Veteran journalist David Devadas has lived and worked in Kashmir for over a decade, and reported on the state for over 30 years. In a new book — The Generation of Rage in Kashmir — focusses on the rise of a new militancy in Kashmir. In Generation of Rage, Devadas surveys over 6,000 students in the Valley to look into why Kashmiri youth are leaning towards militancy once again. The book also explores "how the angst of the Kashmiri youth resulted in a massive crisis in the summer of 2016, especially in relation to the killing of Burhan Wani". Edited excerpts from an interview with Devadas:
Why the title Generation of Rage? What has changed in the mind of the Kashmiri youth that is different from the start of the insurgency back in the late '80s?
Rage has built up since 2008 over several factors. The hope that had been generated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace initiatives gave way to anger and resentment. Meanwhile, a new generation had grown up, which was immune to fear, having seen violence, blasts, and body parts since they were infants. They experienced the counterinsurgency apparatus, which remained in place when militancy had substantially reduced around 2006-07, as humiliating and unnecessary.
The killing of boys not involved with militancy intensified the anger in 2010. Narratives about what had happened in the 1990s have been vigorously spread since 2008, and had a great effect. They dovetailed with narratives about the 'global war on terror' and what was happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, and bolstered the idea that Muslims were globally oppressed.
The difference between 1989 and now is like the difference between a cricket friendly and WWF wrestling.
You have engaged with Kashmir for decades now, and not too long ago you saw peace coming to the valley, a better future. What convinced you then that Kashmir would move forward? What was the tipping point in that narrative changing, and did you see it coming?
Yes, I did. I’ve said since 2012 that a new militancy had arrived, one that is different to the one that lasted from 1988 to 2006. I said it to persons in top positions of authority, and I wrote it too in 2013. The hope for peace had already been wasted by then. It was around 2004-6 that hope had led the generation that grew up amid violence to treat militancy with contempt. Not just that, many of them were proud to think of themselves as Indian around that time.
Corruption, extortion, opportunism, and cynical unresponsiveness from governments have all contributed to the change from hope to rage. I have written a chapter on the conflict economy, in which so many have developed vested interests in the continuation of conflict. There is very little accountability. Instead, there are vast powers and budgets, including secret funds.
There is a new generation in Kashmir, born in the era of information and technology that was missing back in the early '90s. How has that changed the nature of their interaction with ideas of separatism, extremism etc? Has it empowered them?
In the book I have described the major role social media has played in shaping this generation. It has seamlessly brought to them narratives about oppression of Muslims at global and various others levels, and fundamentalist, radical, and other sorts of exclusivist ideas. Social media has also given them tools for mobilisation. Being able to network, and propagate their ideas, stories, and visuals has empowered them.
I have noted that cyber-technology, particularly telephony, has been a double-edged sword. Hi-tech equipment, including satellites, helped the forces to break the back of militancy in the early years of the new century. But over the next decade, low tech equipment helped a new, smart generation to mobilise, strategise, and start a new militancy. The uprisings of 2010 and 2016 used social media and telephony to great effect. The government’s efforts to cut off internet access failed.
This generation thinks and aspires for different things than the generation before, as you mention in the book. How have Indian polity and the bureaucracy failed at gauging this evolution, or engaging it in a progressive way?
Basically, policymakers could not see the simple fact that they were going to have to deal with the children of war. Not only that, a whole generation came up that had far greater tools for networking and mobilisation than any before now. Those who run the government also failed to see that this generation was immune to fear, had been shaped by terrible narratives, and by global influences that were leading to more and more exclusivist ways of looking at themselves and the world.
Surely, for a lot of the young in Kashmir, their anger is born out of circumstances — just as elsewhere in India — like poverty, lack of opportunities, freedom to move and do things etc? Has this improved in the last couple of decades? What can be their way out?
I have included the findings of the most wide-ranging survey in the book. That survey was conducted among six to seven thousand youth in 60-plus schools and colleges in the Valley. That survey showed that a very large number of youth craved for the rights which they felt that people in other states have.
Another fact that my book brings out is that the harassment, corruption, extortion, and sometimes brutal ways of police forces in other states have a far more dangerous effect in a place like Kashmir.
Rather than poverty, there is a sense of dis-empowerment that has become very strong. Imaginative responses are required.
Ethnographic studies have often been hard to execute in Kashmir. What were the challenges you have faced while doing research, or talking to people on each side of the argument (considering there are many) and just how difficult can it be to make sense of a lot of this?
Actually, my experience is that is easier to do ethnographic studies in Kashmir than in most places. People are by and large warm, welcoming and incomparably hospitable. The challenge is to keep an independent, unbiased, objective, dispassionate perspective. One has to decipher what is really going on, the patterns behind what is easily visible on the surface.
People tend to express a lot, and sometimes some of those things may seem contradictory, or ambivalent. It requires a lot of persistence, objectivity, discipline, and work to accomplish worthwhile, insightful research. Consciousness of, and insistence on, ethnic identity is so deeply embedded that the challenge of discerning flux and patterns of behaviour is as great as access is easy.
What changed in 2016 (after Burhan Wani's death) that now seems irredeemable? Do you see a way forward, or is it likely that there is worse to come?
I’m afraid the worst is yet to come. Rage is intense, consciousness of exclusive identity is growing stronger, and radicalism is increasing by leaps and bounds. More ominous is the fact that radicalisation seems to be inversely proportionate to age, so that the youngest are often more radicalised. A large proportion of pre-teens are most strongly motivated.
As I said, imaginative, empathetic responses are urgently needed.
Updated Date: Sep 17, 2018 09:43 AM