ANALYSIS | Choosing death over career in Kashmir

ANALYSIS | Choosing death over career in Kashmir

A girl cries as she watches the body of Mehraj-ud-Din Bangroo, a suspected militant, who according to local media was killed in a gunbattle with security forces, during his funeral procession in Srinagar on October 17, 2018. (REUTERS)

Young and well educated – from management and engineering graduates, to M Phil and even PhDs - that’s the profile of many militants who joined the renewed militancy in Kashmir and were subsequently killed by the security forces over the last two years. 

The first well-educated militant in the recent years with a doctorate was Azhar-ud-Din Khan, a 27-year-old from Trusso Kandi in north Kashmir’s Kupwara, who was killed on February 4, 2017, at Amargarh in Sopore. According to police records, Azhar completed his PhD in Arabic and was a lecturer on contract at a higher secondary school, before joining militancy in April 2016.

And when Manan Wani of the remote Lolab village in Kupwara, who was pursuing PhD in Geology at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in January this year, it came as a shot in the arm for the militant leadership in Pakistan, who termed it as a “rebuff to India's propaganda that youth are joining militant ranks because of unemployment and economic problems.”

Speaking about Manan, Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir based Hizbul chief Syed Salahuddin said, “For the past several years, the educated youth have joined Hizbul to take the ongoing movement to its logical conclusion.”

Manan was killed in an encounter with security forces on October 11 in Handwara area of Kupwara. His killing came at a time when north Kashmir was seeing a revival in militancy, which the state police also acknowledge. “He (Manan) was assigned to rope in local youths of northern districts through his posts on social media and personal approach,” a senior police officer said.

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Rafi Ahmad Bhat, an assistant professor at Kashmir University’s Sociology Department, who was killed on April 1 in southern Shopian district was another scholar-turned-militant. Bhat’s romance with militancy lasted just 36 hours as he got trapped along with four other Hizbul militants immediately after joining them.

Eisa Fazili, from a well-off Srinagar family, was pursuing BTech from a university before he joined militancy in August last year. Eisa, who studied at a prestigious missionary school in Srinagar, was killed in March this year.

The list of well-educated boys from well-off families choosing death over career in Kashmir is long. Unlike the militancy of the 1990s, where a low percentage of the militants were educated, the new phase of militancy took shape largely in rural areas and small towns, where young educated boys from well-off families got attracted.

However, most of these militants are poorly trained and end up dying in encounters with security forces without giving a tough fight. The social media has glamorised this phase of militancy and a narrative has been created wherein the militants are hero-worshipped. When a militant and especially a well-educated one is killed, his funeral is attended by thousands of mourners, and youngsters, while trying to give vent to their anger, tread the same path.

This has spurred a new security concern in Kashmir. But Additional Director General of Police Muneer Khan says that efforts were being made to wean away the youth from militancy, which includes asking family members to counsel them to give up arms.

Prof Noor Baba, a political analyst, believes that shrinking political space has left the Valley’s youth with no choice. “Any kind of dissent is crushed with force. And the events taking place across India were also shaping the situation in Kashmir. You go on justifying lynching of Muslims in the mainland and then also presume it will have no impact on the only Muslim-majority state of India,” he argued.

In this “boiling atmosphere,” Baba said, one can’t expect these educated youth to escape “ground realities.”