Counseling initiatives of the state at multiple levels help immensely, we should strengthen them
In Kashmir, conflict often marks our life in chaos, confusion and uncertainty. This is the reason our populace, especially our youth, become volatile and sensitive towards any internal or external change. Due to our decades old political turbulence and uncertainty, Kashmir has turned a hub for various anti-societal elements. Our youth are contributing to this tragic turn at the forefront.
Conflict takes a heavy toll. It leaves many youngsters of our beautiful valley disturbed and distressed. Facing the consequences of the conflict, they feel pushed to the wall. This is the reason that some of them take extreme and harsh steps while others remain loyal to their culture, history, and the soil they were born to. Those who get misled choose the wrong path. They face death and destruction. If they had been guided and counseled properly at the right place and time by the right person, they could have been saved. They would have happily lived their lives amongst us. We lost a generation to the bullets and barrels. We don’t deserve to lose another one.
Wrong Perception Created On Kashmir
Ours is a distinct and a very sensitive society. The fact is that our society is not mislead or misguided from within. External animosity, external aggression has made us this way. The general perception among the masses about the Kashmiris is wrong. They are unaware of our history and geography. They take lectures on Kashmir from the corporate media houses. It is extremely unfortunate that the corporate media houses spit venom against us. This is why the general masses get misled on Kashmir.
The truth is that ours is a fertile land. We have always produced fertile minds. We are peace-loving people who fought with Afghans, Mughals and Dogras only for attaining our peace and freedom. I have come across numerous instances of youth who were at the brink of switching over to militancy. We tried to wean them away from the wrong path. We were lucky to save many of them. It is my misfortune that we failed to save many of them. I will regret this till my last breath. Both these categories are before my eyes. The former are living happily with their loving families, pursuing prosperous careers. The ones whom we could not save are sleeping deep down in the soil or are behind bars since long. Some among them were my close friends. I prayed that they would come back from the wrong path and live happily. Fortunately among the many youth I have stopped from taking life-ending steps, I shall narrate the stories of a few.
Waheed Para Saved My Childhood Friend From The Wrong Path
Qafeel Ahmad (name changed) was my good friend since early childhood. In 2016 he lost his sister in a cross fire. The people with militant ideology connected with him and started radicalizing him so that he would become a militant. They tried to influence him saying that he must join militant ranks to take revenge of his sister. We used to be together. I was continuously guiding him that he should not turn to the wrong path. The other group was after him to take up arms as early as possible. His parents won’t have survived had he turned to militancy.
As part of state policy to grant ex gratia relief to the kin, the government offered this young man a job. He was so deeply bitter that for seven months, he refused to take the job. I requested Waheed ur Rehman Para, a mainstream politician to meet him and counsel him. Para and I counseled my friend for days together. By the Grace of Allah, we could save this man from dying. De-radicalization is the process of changing an individual’s belief system, persuading him to reject extremist ideology and embrace mainstream values. In Kashmir, spending time in jail can strengthen a young person’s resolve to take revenge. Many of those jailed who weren’t part of any protest decided to join militancy after they are released. Others who are arrested for small crimes become radicalized in jail. Putting kids in jail on mere suspicion that they may become militants is a recipe for deep radicalization. The focus should be on disengagement and the identification of the driving forces that push the youth towards violent extremism. Issues of identity, a sense of alienation, perceived injustice, economic empowerment and good governance – all these will have to be addressed holistically. This will require strong and consistent outreach to the youth of the valley.
Sabzar Ahmad Wanted To Be A Doctor, He Turned Militant
Sabzar Ahmad (name changed) was involved in stone-pelting in the 2016 unrest. He was a brilliant student and had the clear aim of becoming a doctor. He was slapped with PSA. After he was released, he went missing from home and joined militant ranks. He died after seven months. His parents told me that before becoming a militant, Sabzar always spoke about the atrocities that he faced in jail. He cried about his days in jail and always said that he would take revenge. His mother was the lone breadwinner for the family. She has been bed-ridden since the day he joined militancy.
