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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

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Kashmiri Definition of Freedom Shifts with Young Population

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

Kashmiri protests
A Kashmiri protestor displays empty bullet cartridges on a poster in Srinagar during an anti-India demonstration on September 11, 2010. (photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)

Wikileaks has been the latest entry point into examining what freedom, in practice, really means. It’s a discussion that has been taking place as long as people, and nations, have been in conflict. No place is this discussion more alive than in the Kashmir Valley, where a bulging generation of Kashmiri youth is redefining azadi.

With the recent protests of young Kashmiris demanding independence from India, the current generation of leaders are struggling to understand and address those needs. As Nirupama Subramanian’s op-ed in The Hindu illustrates, this definition of azadi may be shifting and becoming more complex with a change in demographics:

"For Kashmiri youth, their lack of freedom hangs heavy in leading their lives in the shadow of a heavy military presence. ‘All my life, I have known only guns, bullets, curfews, checkposts. Mine is the fourth generation of Kashmiris living in this uncertainty. I don’t want to pass this on to the fifth,’ said Tawqueer [Hussein].”

Since this summer, according to Sumantra Bose, a professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, Kashmir has experienced “the most severe unrest … since the early 1990s,” which is primarily instigated by young men.

Subramaniam examines whether these youth under 30, representing at least 64 percent of the population, are in fact looking for financial freedom. The unemployment rate is over 50 percent, despite high levels of education, and the Indian government has tried to quell the riots by promises of jobs. But some youth think that’s avoiding the issue. He quotes a post-graduate journalism student as saying:

"Did you hear anyone raising slogans on the streets that they want jobs? Our aspirations are entirely political, it is not an economic issue or a social issue."

"What azadi actually means beyond ‘freedom’ is not always clear to everyone,” Subramaniam writes, “and perhaps this is where an opportunity still remains for building bridges with Kashmir.” Perhaps this thought is applicable beyond the borders of India as well.

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