Choosing death over degrees: What inspires the studious Kashmiri youths to choose militancy over scholarship?

In its latest press statement, Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir (JIJK), which is a cadre-based religio-political organisation in Jammu and Kashmir (distinct from the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind), has likened the Indian administration as “Pharaoh’s era” in Kashmir. The statement reads: “Indian forces have devised a sinister plan of genocide of Kashmiri youth on the same pattern the Pharaoh of Egypt had once ordered to kill the male infants of Bani-Israel in Egypt. The history stands a witness to the fact that despite all his barbaric and suppressive tactics, Pharaoh along with his huge and powerful armies got devastated and destroyed by the divine will. All other tyrant powers of the world have met the same fate and the oppressed people have ultimately won.”

Manan Bashir Wani

Paying tributes to all the slain militants, Jama’at appealed to the UN and other international human rights bodies to “take effective steps against the forces involved in these human rights violations and file a criminal case in the International Court of Justice against these brutal forces personnel for violating the most precious human rights and committing war crimes in Kashmir.”

This is how Jama’at-e-Islami J&K seeks to mislead the Muslim youths while at the same time misinforming the international bodies, particularly the United Nations. Propelling the Kashmir issue into the religious antagonism is precisely how the militant ideologues have swayed a section of Kashmiri youth.

In fact, the false narrative of victimhood and the psyche of retaliation spread by religious fanatics among the valley’s emotional and angry youths are catastrophic. Therefore, today’s generation in Kashmir is going haywire, choosing death over degrees and education, hitting the streets, injuring and killing the police personnel and getting themselves injured and killed.

The masters of militancy in Kashmir seem to have organised themselves, with local youth spearheading a pernicious and dangerous revival of extremism. According to the reports, there are around 300 militants in Valley. But what is most shocking is the emergence of the well-educated and urbane militant youths aspiring for death over degrees.

A new and more virulent form of militancy has unfolded in Jammu & Kashmir. It has shifted from the cauldron of the gullible and semi-literate youths to the academic arena including even the PhD scholars.

Among the well-educated militants was a young PhD scholar, Manan Bashir Wani who quit his doctorate in Allied Geology and joined the militant ranks in January this year. Recently, he got killed in an encounter which encounter broke out at Shartgund Bala village in Handwara. Tellingly, Manan came from the area where one of the top ulema of Deoband, Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri was born. He is considered an authoritative Indian Islamic theologian of the 20th century for his notable exegetical contributions in classical Islamic sciences, particularly in the Hadith.
Mannan’s village is adjacent to that of Shah Faesal, the first Kashmiri IAS topper who is seen as source of inspiration for many Muslim Civil Services aspirants. But one wonders what indoctrinated Mannan into choosing militancy over the scholarly path of late Anwar Shah or the cotemporary youth icon Shah Faisal! Clearly, the rebellious Muslim youths appear unmindful of the dangerous turn that the extremism has taken in Kashmir. A utopian death cult bred by the foreign interests and inspired by the radical jihadist outfits in Pakistan in particular and the Middle East in general has held the pluralistic Islamic tradition in Kashmir hostage. What the political leaders fail to do is wean away the youth from this nihilistic path. They actually lack the ideas on how to combat the pernicious ideology of the jihadists.

Recently, ahead of the urban local body (ULB) polls in Jammu and Kashmir, Governor Satya Pal Malik averred that 225 militants who are active in the state, must realise their efforts will achieve nothing. “The LTTE was ten times stronger than you (militants operating in Jammu and Kashmir). They were supported by 12 countries. They got nothing, and you will also get nothing by violence,” he said. But this proved to be nothing short of an optimistic remark on the fate of militancy. It has had no effect on those believing in an ‘armed struggle’ as an integral part of their religious conviction. As a result, more and more educated and urbane youths seem to join the militant ranks, as they held funeral prayers for the slain militants.

Remember the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in mid-2016 whose funeral prayer set off a fresh wave of militancy in the valley. Similarly, the funeral prayer for the slain PhD scholar-turned-militant is seen as call for fresh recruitments into militancy.

Though the educated youth joining militancy is not an isolated incident in Kashmir, it has gained momentum during the recent days. Just like the PhD scholar Manan Wani, Sabzar Ahmad was another research scholar-turned-militant. He was rather an IAS aspirant. Going by his family’s statement, he was preparing for the civil services exams and had joined Jamia Milia Islamia in PhD program before he joined the militancy in 2016. Before joining the militant ranks, he had completed his M. Phil. from Jivagee University in Gwalior, M.Sc. from Barkatulla University in Bhopal, Bachelors in Education and B.Sc. from Government Degree College in Anantnag, as widely reported in the media.

According to a senior police official posted in south Kashmir, a number of militants have engineering background while some others are graduates. There are scholars in their ranks as well. The list includes even an assistant professor from Ganderbal, Muhammad Rafi Bhat who was recently killed in an encounter in Pulwama. More to the point, Zakir Moosa, the current chief of Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Kashmir Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind was also an engineering student. Even the present operational chief of Hizb Riyaz Naikoo is a non-medical graduate. Similarly, Eisa Fazili from Srinagar, Syed Owais Shafi from Kokernang and Aabid Nazir from Shopian were all counted as brilliant students of bright future. But they joined the militant ranks and ruined their promising life and educational career.

The pace with which the educated youth joined militancy surprised even the terror groups and their ideologies. Recently, for the first time in the three-decade militancy in Kashmir, the United Jehad Council (UJC) led by a US-designated global terrorist, Syed Salah-ud-Din, has appealed to Kashmiri youths to “stay away” from armed struggle and concentrate on studies. Similarly, in his statement on October 13, Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen chief Sheikh Jameel-ur-Rehman said: “I appeal to the students to concentrate on studies first and stay away from the armed struggle. The militant commanders should also desist from giving training to budding students”. In this statement which was e-mailed to local news agencies, he said students were “our valuable asset,” and if they don’t concentrate on studies, then “those pro-India elements will find it easy to stretch the period of our subjugation.”

Notably, Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen drew its cadre mainly from Alh-e-Hadith school of thought. Though it had vanished from the militancy landscape in the region, it has made a comeback in 2015 when another well-educated and qualified youth, Mughees Ahmad Mir of Parimpora joined the outfit. He, along with a number of rebels paid allegiance to the Islamic State and thus they have been killed in gunfights with forces during the past 12 to 18 months. An Urdu banner by the militants which appeared for the first time in valley near the residence of Mughees Ahmad Mir, read:
“Mughees Bhai Ka Ek Paigham….Kashmir Banega Darul Islam” (Mughees conveys only one message; Kashmir will become the ‘abode of Islam’). This slogan was written boldly on the banner. It also carried al-Qaeda insignia and images of Osama bin Laden and separately Mughees with a gun in his hand and his month-old son on his lap, as Srinagar-based Kashmiri journalist Ahmed Ali Fayyaz reported in The Quint.

This is a brief account of how the studious Kashmiri youths abandoned their studies to join the militant ranks and got killed. But the crucial question is: Who are the ideologues who approach the university students and even research scholars and influence them to the extent that they agree to choose death over degrees? We must find concrete answers to these questions: how do the Kashmiri students and research scholars turn into militants? Do they make a sudden decision or does someone brainwash them slowly, steadily? And most importantly, what are the effective ways to weed out these underground brainwashers.

Regular Columnist with, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur’anic sciences and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. Presently, he is pursuing his PhD in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.




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