NEW DELHI: When Bashir Ahmad Lone’s son Mehraj Uddin did not return home from a picnic with friends, his family informed the police. A day later, on June 5, the young man’s photograph was making the rounds on social media. He was dressed in military fatigues and carrying a gun.
“We never thought that could happen,” the father of the 24-year-old construction worker from Arigam village in Pulwama district of Kashmir told Arab News.
“Sad thing is that it’s not only my son, there are many youngsters joining militancy. In frustration, people are picking up guns.”
A year since the revocation of Kashmir’s special autonomous status by India and subsequent lockdown of the region, hopelessness, anger and increasing violence have pushed more youths into extreme forms of resistance.
“It is a sad reflection in any conflict zone, more so in Kashmir,” said Gowhar Geelani, a Kashmiri journalist and political analyst. “When all democratic forms of dissent are disallowed and democratic spaces choke, some youth and impressionable minds do take refuge in extreme forms of resistance.”
On Aug. 5 last year, New Delhi annulled Article 370 of India’s constitution, which had guaranteed Kashmir’s autonomy, and divided the state into the Union Territory of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir — directly governed by a New Delhi representative.
Thousands of additional troops were sent to support 500,000 servicemen already deployed in the Muslim-dominated region to enforce a military lockdown on its population of 13 million.
Thousands of local political leaders and civil society activists were detained and some of them still remain under arrest.
Some 16 km from Arigam where Mehraj Uddin Lone was last seen, another boy, 19-year-old Shoib Ahmad Bhat from Chursoo village, also in Pulawama district, joined militants on July 13.
“I fear security forces will get hold of him and kill him, before his promising life can serve any purpose,” the young paramedic’s father, Mohammad Shafi Bhat, said.
Bhat said the overturning of Article 370 broke the last bond of trust. “Article 370 was a sort of bond between India and Kashmir. The special status gave us benefits in our education, employment and it was a matter of pride for us,” he said.
Last month alone, several young educated men, including a doctoral student from Srinagar, were reported to have joined the local militant group Hizbul Mujahideen.
“The situation is very grim in the valley. Youth are frustrated and angry and there is a strong sense of alienation,” said social and political activist, Mudasir Dar.