Once a militant, always an outsider

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Javed Ahmad Wani, too, shares a complex relationship with his militant past. Wani rues his wasted youth, but is also nostalgic about “when his life had a purpose”. Most former militants accept that recourse to the gun was pointless, but it’s not a comfortable admission. Many of them privately credit themselves for ushering in a dramatic departure in Kashmir’s history, which contributed to its international recognition as a conflict zone. Wani writes poetry in Kashmiri under the pseudonym ‘Zouq’. It is his way of recapturing the “mood and sentiment” of his militant past. “This city, I am told, has been plundered of spring. The outsider comes and does as pleases him. The outsider throws out the landlord…” goes one such poem.

Though most former militants are in dire need of institutional support to help them lead normal lives, the state government has no proper rehabilitation programme for them. So far, the practice has been to refuse financial support to the families of killed militants. Help is offered only when the police certify that a person was killed by militants.

“The J&K government should take a cue from Punjab and the Northeast, where rehabilitation policies for ex-militants have been successfully implemented,” says Abdur Rasheed, a former militant. A demand also raised by the J&K Welfare Association. In early October, Rasheed and his colleagues observed a symbolic hunger strike at Srinagar’s Press Enclave.

Sharing their unenviable lot are the militants who recently returned from POK under the government’s rehabilitation plan. Around 117 Kashmiris returned with their families, only to find that the government has no follow-up plan for them. “We have to start our lives all over again. We have no jobs, our children are struggling to get education, but the government has no plan for us,” says Shabir Ahmad Dar of Shopian, who returned to his village early this year with his wife and two children.

With a relatively peaceful Kashmir looking uncertainly at the future — and some residual militancy still smouldering — former militants occupy a contested space in Kashmiri society.

“We are expected to stay true to the cause, and any perception of deviation turns us into State agents in people’s eyes. Security agencies, too, view us with suspicion. We are frequently summoned to police stations and security camps, and any dissent we express is seen as rebellion,” says Rather. “We live in this society, but feel as if we are not a part of it.”

Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
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