Are new terms such as “Hybrid” and “OGWs” just another tool to antagonise the civilians or do they reflect the changing dynamics of militancy in the Valley?
In 2018, during brief encounters, the security forces in Kashmir killed many militants who had joined militant ranks only one or two days ago. In some cases, even the families of the killed militants were unsure if their children had taken up arms. The Jammu and Kashmir Police categorise such militants as ‘unlisted militants’ as they had not been yet entered into police records. Last year, the police coined a new term ‘Hybrid’. A hybrid militant, according to the police, are the ones who pose as civilians to dissemble their violent activities. The police use this term in their press releases as well. The newly minted term, however, does not sit well with the people in the Valley. Even the former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah questioned the term, saying that he had never heard of it even when he helmed the undivided region.
During the troubled nineties, two Kashmiri words—Soyath (wick) or Pout Palaw (rear part of a shirt) were largely used for the present day OGWs.
The coinage is a new addition to the list of terms used by the security forces in the Valley, which has been caught in the throes of conflict for more than last three decades. A few years ago, police came up with another term Over Ground Workers (OGWs). The OGWs are the people who provide logistic support to the militants and assist them in their surreptitious movement. The word is frequently used by the security establishment and has now found a place in the lexicon of ordinary Kashmiris as well. During the troubled nineties, two Kashmiri words—Soyath (wick) or Pout Palaw (rear part of a shirt) were largely used for the present day OGWs. As put forth by a prominent Srinagar-based historian, Zareef Ahmad Zareef, “A Soyath was to an active militant what a wick is to a candle”, whereas a Pout Palaw represented someone who would trail behind like a shadow.
However, the Soyaths and Pout Palaws are not considered very dangerous by the security forces as these people had not crossed over to the LoC to receive the arms training.
The terms “OGW” and “hybrid” are specific to the Kashmir conflict and are not used in other war-torn regions of the world. A former army officer-turned-politician, Lt General Subrata Saha, opined more or less in a similar way while recently addressing a seminar in Srinagar.
While “hybrid” is used as a mere term for an unrecognised militant, the OGW has well-nigh evolved as a categorisation system for the militants. However, both the terms have spurred controversies after many families, whose members were killed and declared as hybridor OGWs by the security forces, swore blind about their innocence. The Hyderpora encounter wherein four persons including a foreign militant were killed is a recent example.
The terms have drawn a very thin line between civilians and militants, and could be misused easily by the security agencies in a region like Kashmir, where forces enjoy special powers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
While “hybrid” is used as a mere term for an unrecognised militant, the OGW has well-nigh evolved as a categorisation system for the militants.
Given the history of fake encounters in the Valley, ordinary Kashmiris seem to have genuine apprehensions about the misuse of these latest coinages.
On the other hand, militants appeared to have changed their strategy by keeping their militant identity under wraps, making it difficult for security agencies to track them down. The militant landscape of Kashmir witnessed a radical shift after Hizbul Mujahideen Militant Commander, Burhan Wani, used social media platforms to influence young men. Wani succeeded in re-animating local militancy in the region. After he was shot dead in a military operation in 2016, many young men signed up for different militant groups. They did not shy away from wearing their militant identity on their sleeve. They posted their pictures holding AK-47 rifles on social media platforms. The pattern lasted for at least three years before the security forces discovered the shifting strategy of militants, which probably spurred forces to coin the contentious term ‘hybrid’. The phrase OGW, however, has been in use for the past several years now. Many young men have been booked under Public Safety Act (PSA) for being OGWs. Official statistics suggest that in 2020, police arrested 625 OGWs, while in 2021, a total of 594 such workers were apprehended.
Some of them were even killed in encounters. While the civilian population is fearful of being killed and passed off as ‘hybrid militants’ or OGWs, the security forces on several occasions failed to come up with convincing evidences, suggesting the direct links of these ‘hybrids’ with identified militants.
Militants appeared to have changed their strategy by keeping their militant identity under wraps, making it difficult for security agencies to track them down.
Before the controversial Hyderpora encounter, the families of the three men killed on 21 December, 2020 in Srinagar's Lawaypora area also raised questions over the encounter and vouched for the innocence of their slain members, who according to the police were militants, planning to mount a big attack on the security forces. One of the families is still demanding the return of mortal remains of their slain son.
As the militants have preferred to conceal their identity, the task for the security agencies to carry out anti-militancy operations has become difficult. The employment of new terms, on the other hand, could be detrimental to civil society.
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Gulzar Bhat is an independent journalist and Ph.D scholar based in Kashmir. He has majored in International Relations (Peace and Conflict Studies). He primarily works ...Read More +