Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat has a curious habit of saying things that raise the hackles of those who are concerned about military propriety and also officers in uniform speaking about civilian matters. Addressing a panel on countering terrorism at the Raisina dialogue organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and Observer Research Foundation at New Delhi, he argued that there has been a significant increase in radicalisation among young people in Kashmir — “girls and boys as young as 10-12”, included. He suggested that youth should be “isolated from radicalisation in a gradual way” and to be “taken out separately and possibly taken into some deradicalisation camps”. He also revealed that such camps existed in the country. There is no doubt that radicalisation must be countered at all levels, whether in Kashmir or elsewhere. But the government should reveal the nature of these camps that the CDS claims are functioning as they raise questions about their legal status and the identity of the youth there. In the last few years, there has been a rise in protests and violence in the Kashmir Valley, besides disaffection that has peaked following the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and its conversion into a Union Territory. This is unlike a decade ago, when terrorism and violence had reduced drastically when compared to the 1990s, and there was a spurt in participation in democratic processes, besides a gradual diminishing of the Valley’s radical voice. Today, however, with political representatives, this includes those from among the mainstream polity, either facing curbs or under detention, the ground has become fertile for the revival of radicalism, which has been expressed either as a shrill form of separatism or invoked as extremist Islamist ideology.
However, while deradicalisation is certainly an imperative, Gen. Rawat’s solution is way off the mark. Segregation of youth and individuals from family and community — many could be juveniles — is a recipe for further alienation and public revulsion and also plainly illegal. It is not the job of the Army or security forces to undertake what is a mandate for the agencies of the civilian State. Deradicalisation is best achieved through effective teaching and incorporation of civic studies in the school curriculum for children who are getting radicalised due to the prevailing circumstances in the Valley. Besides this, there has to be an administrative outreach to the citizenry not to give in to radical demands and the rhetoric of extremists. More importantly, the reversal of repressive conditions such as limited Net access and the detention of political representatives is a must. Winning Kashmiri hearts and minds is a long battle; short-sighted and illiberal measures from an authoritarian playbook could prove counter-productive.