The little seven-year-old looks cute, but he sounds pretty determined when he responds to a question about what he wants to be. 'Mujahid (soldier),' he says firmly. When asked about what he will do in jihad, he asserts that he will fight the Indian Army.
When one of those present asks if he can recite a poem or song, he bashfully cocks his head to one side, rubs an eye with the back of one hand and runs the fingers of the other hand through his tousled hair. Then, prodded by his neighbours who are my hosts, he readily gives the performance he is evidently known for in the village. He stands up and raises each pheran-clad hand in turn, index finger outstretched, while reciting a litany of slogans about Burhan, azaadi, Geelani, Islam, bullets, blood, and fearlessness.
Adolescents sitting against the wall look indulgently on. They have pelted stones, and will again. An eleven-year old talks of pellets, shells, bullets, fearlessness and freedom. India oppresses us, he says. His friend talks about his father being beaten and his grandfather being tortured when security forces questioned them about the hideouts of militants — before he was born.
An intense, handsome neighbour in his late teens comes in to talk to us. He is a zealous stone-pelter, often going to Srinagar’s Jamia mosque to pelt after the Friday prayers. He is also strongly motivated to resist — though less willing to die than the seven-year-old. He would have taken up arms, he says, if he had not been the only son of his parents. The views of older residents, including a preacher and two teachers, are all far more moderate.
Over the course of more than 24 hours in this village, Bogam in the heart of Kulgam district, it becomes obvious that the will to resist has traveled down age categories to even younger Kashmiris than the teenagers who were on the streets in 2016.
Bogam, to be sure, is one of the most radical villages in all of Kashmir. It claimed and buried the body of Abu Qasim, the Pakistani Laskhar-e-Taiba militant who was killed in November 2015. The Pakistan flag is painted all over the village walls.
As elsewhere in the Valley, the common perception in Bogam is that Kashmiris are being attacked and killed out of malicious intent against Muslims, rather than in response to insurgency.
Militancy, stone-pelting and other demonstrations are seen as responses rather than causes. Actions of the state are viewed as illegitimate; the responses of the youth are valourised as heroic.
When we first arrive in the village, a large knot of residents gathers at the main chowk to tell us of oppression and torture. One man says he was stripped, beaten, and made to urinate on an electric heater. Chillies were applied to cuts near his genitals, and behind, he adds. Some people shy away from meeting us.
The next afternoon, we trudge through hailstones in snow, and slush deep enough to enter shoes and socks, to meet a Hurriyat-affiliated preacher in a nearby village. He speaks in hackneyed slogan-like phrases, unable to explain or argue beyond 'have you read any books on Kashmir?' But he is frequently invited to preach at mosques across south Kashmir. He evidently gives rousing sermons about jihad, oppression of Muslims, and resistance.
This is, at one level, a commentary on shifts in the intellectual discourse in a place that has been a hotbed of various kinds of radicalism. Half a century ago, there were ultra-Leftists in Bogam. And one evidently very well read academic still talks of his 'progressive' ideas and values.
Indeed, the state’s lone CPM legislator is from the next village, Tarigam. But now, he can only visit the village by day, with a security detail.
Students at the school run by the Jamaat-e-Islami at Tarigam are full of the will to fight a war against oppression. They talk of being inspired by Burhan Wani, Abu Qasim, and the recent pan-Islamist call of Burhan’s successor Zakir 'Musa.'
The future, it seems clear, will be bleakly violent.
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Updated Date: Apr 12, 2017 08:16:59 IST