Hashtags, Viral & Trending- Far From Reality!

On 12th Jul, the anchor of CNN New 18 was lambasting a participant on her show from across the border on Kashmir Chemical Jihad. She was explaining to her viewers the diabolical plan of Pakistan Army- ISI- Hizbul Mujahideen Nexus plan of using chemical weapons in Kashmir. It’s all #Kashmir Chemical Jihad trending on her debate. She claimed to be in possession of an audio tape of a Kashmiri terrorist leader’s conversation with his handlers across the Line of Control. Now, that really caught my attention. Then, she proceeds to broadcast her much awaited evidence and there it is… the so-called terrorist leader discusses his avid plan to use chemical weapons in the valley against security forces. Then its all #Is India Prepared for Chemical Attack?. Slowly, the prime time debate moves to highlight the devious design of our ‘Friendly Neighbor’ and a set of so-called defense analysts, self claimed defense experts and some retired armed forces personnel from both sides debate over for the next few hours. They proceed to attain new decibel levels, blame game and name calling. An hour or so, these defense experts, analysts and retired armed forces personnel move to the next news channel and continue their foray. It is all Trending News and Mending Money. A poor viewer like me, sits and watches these news items and prime debates from 6 PM to 10 PM, feels ecstatic about the lambasting.

A couple of days ago, a dastardly act of terror was carried out by terrorists on a group of Yatris (Pilgrims) who were moving back post their visit to Amarnath Shrine. The pilgrimage is an annual ritual carried out in the summer months and involves tremendous planning and coordination by a number of agencies. There are two routes to the Shrine on either side of the Mahadeo mountain range, an offshoot of the Great Himalayas and on an average,0.2 million pilgrims visit the Shrine. The conduct of the Yatra involves preparation by all agencies that commences by April and culminates post completion of the pilgrimage. The pilgrims register through an online portal and their move to the valley till the Shrine and back is monitored and controlled by security agencies. In spite of a number of security instructions given through various medium, a number of pilgrims visit the valley without registration and it is the monitoring of these unregistered pilgrims who also undertake tourist activities, creating a major challenge to all the stakeholders. The attack on July 10th was on one such unregistered vehicle. The pilgrims post their visit to the Shrine proceeded to visit Srinagar and were returning back to  Jammu, when their bus got punctured en-route. I am sure their further movement ahead would have been either tagged or information passed by some ‘Eyes’ to the terrorists, who went about killing unarmed civilians making it one of the most deplorable act in humankind.

The national media ran the cover story for two days, on the night of the incident the media tried to reconstruct how the terror attack happened and the second day, they covered the bereaved family members and the funeral. I waited for a day or two more to write my blog, as I m sure most of the mainstream media had moved to more trending new stories such as China, Pakistan, Cow Vigilantism, Rajnikanth’s entry in to Politics, Rahul Gandhi’s statements, Karan Johars tweets etc. Thus, the loss is only to the family members, rest all of us sympathize for a day and get along with our lives. This is not something new, the mainstream and social media sites create a lot of hue and cry when a soldier is martyred due to Pakistani firing or terrorist attack on a convoy, but pass over to more so-called trending news in a day or two. We Indians suffer from Short Term Memory Loss syndrome, our minds are akin to stock trading, moving from one hot stock to another. In simple words, we don’t value lives and we just don’t care about others.

The attack on the Pilgrims have changed the contours of terror. Social media and networking ran a number of ‘Hashtags’ such as #Islamic Terrorism and #Blame Intelligence Failure. Well, Hashtagging and Trending online is different, being on ground is altogether a different ball game. It is easier to sit in an air-conditioned office and type on a branded tablet #Blame Intel or criticize through an article on a leading daily. The man with his boots on ground toils day and night, puts his life at extreme risk and ensures the security grid is in place for events of national importance such as Amarnath Yatra. And there are so many things he does, generally unspoken, which his countrymen assumes that its is his/her bloody job to do. Many news channels ran praise of the driver who drove past when he was being fired at, but no one knows about the heroics of a 23-year-old young doctor of the Armed Forces who spend the next six hours providing medical aid to the 18 injured that led to the saving of at least four more lives. She and her small team was stitching up patients in a pool of blood. Nobody cares, because her countrymen feel…its her bloody job.