Do Not Punish For Small Crimes
If you punish budding youth for small crimes, they come out of jails radicalized. This has to be articulated as state policy that young boys must not be punished for small crimes. Perhaps we already have a policy to this effect. Then it must be implemented in letter and spirit. Young boys who are associated with small crimes must be counseled. We don’t need their blood or their dead body. We need them to live. They deserve to live happily. There are countless stories that would break any human soul. We have to work to avoid all such disasters
The Anantnag Example When Jenab Imtiyaz Hussian Saved 14 Boys
The example of this was seen in Anantnag when SSP Imtiyaz Hussain counseled 14 boys who had fallen prey to propaganda by extremist groups and were on the way to join militancy. I had got information from credible sources that all these young boys had changed their mindset. They are all now mainstreamed and they thank SSP Imtiyaz Hussain for counseling them and making them realize the importance of life rather than death, and saved their lives. The community members and their parents have expressed their gratitude to Anantnag Police for this kind gesture, thereby saving life of the youths.
The policymakers have long been dealing with the consequences of radicalization. More importantly, the policymakers need to address the root causes of radicalization, and also the symptoms of radicalization. It is time to address the root cause of radicalization. Otherwise, radicalization will continue to eat our society like cancer. It will continue to be a bleeding scar. ‘All-out’ security operations have time and again tried to wipe out militants. We need more comprehensive programs for addressing radicalization.
These Are Young Men Who Sought Acceptance, Identity, Opportunity
We must understand something in clear terms. Today’s terrorists, today’s extremists are yesterday’s young men who were looking for acceptance, identity and above all – opportunities. That is why we need to be in their lives to counsel them about what is right and wrong for them.
Recently, one such welcome step was held at Shopian. IG Police, the Army Corps Commander and other senior officials from the Police and Army held an interaction with the families of militants. The IGP was quoted as having said: “Bring the militants back to their homes. We are ready to accept them with open arms if they believe that they were on the wrong path.” Initiatives like these can prove extremely fertile if continued with the right will. Local militants in Kashmir have got a huge moral boost because of the win-win situation of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They have started believing in the power of the gun rather than dialogue to resolve any issue. The creation of counseling centers and regular counseling sessions for these vulnerable groups of young adults can prove to be the game-changer. It can save these vulnerable youth from getting radicalized.
Counseling At Pulwama Police Station Saved A Youth
A young handsome man in his 20s lived in my locality, Mugalpora in Pulwama district. He was of extremist thought. He was also in constant contact with people who followed that extreme ideology. He was at the brink of joining militancy. If this had happened, his life would have ended within a day, a week, month, a year, or maybe a few years. But it was certain that his life would be full of miseries and tragedies, and also the life of his parents. His ideology had made him a hardliner and a chronic stone pelter. For him, the only way forward was to join the militancy ranks. Fortunately, we were able to intervene in time. We got him counseled at a local police station in Pulwama without any torture or punishment. He is now living a happy life and is working as a senior executive in a private company.
DC Srinagar And A Senior Police Officer Turned Out To Be Angels For A Youth
Recently I got to know of a youngster from Srinagar who used to be a hardliner and a miscreant with vested interests in the eyes of law. This youth was a notorious stone-pelter. He used to skip classes and engage in anti-national activities. He got arrested and a dossier was made on time, marking him for arrest under the Public Safety Act (PSA). The registration of the case against him was to be signed by the competent authority soon.
Someone working with the police informed his lawyer that the youngster would be charged under PSA soon. His family members had a good contact in the Deputy Commissioner’s office. He got counseled by the Deputy Commissioner Srinagar and a senior police officer in the presence of his family members. Fortunately the young man realized that he was being misguided. He was released. He later told me that on the previous night, he had vowed that after he got out of the jail, he would take revenge after joining militant ranks. This year, this man attended more than 10 events on de-radicalization organized by the NGO Save Youth Save Future. This is the organization that has worked day and night to counsel such boys so that they do not get radicalized. The same young man is now doing BTech in a famous college in Chandigarh and is happily living his life with his ailing parents and a young sister.
Later, this man told me that the DC and the senior police officer had come as two angels sent by God for him. Had they not counseled him at the right place and right time, things would have been entirely different. He would have been in some jail or would have died.
(Mudasir Dar is social activist. He is Head South Kashmir for the NGO Save Youth Save Future. The organization works for the de-radicalization of the youth. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)