Over the last one year, the tally of deaths in Jammu & Kashmir has grown into several hundreds, felling civilians, militants and the armed forces alike. While life in the Valley has been volatile for decades, a spark of a different intensity was lit by a killing, which went on to ignite a full-fledged conflagration.
On 8 July 2016 Indian security forces shot dead 22-year-old Burhan Wani, the commander of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, in the Kokernag area of Kashmir. The young leader, who came from an affluent family in Tral, had a bounty of Rs 10 lakhs on his head. As part of a new generation of militants, and popular among the people, he spread his message of rebellion through social media.
A day after he was killed, thousands took to the streets for his funeral, a gathering which the army tried to break by employing force, causing more death, destruction and injury. Since 9 July life in Kashmir has not been the same.
Already known for daily curfews, Internet services in the valley have been shut down frequently in the last few months. Since last night, yet another Internet blockade has been imposed until further notice, mostly to prevent access to social media, perhaps the most effective means of mass communication, as fresh trouble is feared to erupt on the first anniversary of Wani's death.
But state control, imposed in the form of Internet shutdowns and sanctions, are proving insufficient in the face of the determination of the people, especially since online activism has already caused a massive shift in the social and political dynamics of the state.
As HuffPost India reported, as early as 2013, three Kashmiri teenagers had bypassed the government's curb on accessing Facebook by creating KashBook, a social media platform dedicated especially to the people of the state. Apart from joining this website, hundreds of Kashmiris figured out ways of accessing other websites using VPNs.
"Kashmiris chose dissent online, because the offline real world democracy wasn't working," a Srinagar-based blogger told the Hindustan Times. Now, thanks to technological advances, no state apparatus can come in their way.
With militants able to reach people via social media, there's been a palpable rise in the numbers that have been recruited into the cause in the last one year. Reports suggest a sharp escalation in indigenous recruits over foreigners, a fact that should give the ruling dispensation sleepless nights. It's also no longer possible to claim that most of the youths who are joining the militants are being coerced by the latter.
So long much of the blame for radicalisation and instability in the Valley could be safely put on Pakistan or on poverty, but given these emerging trends, the governments at the Centre and the state cannot be as complacent. Sadly, both the PDP and the NDA seem to have lost touch with the ground realities or are willingly ignoring the waves of discontent rising all over Kashmir. The Indian Army, fuelled by the immunity it enjoys in Kashmir due to AFSPA, isn't making matters any better.
With the increase in instances of militancy, the armed forces have matched force with force, though not always with the best of results. Apart from causing severe injuries to civilians by shooting at them with pellet guns, which left hundreds maimed and blinded, perhaps the most notorious recent misstep taken by the army was to use a Kashmiri man as human shield, tied to a jeep, as a deterrent to stone-pelters.
At least two major separatist outfits, the Dukhtaran-e-Millat (DeM) and the Hurriyat Conference (HC), have hailed Wani's 'martyrdom' as a moment of reckoning for all of Kashmir as well as the Indian state.
DeM general secretary Nahida Nasreen compared Wani's sacrifice to those who laid down their lives on the historic day of 13 July 1931 while reciting the azaan and standing up to the Dogra rulers. Syed Ali Geelani of the HC hailed Wani as "a role model for Kashmiri youth", for having "infused a new life in the resistance movement".
India recently managed to prevent a peaceful rally organised in the city of Birmingham to mark Wani's death anniversary by protesting to the UK government. Faced with a more obstinate people back home, especially in Wani's own state, it remains to be seen what the Centre is planning to do.
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