Lets talk brass tacks, this is not going to be the last attack in the valley. The initiative is with the terror outfits and they are going to create new targets with every possible opportunity. Tremendous efforts go into preventing such attacks from happening which generally go unreported. The valley witnessed negligible incidents during the protest calls by the Separatist from 08-13 Jul. Barring the attack on 10 Jul, there was no incident of protest or agitation reported. This is an indication of the efforts put in to prevent large-scale incidents and ensure normalcy prevails in the valley.

Then, how can the mainstream media help in the efforts? Well, to start with they can come down here (for a change from the air-conditioned offices) and feel normalcy as it exist here. Secondly, they can stop projecting Kashmir as a problem. The lambasting and negativism of the valley showcased by the media is not helping the cause. Thirdly, stop finding solution to the Kashmir imbroglio. For decades, many statesmen and leaders have put their brains into it, they haven’t found a solution yet, and you expect to solve it over a prime time debate. Well, these prime time debates only add to the existing complexities as a lot of venom gets spewed over such debates. Lastly, try showcasing the normalcy that prevails here. This can help in developing the state economy which is tourism dependent.

I hope our media understands the complexities behind the conundrum. It requires consolidated efforts by every stakeholder to improve the situation and the media including social media plays a vital role. Hope, someday better sense would prevail!

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‘Thoughts’ Over Tea with My Kashmiri Friend

It was a beautiful Monday morning,  a Kashmiri friend of mine had arranged my meeting with a Professor from a nearby college. I was told that the gentleman I was about to meet is a devout Muslim and possessed deep knowledge on the religion. I was quite excited about the meeting and was keenly looking forward to it. At around 10 am, I received a call from him and he informs me that he just started from his residence and requested me to help him with the visitors check at the gate. I, immediately obliged and sent a word to the gate about my esteemed guest. Its quarter past 10, and I receive an information about an attack by terrorist in the heart of the town. A police constable is badly injured and all efforts underway to evacuate him to the nearest hospital. In comes another call, this time its my guest and he says he is at my gate, I immediately arranged his entry and in a few minutes, he is there at my office, sitting right in front of me, sipping a glass of water. I seek his permission to finish a few left over files and as I hustle through it, I take a glance at my guest. He is average built, formally dressed and has a long grown beard and seemed to be quite conscious about the surroundings. As I finish with my work at hand, we slowly start a conversation on Kashmir.

He starts by talking about his childhood days in Kashmir, how suddenly his parents shifted him to Pune (India) in the 90s, his education in a Central Asian country and his religious education. Sitting and sipping tea in my office, we finally discuss the prevailing situation in the valley. I was very keen to know his views on why so many youth graduate from stones to gun culture. Recruitment into terrorist ranks have increased over the last one year and preventing recruitment has become the most intriguing challenge to the government and the security forces. Furthermore, the average shelf life of a terrorist in the valley is not more that four years post his recruitment and an analysis of some recent cases led me to understand that the same has reduced to two years. Moreover, most Kashmir watchers would agree that any news of elimination of terrorist is accompanied by information of two to three youth missing from their homes.

The valley today would be infested with a few hundred terrorists holding AKs and few SLRs and the simple application of commonsense can make a person understand that this strength is no strength against the state of art security forces. So what makes this terrorism thrive in Kashmir? Why are youth running away from their homes to join militancy? Before every operation, an option to surrender is given and why these terrorist choose Shahadat over surrender? Have they over come the fear of Death?

