Myth of radicalization in Kashmir

Kashmir: For the last few months a new narrative is being parroted on Kashmir to give the impression that whatever has been happening on the ground is the direct result of so-called Islamisation. When these experts qualify this, they make sweeping assertions saying that Kashmir is under the thrall of ‘Wahhabisation’, which is synonymous with Salafi thought and is known in Kashmir through a section of Muslims who are identified as the Ahle Hadith. Wahhabism was a revivalist movement launched by an eighteenth century theologian, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab from Najd, Saudi Arabia. Its followers are mainly in Arab world with the highest 48 percent in Qatar. But in recent times the term Wahabism has been used profusely in relation to Kashmir and one at times wonders whether Kashmir is the capital of this ideology.

The “experts”, especially those on TV channels, are conveniently using it to paint a political problem as one connected with Islam. When the odd ISIS flag is held by some delinquent boys after Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid it becomes the headline of the day.

There is no denying that Ahle Hadith’s popularity has grown in the past few years and that this is the consequence of changes taking place the world over. But has this section of society taken the lead role in a political struggle that has been going on for over 27 years? No. Kashmir’s armed struggle was pioneered by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in the late 1980s and it is known for its secular ideology aimed to unite the state of Jammu and Kashmir, as it existed in 1947. And then it was propelled forward in 1990 with the introduction of the Hizbul Mujahideen and other outfits that linked Kashmir’s struggle to Islam and Pakistan. The number of these organisations ran into dozens as many sections of society who felt marginalized in the new political reality joined the armed rebellion. The Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen was one outfit that was apparently the armed wing of Ahle Hadith but both did not own this “reality” publicly. Interestingly not a single youth who has studied in any Madrassa or Darul Uloom run by all schools of thought has been found to have joined the militant ranks in last over 10 years. It was a well-known fact that some smaller outfits were launched to ensure political survival and safeguard the cadre.

The Ahle Hadith movement is not new to Kashmir; it is believed that the number of mosques it runs has increased from 500 in 1990 to 900 in 2017 and this is mainly accomplished with funding from Saudi Arabia that is being monitored by the Ministry of Home Affairs as the institutions connected with Ahle Hadith are among the few that have been granted Foreign Contribution Regulation Act certificates.

This movement in the Kashmir Valley is 120 years old. The first Ahle Hadith mosque was set up in Srinagar in 1897 by Anwar Shah Shopiani, who hailed from Shopian. He was influenced by the Salafi movement in the then-undivided Punjab. Those who nurtured Ahle Hadith in Kashmir have been influenced by scholars like Moulana Sanaullah Amritsari, Abul Qasim Banarasi, Abdul Aziz Rahimabadi. In fact the main Islamic movements such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, Ahle Hadith and Barelvi have been influenced by their peers in India. Ahle Hadith in Kashmir has not played much of a role in the separatist movement though it was part of the joint Hurriyat Conference until it was split in 2003. After that it did not join any other factions. In fact, after the assassination of one of its vibrant presidents, Moulana Showkat, it preferred to keep a low profile and has not been seen in a leading role in the political movement since.

But the way this narrative of “wahabisation” is now being weaved, it seems to be part of a greater strategy to pursue a hard line on Kashmir and then justify it. Sushil Pandit, one of the Kashmiri Pandit political commentators, told a panelist from Srinagar recently that “much more was yet to come”. The panelist was talking about the sufferings people have gone through. Similarly, one is amused to hear to a BJP spokesperson concerned about “Kashmir’s Azadi movement”. “Where is your Azadi movement? It has been hijacked by Salafi Islam,” this spokesperson told another panelist from Srinagar. In other words this would mean that the BJP had no issues with an “independence movement” if it were kept aloof from Pakistan and Islam?

Kashmir’s political disempowerment dates back to 1586 when Mughal Emperor Akbar dethroned the last sovereign ruler Yusuf Shah Chak and banished him. People have been struggling since then and they have not differentiated between a Muslim and a non Muslim ruler who invaded. Even today none in the joint resistance leadership of Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Farooq and Yasin Malik ascribes to the Salafi or Wahabi ideology. Geelani is a known pro-Pakistan leader but he was the first to denounce ISIS and Al Qaeda and has always maintained that the wishes of the people are the ultimate motivator. That is because Kashmiris have refrained from mixing politics with religion. Their outright disapproval for Hizb commander Zakir Musa’s assertions about an “Islamic Caliphate” make this evident. Why has Kashmir become the battle field for those militants who talk about Islamisation! It is because of the continued denial of Delhi to address the political issue and the space created by Kashmiris after transition from violence to non-violence has been used well by those elements.

Kashmiris take pride in their past, even their Hindu past. Hurriyat Conference leader Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat describes the fight in Kashmir between the Brahmins of India and Brahmins of Kashmir. “We Kashmiris are saraswati Brahmins, Indian Brahmins are Lakshmi Brahmins. We shall prevail,” he says. When Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah supported Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India against the prevailing two-nation theory that would have automatically made J&K part of Pakistan, people were behind him but the truth soon emerged. When he was humiliated and dethroned in 1953, people realized that New Delhi’s intention was not based on sincerity.

Even if one goes by the theory of “Islamisation” why have only 100 Kashmiris become militants in the last four years compared to 15,000 in 1990? None other than an erudite police officer Swayam Prakash Pani who is currently Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police in South Kashmir has busted this myth of radicalization. “The second myth is that the recruits are all radicalised youth. The reason for joining militancy in most of the cases has been found to be peer-group contact and not a strong radical lineage. Of course, after joining the terror fold, expressing radical thoughts in the social media at times becomes a potent weapon in some cases. This is seen to gain attention and give them the high moral ground to defend their acts of violence” Pani wrote in Hindustan Times on June 1, 2017.

The radicalization is political. Most Kashmiris argue that if there is religious indoctrination in Kashmir, it is justified in view of what is happening in the rest of India under the BJP. The concern is that there is an effort being made by the government and supported by TV channels to push Kashmir towards this kind of radicalization only to posit it as a justification to say no to political settlement.