Young Kashmiris step away from militancy
The contested state was relatively peaceful during polls, which ended Wednesday, largely due to a new generation using technology, not weapons, to protest Indian control.
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That change has been most apparent during the past six months, when protests – some hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris strong – have convulsed the state. When the state government donated land to a Hindu charity in June, many people in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley saw it as a ploy engineered in New Delhi to undermine Kashmir's autonomy.Skip to next paragraph
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Ahmed (who also asked that his real name be withheld for security reasons) and Bashir were among the throngs, exhorting friends to join the rallies with patriotic texts and filming the events with their camera phones. The Indian response was jittery. Shortly after the protest began, it blocked all text messages in the state. In July and August, Indian forces also resorted to "excessive use of force" to disperse the rallies, shooting and killing 25, according to Amnesty International.
Ahmed still has a video of one of the dead on his phone – a man carried away on a motorbike after allegedly being shot by Indian security forces. Though Indian officials have not commented on every death, they claim they have been provoked in some instances and falsely blamed in others.
To be sure, Ahmed and Bashir are not be mistaken for Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi. Sitting in a Srinagar restaurant, they conspire like Bolsheviks, talking about the videos, CDs, and photos they have made and e-mailed to highlight what they see as Indian brutality. Bashir talks about the nights this summer he spent throwing rocks at police.
But they are not talking about taking up guns – at least not yet. Kashmiris "want to show the world that this is a movement for their own right to self-determination, and they can do it in a peaceful way," says Ahmed.
There have been results. Eventually, the land donation was rescinded and the state government fell – leading to this month's elections. This summer's controversy "revealed a new generation" of Kashmiri activists, says Salman Haider, a former foreign secretary of India. "They forced the government to back down."
Yet in Srinagar, frustration mounts. India's heavy response to the protests has antagonized many Kashmiris. "If you make no distinction between a suicide bomber and a kid shouting slogans on the street, you are pushing him toward something more dangerous," says Mr. Jameel, the journalist.
There is the sense that this is a window of opportunity, he and others agree. Hashim Saeed, who also asked that his real name be withheld because of his involvement in pro-independence activities, says much is still uncertain.
"What we are seeing today is the hope that ... the international community is ready to listen to the aspirations of the people if we resort to nonviolence," he says. "There is every kind of possibility," he says. "If people fail to address this problem, this nonviolent generation will be forced to think otherwise."