My guest told me that most youth who join the terror outfits are from poor background, form part of a large family with a number of siblings. I vividly recollect one such case of a slain terrorist, who had six brothers and five sisters, which made him the 12th Man in his parents cricket team and definitely was not missed at home when he joined the terrorist ranks. Some of the them have bad loans and join for the lure of money. There are some who get into stone pelting filed FIR- booked under Public Safety Act (PSA)- no returning back to normal life web at very early age and with a little peer pressure join militancy.  One such case came to the lime light when during one protest an 14-year-old boy was accused of snatching a weapon. A number of attempts were made to bring him back to normal fold, but the individual refused to surrender. There are some who get charmed by gun culture and assume that wielding a gun could facilitate womanizing. The infamous Burhan Wani formed part of this clan of terrorist and there were widespread reports of his relationship with multiple women.  Then, there are those few who join the folds of terror in the name of religion.

Azadi (Pro-freedom) and Islamic affiliation are at logger heads in the valley, while the concept of Azadi attracts the local militants and pro-Pakistan propels the foreign mercenaries, a new wave of radical Islamic ideas have percolated a very few, the likes of Zakir@Musa and his affiliates. This is no way is a proof of the Islamic State making inroads into the valley, though there are reports of waving of Islamic State flags in certain parts. When I asked my guest on the same, he told me that most of the Pakistani flags and pro-Pakistani graffiti are nothing but an attempt by the locals to irk the security forces and the government and this is in no way approves their interest in joining the state of Pakistan. 

Nearly three hours of interaction and he was all guns blazing for Azadi. After listening to him, I asked him few simple questions. What happens after Azadi? Do you think the state of Kashmir would exist? What if there is a civil war in the valley between those pro-Azadi and those who want to continue to be with India? What if, Ladakh and Jammu regions are not interested in joining an Independent Kashmir? With a part of Kashmir with Pakistan and with Ladakhis and Jammuites not joining them, will an Independent Kashmir survive? What makes you so sure that Pakistan wont try annex Kashmir? Well, these are few questions that made my guest ponder and he definitely had no answers, and I m sure these answers are not there with many champions of Azadi.

Well, on that day, atleast we graduated from mere acquaintance to a good friendship and I am sure we both would cherish our friendship for the times to come. As for Kashmir, its going to be an arduous task for the government and the security forces to prevent the young and vibrant Kashmiris from joining the folds of terror.

A Year in Kashmir Valley…

The summers in Kashmir Valley are exquisite. While the mercury soars and sweat finds every pore in your body in the other parts of the country, the mid summers in the valley are a travelers’ dream. As one drives past the NH 44, sadly the only artery that connects the valley with the rest of the nation, one wonders why there are so many security forces deployed all along the stretch. A few weeks ago, the NH was in the news for an attack on a SF convoy at Qazigund that resulted in the death of two Army personnel. In another such dreadful strike, the terrorists killed two police personnel and  injured four others leading to jitters and agony amongst the police rank and file. Attacks on CRPF camps, JKP personnel and political leaders have become a regular phenomenon in the valley. The security forces have been quite successful in eliminating a number of terrorist masterminds, but the irony lies in the fact that for every elimination there is a new recruit to take the vacant place and fit into the shoes. One of the biggest challenge to the Kashmir planners and observers is to find  methods to prevent recruitment into terrorist tanzeems.

Violence in Kashmir now spans into the third decade, generations of Kashmiris have lived their life in turmoil. If one takes the ‘conflict’ out of the equation, the place is bestowed with all the natural beauty that makes it a paradise on earth. Be it the snow-capped mountains, the pristine rivers, the unending greenery as a result of fertile soil, the Valley presents you with unimaginable tranquility and an air of serenity, that makes one fall in love with the place over and over again. But it is the violence that makes this Paradise,  a Hell on earth.

