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Kashmir youth 'deprived' of rich heritage: Rajatarangini, Sufism, Lal Deb, Buddhism

By Abhishek Daimari*

Unlike the 1980s, the youth of Kashmir today reflect the Arab Spring movement where social media communication and reach take the forefront. This new generation uses these platforms to increase the movement's reach and organize their mobilizations. Stone-pelting has become much more prevalent than when the valley was sprawling with youths carrying guns.
However, the sense of grievance remains the same. With the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) still in place, most youths do not join pro-independence or separatist groups due to fear of arrests, beatings and even death. Nevertheless, they still acknowledge their struggles since the 1980s. Born into an era of conflict, they see their struggle as a war between the "Hindu" New Delhi Central government and the "Muslim" Kashmir.
Meanwhile, the state has become increasingly invasive. Using hackers and creating fake accounts to monitor youth movements during days of deaths of insurgent leaders and using spies are some of the usual tactics employed. The iron hand way of dealing with terror in the valley has seen a decrease in terror compared to the 80s; however, this comes at a price. Freedom of expression is curbed, and hence today's youth movement finds it hard to gain momentum.
The youth of Kashmir can be broadly put into two categories: the majority who have come to terms with the fact that the future of Kashmir does not lie in their own hands and instead in the hands of those wielding power in New Delhi and Islamabad, and the radicalized minority who would give anything to win their self-respect and independence.
This minority is a cause of concern. Contrary to popular belief, many of them are highly educated. This begs the question: What is it that is motivating them? Indeed, there is something more than unemployment which might be the cause of the youth's estrangement. The narrative that the Indian security forces' presence is detrimental to the valley is at an all-time high.
Radicalization among the youth is caused by a myriad of reasons ranging from a faulty education system and religious leaders' speeches. What India must aim for is to provide a counter-narrative. This must be done as quickly as possible. India cannot afford to let this radicalized minority affect the majority.
The best place to start this is in the schools itself. Revision of history books to teach the youth about the glorious history of Kashmir must become a priority. Sadly, not many young minds of Kashmir today can connect themselves with their motherland's past which is so much more than just the struggle to attain 'Azadi'.
Being deprived of the rich heritage right from the classroom is a major contributing factor to youth becoming so inclined to the narrative of the pro-independence movement's everlasting struggle. Numerous Kashmiri legends have attained worldwide recognition in their fields of expertise. Still, sadly, today's youth is ignorant, not because they choose to be but because the educational institutions deprive them of these stories.
For example, Rajatarangini, an invaluable chronicle of the kings of Kashmir, has claimed worldwide appeal and has also been widely referenced by several historians worldwide. Sufism, which has deep roots in Kashmir finds no relevance to the youth today. Lad Ded, the Kashmiri mystic, who influenced numerous other Sufi figures after her is little known among the Kashmiri youth today. Not many know that Buddhism was spread across most of China and Central Asia by Kashmiri monks!
It is high time that policymakers realize that steps must be taken to feed this rich history while they are young to stop youth radicalization. Preachers are using many places of worship to forward their anti-India rhetoric, which is why many stone-pelters emerge after every Friday congregations.
The Indian state must prioritize enacting the Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1988 on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to prevent the promotion and propagation of disharmony and ill-will between the state and the valley. Currently, this Act extends to all the states of India except J&K. 
Amy initiative of building schools and Kashmir Super 50, in which residential coaching is given to lower strata children, is a welcome sign
More than 700 Wahhabi mosques in the region are being used as the centres of preaching hate; the foreign Maulvis must be deported back to their respective states. Mosques should be places of worship and not places where propaganda is being fed to the valley's general populous.
One must not come out of the doors of a mosque filled with hate but instead, a sense of inner peace. The Indian state must be quick to realize that the young minds of Kashmir are being fed with these hateful anti-India sentiments and a quick step must be taken.
Lastly, harassment of locals by the security forces must stop. The Army must be more precise in its operations. Instead of relying on the age-old method of searching resident premises for weapons and insurgents, the methodology needs to shift to intelligence-based operations. For this, the Army must ramp up its IT infrastructure and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) must expand its espionage network.
The Army must realize that in order to achieve peace in the valley, the best allies are the people living in it who they have sworn to protect. Initiatives from Army such as building schools and the "Kashmir Super 50", in which residential coaching is given to students belonging to society's lower strata, is a welcome sign.
Although steps in this direction are being taken, there is still mistrust amongst many who see the security forces' occupation as a severe detrimental force. To tackle this, development of the valley must also become a critical factor which might lower militancy and at the same time, create an atmosphere of trust.
We have to look no further than our own country for inspiration -- civilian deaths in Manipur have shown a continuous decline since 2007 and was the lowest in 2019; increasing border trade through the Moreh Smart City project has been pivotal in the minimization of insurgency incidents.
Kashmir has always been an integral part of India, but mainstreaming the youth has always been a challenge. Steps need to be taken in the right direction for communal harmony and peace in the valley, and this can only be achieved when the people living in it become our allies. Radicalization has been a notorious force in this uphill battle, but it is not wishful thinking to believe that it can be brought down to a minimum, thus making this a lot easier than it is now.
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*MBA 2nd year, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad

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