Young Kashmiri activists yearn for an ‘Arab Spring’ - and more Western attention
US support for Arab uprisings is reinvigorating a drive among Kashmiri youth for independence. But they want to accomplish it peacefully.
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"In a situation like Egypt, eventually the international community had to accept the fact that the majority of people are saying something and they should be heard," says Mr. Farooq. "India might not feel the pressure right now, but I believe that the acceptability of [our] peaceful struggle is growing day by day."Skip to next paragraph
Young Kashmiris, emboldened by their numbers, are impatient to be the generation to win azadi, or freedom, despite the fact that most India experts discount their prospects.
Over cups of noon chai, a green tea with salt, Rashid and several other young men describe how international pressure on India is their main hope, given state repression.
Facebook and Twitter?Their uses as an organizing tool ended after Indian police arrested three young people for posting on Facebook last year. "There are only two ways to communicate: phone calls or SMS [text messages]. We have a ban on SMS. Phone calls are monitored, so how can we interact with each other?" says Rashid.
Nor does the movement have many leaders. Over the winter, police studied images of last summer's protests and detained more than 5,000 young men. Most have been released, with pressure on their parents to rein them in. Those remaining can face two-year detentions without trial under a law criticized in a new Amnesty International report.
"Hundreds ... are being held each year on spurious grounds, with many exposed to higher risk of torture," said Amnesty International's Sam Zarifi in a release. "[A]uthorities are using detentions as a revolving door to keep people … locked up."
Youths put their hope in international support
Blocked from activism, youths put their hope in international support. For this, they are willing to risk a meeting with foreign journalists, leading them through back alleys to evade security forces and police informers.
Rashid's friend Shabeer, a 20-year-old businessman, describes the day in 2010 when he became a stone thrower, as many young people did last summer. He was returning from the funeral of a boy killed by police.
Shabeer says security forces opened fire on the crowd without provocation. "We were scared but we were ready to die for the cause," he says. He picked up stones and returned volleys. "If that time I had a gun, I would fire back."
Indian officials say they are eager to avoid a repeat of the violence this summer, and tout measures they are taking to engage young people and keep them from taking to the streets. During the winter lull in protests, the police tried to set up alternative outlets for youths, offering sports as well as jobs in the force.
Mercy Corps, meanwhile, funded a conference in March that gave young Kashmiris a rare chance to meet and talk about ways forward. One day focused on cultural heritage, led by young people who have found a broader voice in art than stones. "I have this tool of metaphor I use and I can communicate without being sued or arrested," says Malik Sajad, a 23-year-old political cartoonist whose work is online at kashmirblackand white.com.
He is working on a graphic novel about young people who grew up amid Kashmir's recent decades of turmoil, told through the story of the hangul, an endangered deer. "The hangul don't understand these big [political] ideas," he says. "They are suffering, and that's why they react."