NEW DELHI: There has been a dramatic generational shift in Jammu and Kashmir with the youth, born and brought up in conflict since the decade of insurgency and disappearances, taking control of a beleaguered destiny.

Norms and rules set by the older generation have been discarded as the young people, most very active on the social media, take decisions that have impacted greatly on the Valley over the past four years. There is no visible leader, just young people in touch with each other and taking decisions through an invisible grapevine that has become organised and vibrant, even more so after 2010.

The stories of the period of militancy, of conflict, disappearances, gross human rights violations, encounters formed the childhood of the generation that is now adult. Barricades, clampdowns and curfew were part of the growing up years until 2010 when violence directly engulfed the young people, shortly after they had reposed faith in the new chief minister Omar Abdullah by electing him to power.

Non-governance led to anger that erupted in a series of stone pelting incidents across the Kashmir Valley in 2010. What would have remained a normal protest triggered off panic in government and so called security circles, with the police in fairly quick succession killing at least 120 plus young people in incidents of firing spread across Kashmir. The protests took a virulent turn with the authorities first describing the young stone pelters as ‘terrorists’ and then hunting for the ‘leaders’ as no one in government in Srinagar or New Delhi could believe that the stone pelting was spontaneous.

Stories planted in the Delhi media described the youth---doctors, students, lawyers, academics---as ‘terrorists’ that further fuelled the anger in the Valley. It was the first protest without a leadership, or without direction from anyone. Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani followed the youth’s lead and started organising the outburst by issuing calendars of protest after several boys had been killed in separate incidents by the state police. Geelani became popular with the youth for a while because of this, although even he had to follow their lead in distancing himself from Pakistan.

The youth of Kashmir demonstrated at that time that they did not recognise existing leaders and could lead themselves; and secondly, that while they were against New Delhi they were against Pakistan. The voices and lobbies advocating secession to Pakistan were completely stilled as a result, with the voice for ‘azadi’ (independence) becoming strident and loud with every passing day. Despite this JKLF’s Yasin Malik who was one of the few separatist leaders to have remained consistent in his demand for independence for Jammu and Kashmir was not embraced by the youth with many of them telling this writer at the time, “we are tired of them all, everyone takes money, everyone has built their palace, we do not need them.”

It was apparent that the youth while scared within, were determined not to show it. At a major meeting organised by Peoples Conference Sajad Lone at that time in his constituency, scores of young people rose up from the crowd one after the other saying, “I am a stone pelter arrest me” to a visiting civil society delegation. Elders tried to quieten them but it did not work as one after the other they openly declared themselves to be stone pelters, ‘we have been booked under PSA, we have nothing to lose.”

Delhi and even the ruling National Conference was unable to understand the shift and the change in Kashmir. And spent valuable time in decrying the youth, accusing them of separatist motives, and arresting ‘stone pelters’ as if they were terrorists. This writer met several ‘stone pelters’, young, educated, angry. More angry than when they picked up the first stone because of the numbers who were felled by police bullets. Most of them just stopped while passing by to join those pelting stones, “to express our anger, but they do not even seem to understand.” By the time ‘they’---the governments and the authorities---understood it was too late, the generation that had hurled the stones for attention had turned away.

The second time the youth of Kashmir exercised their unity, and demonstrated their tremendous determination, was during the floods when they moved in with improvised boats to rescue hundreds of people from the flooded areas. No call was given, but volunteers just showed up in the waters and without even knowing how to swim, braved the torrents to bring out the trapped residents. The Valley was buzzing with the heroism of the youth but against they were dealt a body blow by the media in Delhi that insisted that only the Army was rescuing people, and did not mention the youth at all. The anger was deep and when this writer visited Kashmir, even government officials wondered how and why the youth who had come together in rescue and relief operations were ignored so completely by the media and by New Delhi. The alienation increased and ‘go back India go back’ slogans acquired new meaning.

The third time the youth of Kashmir has defied all expectation is during these Assembly elections. Once again the boycott call, the pleas by the older generation, the differences visible in civil society, have all been ignored with the young people coming out to vote in large numbers. The reasons vary but the broad theme has been to ensure one, the defeat of the BJP so that Article 370 cannot be abrogated to change the demographic complexion of the Valley. Social media discussions reflected this worry, and clearly the Kashmiri youth do not share the views of say the separatists who equate all political parties as one. The gradations are recognised by the young people as the hundreds of posts on Facebook for instance show, and the high voting has been to ensure that the Valley at least remains out of the grasp of the Delhi politician. Whether they succeed or not of course depends on the final results, but the decision to vote despite the boycott has been guided by this sentiment.

Again there is no leader, the youth are leading themselves in a strange manner that brings together all despite the fact that many are with the political parties, or with the camps of the individual separatist leaders. In times of crisis where united action is called for, the youth have demonstrated a strange and fascinating ability to move away from their various affiliations and act as a separate entity altogether.

Elder Kashmiris have no explanation for this and when asked, admit, that the young people have a “mind of their own.” A courage and a political sense that comes from high levels of awareness, conflict and education that needs to be understood now to understand the changing dynamics of Jammu and Kashmir.