- Societies saddled with conflicts often reproduce the differentiation and distancing between two broader collectives, thus sharpening the divide between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. This is true in Kashmir. The violent secessionist outbreak in 1989, and since then, the government’s anti-militancy and counterinsurgency operations, have embedded strong ‘Us vs Them’ narratives amongst the Kashmiris and alienated them from the Indian polity.
- These state actions have included crackdowns, arrests, killings of local militants, and heavy enforcement of laws such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
- Consequently, a negative perception of India and its policies has been nurtured; there is popular perception amongst the Kashmiri people of the Indian state being a “coloniser” or an “occupier”.
- The impacts of these perceptions have only been exacerbated in more recent years, amidst what analysts call “new militancy”—where the locals dominate the militant movement, and social media facilitates mass radicalisation and the spread of anti-India propaganda.
- It is in this context that India needs to exert greater effort in shaping its narratives to address the widespread negative perceptions and maintain its territorial integrity.
- Between 2014 and 2020, there was a significant increase in local militancy and stone-pelting incidents in the region. In 2017 the Indian armed forces launched ‘Operation All Out’ to eliminate the militant networks, their overground workers (OGW), and top militant commanders. However, as the militants’ ranks were dominated by the locals, these operations only reinforced the ‘us vs. them’ line.
- The abrogation of the special status of J&K on August 5, 2019 led many to speculate that there would be a substantial increase in terrorism-induced violence in the region following the decision. However, the security scenario has continued to improve from the preceding years to the extent that Doda was declared a terrorist-free district.
- As Jammu and Kashmir completes two years as a Union Territory (UT), militancy remains a major challenge to the security apparatus amid growing fears that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is likely to flip the striking capabilities of the militant outfits, especially the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM).
- District Development Councils: After Jammu and Kashmir lost its statehood, the political focus in Kashmir shifted to District Development Councils (DDCs) and grassroots development. Kashmiris who have long had to deal with bureaucratic red-tape can find new hope with the elected local leaders who can ensure good governance and local development.
- Social media: Social media has become a pivotal source of information— as well as misinformation and propaganda—in the time of new militancy. Although the government has used reactive tactics such as blanket bans, monitoring, censoring and reporting extremist profiles and content, it has been unable to deter the spread of extremist content through social media.
- The state will still need to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology to discourage extremist content and should also find creative ways where Kashmiris can consume the narratives produced by the Indian state and army.
- Technology: India can invest more in technologies such as UAVs or drone technology and deploy them in relatively peaceful areas. These technological tools can be used to conduct surveillance, maintain law and order, and also deter the use of drones by militants and militant supporters.
- Education: In the long term, the state should start re-emphasising on education. A variety of historical distortions and unfamiliarity prevails in the educational curriculum of Kashmir and the rest of India. It is important to promote topics and themes that can be more relatable and applicable, such as constitutional remedies for people in conflict-affected regions.
- Narratives play a vital role in bridging the ‘Us vs Them’ divide. Such divide between Kashmir and India has widened in the recent years, with the advent of ‘new militancy’ in Kashmir, on one hand, and on the other, state policies such as Operation All Out and the revocation of Kashmir’s special status.
- The Indian state and the armed forces are therefore attempting to enhance their nation-building narrative by supplementing traditional missions that seek to win hearts and minds, with social-media initiatives.
- Although these policies are intended to remove the emotional and psychological barriers that Kashmiris have erected for the Indian state, there is plenty of work that remains.
- Kashmir continues to be alienated, and New Delhi must make use of the current absence of armed and violent conflict to strengthen its narrative-building efforts and bring the region closer to lasting peace