Rashneek Kher is a Kashmiri and based in Delhi.
The frequency with which one is seeing ISIS flags being displayed in Kashmir these days has lead to heated debates. From “outright condemnation” to “they have no role in Kashmir” arguments we are losing sight of the bigger picture. To be fair to the separatists’ one has to accept that even the separatists themselves would hate to see the so called “freedom struggle” being hijacked by the ISIS. The presence of ISIS would mean shrinking of Petro and Paki money that separatists are so used to. It would also mean de-legitimization of whatever little legitimacy it may have in the eyes of OIC members since the world at large has already seen through the “freedom struggle” of “indigenous Kashmiris”.
Yet we are seeing young men displaying ISIS flags at regular intervals. The question is not whether ISIS has an organizational structure in Kashmir or not, or whether those displaying the flags owe their allegiance to ISIS or not. It is also not important whether the background checks on these “idiots” as Omar Abdullah would like to call them, revealed their links to any terrorist organization or not. What is important to know is what kind of people would display the flags of a barbaric, obscurantist, medieval mindset terrorist network.
Kashmir has experienced periods of extreme religious bigotry in the past as well. The armed insurgents both locals as well as foreigners used barbaric methods of killing and torture. From axing people on saw mills to chopping their genitals, from nailing the heads of infidels to gouging the eyes of their victims the terrorists have used every inhuman way of creating fear into those who disagreed with them. So in a way one can ask, how different or more barbaric is the ISIS when compared to let us say a JKLF or a Hizbul Mujahideen.
In the last two and half decades Kashmir has been radicalized to a degree that was unknown in its history. The entire countryside is teeming with a group which calls itself “Allahwalles” or The People of God. They are ubiquitous. This is one radicalization that I must admit hasn’t come from Pakistan but from mainland India. They have sown the seeds of puritanical Islam in the vast swathes of Kashmir. The Kashmiri countryside is hugely influenced by their thought. Then there are other ideologies like Ahl-e-Hadees who indoctrinate their followers in Wahhabism a thought that stands in complete contrast to the local born Sufis of Kashmir. As a young boy living in the countryside I have seen women of my village wearing colourful pherans with Salwars and a Headgear, while now, girls as young as seven are completely draped. More men sport “Islamic” beards than ever before. The issuance of a fatwa to an all girls music band by Grand Mufti was an ominous sign. This tells us how far religion has travelled in Kashmir in the recent years. The Dargahs of the Sufi saints have seen less attendance and the numbers are falling every year. In the past one would see huge gatherings at the Dargahs of Kashmiri Poets like Ahmed Batwari or a Shamas Faqir but as time passes by, there is a question being asked by the young in Kashmir,Is it Islamic to bow there ?
It is in the light of such retrograde developments that one needs to see the “appearance” of ISIS Flags. It may be true that only a handful young men support the idea of ISIS, it may equally be true that the philosophy of ISIS may not have many takers in Kashmir but then the very fact that radicalization has reached a stage where even if a handful have empathy towards the ISIS and its methods is a matter of grave concern. It is undoubtedly a failure of the administration that people are waving these flags but what should worry us more is that the ones waving the flags today would be the gun runners of ISIS tomorrow. We would be ignoring the issue at our own peril.