Young Blood

Kashmiri youth need leaders who inspire

Even as rage frequently spills over on the streets of Kashmir, courage remains in short supply.

The contradiction inherent in this statement is reflective of the society, where young people with the promise of a life ahead are willing to die an ignominious death in street protests but not express his or her opinion freely and be counted. Just as in the streets, in private conversations people want to go along with the mob, reluctant to take a position. Or maybe they are scared to even feel something which doesn’t have the consent of the mob. So how does one explain this? You are not scared of death, but you are scared of expressing yourself or saying no to the mob?

Member of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (M), Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat puts it down to the nature of a Kashmiri. He says, “A Kashmiri has suffered so much in life that he doesn’t want to take a stand on anything. He will say something to you on your face and the exact opposite of that to me.” Doesn’t that amount to doublespeak? “No,” he insists. “It’s self-preservation. It is his mechanism for survival.”

Kashmir YouthGiven that they are on the streets throwing stones at the slightest provocation, and sometimes even without provocation, self-preservation doesn’t seem to be a big priority for them. “That is different,” insists Prof. Bhat leaving the difference hanging in the air.

What is this fear that nobody wants to put a name to? Fear of religion? Fear of being wrong? Fear of censure? Fear of being ostracised? Fear of being made fun off? Or simply, fear of living?

Of the many things that the people of Kashmir lost in the 25-year-long violent conflict, the most profound loss has been that of a sense of youth — carefree thinking, innate rebellion, pleasure-seeking and the spirit of experimentation. True, this is a cruel statement to make; after all, in a state where life is uncertain, even a mention of such frivolities smacks of not only insensitivity but also displays complete lack of understanding. But having admitted that, it is necessary to understand why frivolity of youth is important for a society.

Youth represents regeneration and future; it represents hope and happiness. This is the reason not just the parents but the society indulges them overlooking silly transgressions. Not so in Kashmir. The Kashmiri youth irrespective of the number of years are already in their middle ages. Their young faces lined by cynicism and hopelessness; their life’s passion spent on the streets, where a large number of them hang around doing menial and temporary jobs, watching the world go by. For them, doublespeak is not a survival instinct; it is a way of life, which has not only been accepted, but actually encouraged by the society that has lost the sense of proportion and the importance of enquiry. Add to that an exaggerated sense of victimhood, which is not only a talking point amongst them, but a conviction too, even if it is not always rooted in facts.

Omar is a young oarsman who plies a shikara on Dal lake, the famous tourist hangout in Srinagar. He grimaces when you tell him that he shares his name with the chief minister of his state. A little over 20, he looks older than his years. A resident of the infamous downtown area of Srinagar, he dropped out of school after class X, primarily because of constant disruptions to his education because of violence and curfews and also because he could not see what good education could do to him. His family owns a shikara which he ferries from time to time, but the income is shared by the extended family. Twice he has accompanied a few of his family members to Goa for three months in winters where they run a shop on Candolim beach selling Kashmiri artefacts and handicraft.

Did he like Goa? He shrugs and half-smiles. “It was okay. But the Indians harass us a lot.” In what way? “They call us terrorists,” he says, with a self-deprecating smile which invites you to look at him as a victim. Why didn’t he go this year? “Other members of the family went,” he says, a tad sheepishly. Omar is reticent, but he has no choice but to respond to questions of the first customer of the day who has agreed to the price quoted by him without a bargain.

Omar’s life is reflective of the majority of people living in Downtown Srinagar, where ancestral family properties and businesses are now being shared by over a dozen inheritors, thereby putting serious strain on both space and income. Politically, these people have chosen to disenfranchise themselves by neither participating in the electoral process nor partaking of its fruits.

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