Updated: November 15, 2015 11:44 PM GMT
An Indian policeman searches a Kashmiri youth at a checkpoint in Srinagar on Aug. 11, ahead of the country's Independence Day celebrations. (Photo by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP)
Religious and civic leaders have downplayed fears voiced by security forces that the Islamic State (IS) group is making inroads in the restive northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The military expressed concern after news channels in India showed footage of young Kashmiri boys waving black IS flags at gatherings during the holy month of Ramadan.
Militants in India's only Muslim-majority state want Kashmir to become part of Pakistan or independent from India. Many people are also angry at what they see as oppressive measures being conducted by New Delhi to stamp out dissent.
“The manner in which they [terror groups] use social media and how they manage to engage young people are serious. So these are issues we need to look at more seriously,” Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, the northern army commander, told ucanews.com.
Other members of the security forces have voiced similar concerns.
However, religious leaders and other leading figures in Kashmir say hints of the Islamic State in Kashmir are signs of desperation, not terrorism, and that security forces are jumping to conclusions.
Altaf Hussain, a renowned author, says people in Kashmir do not support the cruel practices of the Islamic State.
“There is no other reason why Kashmiri youths should wave IS flags other than to make their protests noticed by one and all,” Hussain said.
Kashmir’s chief cleric, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, holds a similar view and said the waving of IS flags was simply an expression of anger against the federal government.
“It is a fact that there is rampant oppression in the state. All avenues and opportunities of free expression of opinion and freedom of democratic means of assembly are denied to Kashmiris,” he said.
“People are demanding the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination and their voice is being muzzled. Growing anger among people and especially the youth, in such circumstances, is quite natural. If it is termed as radicalization then it is also important to see who after all is actually responsible for it,” the cleric told ucanews.com.
There could otherwise be no connection between the IS and Kashmir as the two are poles apart in terms of culture and politics, he added.
Rights activist Shakeel Qalandar says if the situation today is left unattended, its ramifications could be dangerous in the future.
“Frustration among the youth could take an ugly turn any time,” Qalandar said.
Former militant leader Shakeel Bakshi said the waving of IS flags could lead to a situation where young people may take extreme steps if their voices go unheard.
If that were the case, “the situation would become worrisome,” Bakshi said.
According to the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, one of the state’s largest political parties, the flag-waving was a sign of local frustration against the ruling and pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, or Indian People’s Party).
“As far as waving of flags is concerned, it is a clear sign of frustration of youth due to the repressive and tyrannical policies of the present regime. It is a well-known fact that ever since the BJP came to power, instances of educated youth joining militancy has increased,” said Nasir Wani, the National Conference provincial president.
Officials with India’s ruling party, however, dispute this. In an interview, BJP parliamentarian Jagdambika Pal said “nationalistic sentiments” are growing in the valley.
“It’s the terrorist groups and other hardliners who are getting frustrated,” he said.
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