’s ‘International Engagements, Young Indians’, who describes herself as an Indian first and a Kashmiri and a Muslim after, and asks why she has to prove her Indianness every single time she steps on to a platform.

As the nation is debating the Article 370 (of the Indian constitution that gives the state a special status) and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti staunchly defends its retention, there are voices like that of journalist Samir Yasir, who says that Kashmiri youth — who are fearless and no more scared of death — do nottreally care about the fate of Article 370.

And then there are also voices like advocate Sheikh Sajjad, who feels that while Kashmiri youth see theirs to be a story of broken promises — both by Indian state and their own leadership — New Delhi also needs to introspect what is happening in its society or else it may lose Kashmir completely.

These were some of the voices at the “Understanding Kashmir” conclave here on Friday and Saturday.

And of course in Kashmir, there are the sounds of stones crashing into military vehicles and shields — and sometimes skulls — bullets being fired, the war cry of boys like Zakir Musa and Burhan Wani and the wailing of sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. Those are the sounds that people in rest of India are more familiar with.

According to Shazia Bakshi, Musa and Wani are not the role models for Kashmiri youth as “anyone who takes up a gun cannot be a role model”.

“Everyone is talking about Zakir Musa and Burhan Wani. But who made them relevant?

“The real question is what made Burhan Wani? Where did my Indian system fail (that it produced) a Burhan Wani. You find the answer to that question, you find a solution to the Kashmir problem,” Shazia said.

She said that even though she thrice represented a group of Indian entrepreneurs in Pakistan and had one of the proudest moments of her life singing the Indian national anthem in Karachi’s Jinnah Hall, she still has to prove her credentials as an Indian whenever she steps on to any platform.

“Youth in Kashmir are being pushed into a corner and there is no acceptance for them… Stop hounding us day in and day out on media channels where we have to prove ourselves to everyone else, including ourselves.”

She added that there is a need to give Kashmiri youth something that they are scared to lose: “Give them dignity and respect, and give them a livelihood. Give them a reason to live — not a cause to die for.”

According to Syed Mujtaba Rizvi, who like many ambitious Kashmiris is fed up with corruption and nepotism, says that there is a problem of mismanagement.

“It is just like important people engaging their favourite people to do things. That is the reality of Kashmir. There is deep-rooted corruption.”

Yet he feels there is some amazing work of art coming out of Kashmir which is being ignored or sidelined by the popular rhetoric on TV news channels.

Samir Yasir said there is a sea-change in how Kashmiri boys see India today and that 70 years of work has been “washed away by some two-three news channels” in the last one year.

“Young Kashmiri boys now like militants, they like to keep their pictures in their phones. Why has that happened? The media has played a massive role to create that hatred.”

He asked whether the young Kashmiri boys who rush to the sites of gun battles to get killed really care about Article 370. “They will tell you to remove it and that they will be much worse off then than they are today.”

Insha Mir said that for her, Kashmir is a state of missed opportunities and disengagement.

“Today, young Kashmiris are still living the life of the 70s and seeing exactly what their fathers and grandfathers saw before them. Although then they at least had cinema halls which we don’t have any more,” she said.

Insha called for platforms which can channelise the energy of young Kashmiris into something constructive rather than being used on pelting stones.

Sheikh Sajjad said that youth comprises 70 per cent of the population of Kashmir which is below 31 years, and this youth population is “mentally and geographically caged”.

“So whenever you see any rallies in Kashmir, majority is youth and so is the case of militant organisations.”

He said that the radicalisation going on in Kashmir was political and not religious in nature, and India also needs to introspect what is happening in its society.

“Kashmiri boys studying in colleges across India; when they come back they are more radicalised than before. What happened to Zakir Musa when he was studying in a college in Chandigarh that after he came back, he started preaching violence,” Sajjad asked.