Militant recruitment on the rise
Over the last three years, there have been several cases of disgruntled youths going missing only to appear on social media holding an AK-47 rifle to announce their decision to become a militant.
Within a month of the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status at least 20 boys were reported missing, raising fears they may have joined militant ranks. According to the report, the number of cases may be far higher.
When Tawseef Ahmed Thokar was killed by security forces last January, it came as a shock to his family. Like many, they were unaware that he had joined a militant group. Thokar was a mathematics graduate who taught in a school in Pulwama, and spent his evenings giving tuition to his neighbours’ children. “We never thought he would join Hizbul,” his mother sighs, still in disbelief. “He never discussed politics. Never said anything that would have alarmed us. He was a reticent person.”
His family is still trying to figure out what could have served as the trigger. “It may have been the treatment meted out to his father,” Tawseef’s mother says. His father, Ghulam Mohiuddin, also a school teacher, was arrested in 2016. “Every second day Tawseef hopped from Pulwama to Jammu, where Mohiuddin was detained. It was a painful experience for him. We suspect it was during that time that he came in contact with overground workers of the militants,” she adds.
Sixty-three-year-old Mohiuddin was arrested again last March. “These excesses drive our boys,” said one of his neighbours.
Ending special status worsens situation
Last year, as figures in Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party raised the pitch on ending Kashmir’s constitutional guarantees, militants warned of reprisals. In February, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander released an audio-taped message threatening attacks on non-locals if Kashmir’s autonomy, which includes laws prohibiting settlers from purchasing land in the region, were revoked.
In August, the Modi’s government pressed ahead with its proposals without consulting local representatives. Officials claim that abolishing Kashmir’s special status was necessary to integrate the region with the rest of the country and lift obstacles to investment.
However, many Kashmirs fear that the government’s true aim is to reshape the demographics of the Muslim-majority region. For the first time in decades, outsiders are now permitted to buy land in Kashmir. “They want to turn us into a minority,” said an orchard owner in Bandipora.
The integration of Kashmir into India has long been a goal of the far-right organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), devoted to transforming India from secular to a Hindu nation. Modi has been an active member of the group since childhood, and his party, the BJP, are closely aligned to the RSS.
Last month, the government passed a highly divisive law which excludes Muslim migrants from a clear path to citizenship. The law is the latest move aimed at cementing Modi’s hardline Hindu nationalist agenda. In August, two million people in Assam were made stateless after failing to pass a controversial citizenship test, which critics say is anti-Muslim.
In recent months, militant groups have made a point of targetting Indian workers and residents. In October, as many as 11 non-locals were killed by militants in separate attacks. Kashmiris have also been caught up in these attacks, which have become increasingly violent. In November, at least three people were killed and dozens injured in grenade attacks in Anantnag and Srinagar.
With India refusing to offer a fig leaf to Kashmir’s disgruntled masses, there remains little hope for an end to the violence at present.