NEW DELHI: They come out in large mobs at any time of the day. Even at night, when they march through the localities in Kashmir carrying candles and shouting slogans. And defying curfew without fear.

They are within the age group of 7-25 years. And listen to no one.

They have no leader except the dead Burhan Wani. The parents cannot control them or keep them at home, even though several worried mothers have tried in vain to do so. They follow the Hurriyat calendar of events only if it suits them. But reject the Hurriyat leadership, even Syed Ali Shah Geelani, if they see in the calendar any move to restore normalcy. They shout slogans for Pakistan, but that is to anger India as they have no love lost for Islamabad whose policies they sneer at in private conversations.

They are the new generation of Kashmiri youth, more volatile, more angry, more alienated if that was possible than even those who were on the streets protesting during 2010 when 126 boys were killed in incidents of police firing. The profile is younger with the bulk of the protesters falling between 10-18 years unlike 2010 when the age profile of the protesters was roughly between 18-30 years. And unlike in 2010 they are not really looking for dialogue, and are responding more to a juvenile romantic notion of themselves as the footsoldiers of a revolution for ‘freedom’ with the dangers of this staring back at the responsible elders who are now being left on the periphery.

” It is much worse than 2010, and poised to plunge Kashmir into a present where the 1990’s decade of militancy will appear like childs play” was a statement from a responsible Kashmiri a few days ago that provided the base for this article. And in the process of confirming the statement The Citizen unravelled facts that no one wants to talk about, except in the security of homes in Kashmir, even as Kashmiris with insight express deep worry about the turn the present agitation can take. More so with the inability of the state government to handle the situation, the absence of a political will in Delhi that the Kashmiris feel is only looking at the Uttar Pradesh elections, and the sheer opportunism of local opposition parties that have been adding fuel to the flames in some areas of the Valley.

The worry is arising from a loss of control as 7-25 year olds stalk the streets in defiance of all who come in their way. As if under remote control---that does not lie in Islamabad as the Kashmiris insist over and over again---the mobs come out on to the streets, in defiance of parents orders, in defiance of curfew and the troops deployed all across the state.

There is little difference between the mobs in Srinagar, or those in the little towns of South Kashmir, in terms of profile and fearlessness. It is a strange kind of defiance, leaderless still and born out of Burhan Wani’s support base that had given an almost romantic cover to terrorism and militancy.

It is a generation inspired not by Che Guevara or even the Palestinian struggle under Yasser Arafat that always did strike a chord in the Valley, but its own homegrown, highly romanticised, cult figure Burhan Wani who was for six years being protected and nurtured by local young people as he moved around the state, eluding the intelligence agencies and the police.

Not perhaps because they shared his affiliation with the terrorist organisation Hizbul Mujahideen but because---as the Kashmiri youth explained---they shared his story of constant harassment by the police, a brother killed, and a family hounded. His use of the social media, his presence in Kashmir unlike other militants of the past who moved in and out of Pakistan, and his almost Robin Hood kind of approach, created a perception that is now feeding into the current protests. And when Wani did not seek the sanctuary of Pakistan but stayed in the Valley he acquired a broad support base that sources in the Valley said, even extended to many in service. He was not seen as a terrorist from across, but as “our own boy” with the social media flooded with his supporters insistence that “he was killed though he never fired a shot.”

The Hurriyat, and more specifically Gilani, who had provided a leadership to the youth in 2010 after (note, not before) the protests began finds himself without the authority he had then. Efforts to scale down the protests has no followers. A Hurriyat calendar allowing businessmen to open their shops from 6pm has been violated repeatedly by the young protesters who go out in the streets ensuring that the shops remain shut in Srinagar and other parts of the Valley. As a Kashmiri businessman told The Citizen, “they are listening to no one, not even Geelani sahab.”

A reporter in Kashmir spoke of how a young boy in his early teens kept trying to provoke troops by pulling down his pants and making obscene gestures. Others in Srinagar said that they had never seen this open defiance, and complete fearless before. Curfew orders being defied at night is not heard of in Srinagar which is like a garrison town, flooded with forces. However, large crowds come out and walk through the localities, shouting slogans as they walk for hours at a time. These are not quick, come out, hurl stones and rush inside kind of mobs. They are young people who are in open defiance of authority, and make it clear that they do not fear the consequences any more.

In the more organised demonstration calls by the separatists, and others, the overwhelming sentiment is against the governments in both Srinagar and Delhi. More and more Kashmiris are joining these protests. As a senior academic admitted to this writer, he had joined the protests for the first time in his life. And he was happy to find that when one protester tried to raise a derogatory slogan against India he was immediately stopped by the others in the procession. This, he said, was indicative of the desire for peace but the refusal of the authorities to reach out, he said was feeding into the alienation and the anger against the attack on the youth by the forces that killed and maimed young people all across the Valley.

Many in Srinagar, senior academics, journalists and activists are questioning the government’s decision to kill Burhan Wani at this stage. “Did they not know the consequences, and now they are all lying about it,” asked Sanjay Tikkoo a Kashmiri pandit who has not left the Valley and is one of those today with a clear understanding of the pulse of Kashmir. He says the situation today reminds him of the 1990s with the potential of becoming even worse as there is no one in Delhi or in Srinagar with the political will or the credibility to handle the situation.

Academic Gull Wani says that the governments seem to be hoping that it will all clear out, and become okay in a few weeks or at best a few months. This, he adds as do many Kashmiri professionals, is not going to happen as the youth are moving rapidly onto a path that will be disastrous for all.

Scholar Siddiq Wahid says it is as if the youth are at the edge of the precipice, looking into this abyss.Anything can happen, he says echoing the sentiment voiced by many in the Valley as parents fear for their young ones, the separatists realise that the situation has moved far beyond their control, and perhaps the only ones in denial remain the politicians and their governments.

As for the young, they are like the Dalits in Gujarat, leaderless, restless, angry and without hope in the status quo. The difference is that while mainland India can absorb the protests to some extent, a border Valley like Kashmir with its history and political trajectory can hurtle down the abyss with reverberations that will shake not just the state but the foundation of Indian democracy.

(Cover photo by Basit Zargar)