So what and how can one do to put an end to this violence? what prevents peace in the valley? Is it that the people are so used to violence and turmoil that they embrace it unknowingly? or are there vested interest that is in play to keep this place burning? who are Separatist and are they a big clout in Kashmir affairs? how does a handful of terrorist keep the SF on their toes? is the state of affairs beyond redemption? these are some of the questions that pop to those in other parts of the country and probably to some foreign thinkers. The fact is that Kashmir is at a ‘New Normal’. It is one of the states wherein a new narrative is sprung to purpose for every new situation. To some it is the PDP-BJP alliance, for some it is the special status of Jammu and Kashmir,  while some pursue Khilafat as a new narrative, some are wary of alleged Saffronisation of rest of India. Inspite of being a failed state, to some unification with Pakistan enthralls while some are fascinated by the very idea of Azadi or Freedom.

As the first anniversary of the slain terrorist Burhan Wani is fast approaching, Kashmir valley over the last one year has seen it all. Actually, the elimination of Burhan Wani was a trigger that set forth into motion a series of incidents that got triggered one after another which came to be known popularly as the Third Intifida. By end August 2016, it was no-more Burhan Wani who kept the agitations on, it was the civilian deaths, the pellet injury and the Kashmiri media that kept the agitations alive. Beginning November, it was only the Kashmiri media which frenzied over the post Burhan agitations, while the Kashmiri people was exhausted with continuous bandh calls and protest calendars.  I completely pity with the Kashmiri people. They have gone through great difficulties ever since the partition of India. I often wonder whether any other nation-state in the world has been subjected to a conflict of the dimension as being witnessed in Kashmir. The conflict has affected the very fabric of the society, while the older generation is caught between being loyal to the SF and fear of the terrorists, the youth has been influenced and brainwashed by the Jamaat-Hurriyat combo.

An average Kashmiri youth who has witnessed the agitation of 2008,2010, minor agitations of 2012, floods of 2014 and the 2016 Intifida cannot be expected to score 90 percentage in his board exams. He/she has missed school and mass promoted twice. Furthermore, most of them pick and throw stones at the age of 8-10 years, some snatch a weapon or lob a grenade at the age of 14-15 and join a terrorist tanzeem. As he completes his teen, he would have by then attacked a SF convoy or camp and registered by Police for terror activities. When he turns 20 years, he is categorized as a terror mastermind and declared as the area or district commander of a terror tanzeem. After a few more atrocities, he winds up in a cordon and is eliminated in few hours. Thus ends the life of a youth who, if educated and guided well, could have turned out to be a successful engineer, doctor or an entrepreneur. Many youth in the valley are carried away in the name of Azadi, Khilafat, Shahadat etc. Many schools in the valley are modeled on Islamic education and radical Islamic thoughts are prevalent in the Madrassahs. Though Wahabi or Salafist ideology doesn’t seems to have established credentials, but the anti- India/ pro-Pakistan/Azadi preachings finds its way into the Mosques in the Valley.

A youth wakes up in the morning in Shupiyan town in South Kashmir, goes to a Madrassah and gets educated on Shadahat and Shariah, heads to his Islamic model school where he discusses Syria and Afghanistan, during lunch views videos on Khilafat by Zakir Musa, Terrorist Commander, heads to a Mosque where anti-India/ Azadi preaching is a norm. By evening, he along with his friends pelt stones on SF deployed at the town center and gets home. How can you expect this youth to do well in his life when we don’t give him a conducive environment to develop?

The national media also doesn’t seems to help the cause. By highlighting Kashmir as an abnormal or conflict ridden state, the domestic and international tourist flow has reduced to an abysmal levels. This has badly affected the state whose people depend their tourism for a livelihood, Kashmirs’ loss is Himachals’ gain. The national media needs to become more responsible over their reporting on Kashmir. It is not that bad as it is shown across the News channels. Actually, barring a few sporadic incidents normalcy is prevalent in the valley. In the valley they say opening of Shops, Schools and plying of Sumos(cabs) indicate normalcy and they are very much functioning. Moreover the visit to Amarnath Shrine ahead of Pahalgam is gaining momentum.  Thus, Kashmir is slowly but steadily trickling back to normalcy with sporadic incidents albeit the New Normal…