In the picturesque valleys of Kashmir, a region that has long been a flashpoint for conflict, a troubling phenomenon has emerged in the last three decades: the radicalization of its youth by Pakistan and its allies. The process through which this has occurred is a convoluted interplay of historical, political, social, and religious factors that demands our attention and understanding. The longstanding Kashmir conflict has provided fertile ground for the radicalization of the region’s youth. The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir’s sovereignty has been the driving force behind decades of unrest. Pakistan’s support for various separatist and militant groups has intensified this strife, offering disillusioned youth an outlet for their frustrations. The allure of fighting for a cause, coupled with a sense of identity, is a powerful draw for those who feel marginalized and disenchanted.
The internet and social media have become potent tools for extremist ideologies to spread. Online platforms enable the rapid dissemination of propaganda that romanticizes violence and glorifies the struggle. The socio-political environment in Kashmir has also played a role. Decades of conflict have bred a sense of alienation and despair among the youth leading to their radicalization. Religion, too, factors into this equation. Manipulating religious sentiments to serve political goals is a tactic not unique to this region. Radicalization often exploits religious identity, distorting teachings to fit a violent narrative. It’s important to recognize that not all Kashmiri youth are radicalized or support violent means. Many continue to seek peaceful avenues for resolution, understanding that violence only perpetuates suffering. However, addressing the radicalization of a portion of the youth and their rehabilitation requires a multi-faceted approach.
The rehabilitation of radicalized youth stands as both a challenge and a beacon of hope. The region has, for decades, grappled with political turmoil, leading to the emergence of radical ideologies among a segment of its youth population. However, a forward-looking approach centred around understanding, compassion, and opportunity can pave the way for their reintegration into society. Rehabilitation efforts must start with acknowledging the complex web of factors that contribute to radicalization. Socio economic disparities, lack of educational prospects, and feelings of alienation often form the breeding ground for extremist ideologies to take root. Thus, an inclusive strategy should encompass comprehensive educational reforms, vocational training, and economic opportunities.
By offering avenues for personal and professional growth, these measures can shift the focus from radical ideologies to constructive aspirations. Central to successful rehabilitation is the engagement of local communities and families. Loved ones who may have witnessed the radicalization process first-hand can play a pivotal role in providing emotional support and fostering a sense of belonging.
Community leaders, religious figures, and peer mentors can contribute by presenting alternative narratives and emphasizing the values of tolerance, understanding, and unity. Importantly, mental health support must be woven into the fabric of rehabilitation efforts. Trauma is often a common thread that runs through the lives of radicalized youth.
Professional counsellors and therapists can help them process their experiences, address feelings of anger and disillusionment, and chart a path toward healing and growth. Kashmiri youth are mentally and psychologically prepared to carry out suicidal attacks like the horrible Pulwama suicidal bomb attack. Mental health support and professional counsellors can help to a great extent to guide and counsel our youth to shun the violence so that the enemy can’t get successful to make them scapegoats and carry out such horrible episodes. A comprehensive approach also demands the involvement of law enforcement agencies, but with a shift in focus.
Rather than solely punitive measures, a restorative justice framework could be employed, emphasizing accountability, dialogue, and reintegration. Programs that encourage former radicals who have de-radicalized successfully to mentor and guide their peers can serve as living testimonials of the possibilities of change. However, rehabilitation efforts cannot be isolated from broader socio-economic and political measures.
Addressing issues of unemployment, poverty, and lack of opportunities is vital. Many radicals are drawn to extremist groups due to a sense of hopelessness and a feeling that they have no stake in society. By creating avenues for education, skill development, and economic growth, authorities can provide alternatives to radical ideologies. It is pertinent to mention here that the central and local government, Indian army and local police force is doing wonders in the rehabilitation of the radicalized youth in Kashmir by putting their utmost efforts in this endeavour.
The first surrender and rehabilitation policy was introduced in 1995 under Governor Gen. K V Krishna Rao. Ex-militants were offered benefits by the State and Centre, including a fixed deposit of INR 150,000, a monthly stipend of INR 1,800, and vocational training. Then in 2004, the then Governor Narendra Nath Vohra, policy was made applicable to both militants with weapons and those involved in heinous crimes. Under this surrender policy, former militants were entitled to INR 150,000 which they can claim three years after their surrender, subject to good behaviour. There were monetary incentives for surrender of weapons and ammunition, and a stipend at the rate of INR 2,000/month was promised for a period of three years.
Many of the surrendered fighters were also absorbed in central paramilitary forces and the Territorial Army. In 2010, policy was made to facilitate the return of ex-militants who belong to J&K state and had crossed over to PoK/Pakistan for training in insurgency. In 2019, various surrender and rehabilitation policies were revisited by government upon the advice of then Governor Mr. S.P. Malik and a new policy was drafted. Under this policy, returning militants were called ‘renouncers’, and were entitled to a fixed deposit of INR 500,000 or INR 600,000, contingent on good behaviour for a period of three years. They could also apply for self-employment under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana. This new policy puts stronger emphasis on socio-economic reintegration. In the recent past years many new policies and schemes have been framed by government and security agencies to rehabilitate the radicalized youth of Kashmir.
Indian Army is guiding and counselling the Kashmiri youth involved in stone pelting and other terror activities by conducting workshops and seminars. We have examples of many youth especially from South Kashmir, who were involved in anti national activities, but because of the efforts of the Indian Army, such youth have shunned the path of violence and they are now well settled.
From my personal experience, I have myself witnessed how a 23 year old local young boy of our locality Shahbaz (name changed) used to pelt stones on vehicles during hartal calls and encounters. When the Army official of our local camp came to know about him, Shahbaz and his parents were summoned to camp where he was first guided and counselled and then with the help of Army he was able to start a small electronics and electrical business unit in our locality and nowadays he is a well settled person who remains busy with his business. There are thousands of such examples across the whole Kashmir, where Indian
Army and police forces have helped the local youth to shun the path of violence and start their business units. Besides these efforts, the idea of setting deradicalization camps in Kashmir as put forth by Gen. Bipin Rawat can be a great step towards elimination of extremism and rehabilitation of radicals in Kashmir. Furthermore, International collaboration and knowledge sharing can further enhance rehabilitation efforts. Learning from successful programs around the world can help customize strategies to the unique socio-political context of Kashmir. Involvement from non-governmental organizations, international bodies, and experts can provide a broader perspective and additional resources.
Rehabilitating radicalized youth in Kashmir is not just an altruistic endeavour; it’s an investment in the region’s stability and future. By dismantling extremist ideologies and offering paths to personal growth and contribution, society can reclaim its lost potential and foster a culture of understanding, coexistence, and peace. This requires patience, determination, and a commitment to breaking the cycle of radicalization, one rehabilitated life at a time.
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