So many walls are now erected on the soil of Kashmir

After effectively revoking Article 370 of the Constitution all on a sudden on 6 August 2019 and bifurcating the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories and simultaneously making Section 35A defunct, which had stipulated distinction between the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir and the outsiders in so far as acquisition of properties etc. are concerned, the BJP leaders claimed that for these two constitutional provisions, democracy could never be fully implemented in the state. On the other hand, corruption had increased, terrorism flourished and no development could take place. Now that the hitherto existing ‘historical blunder’ has been rectified and the obstacle to the “integration” of Kashmir with the rest of the country has been removed,  the RSS-BJP and their government also boasted loudly and arrogantly that they had removed the wall that had stood so far between Kashmir and the rest of India, and that there is a joyous mood among the Kashmiris hitherto stifled by these binding clause.

But has such a claim been true to reality? Have the BJP and its mentor RSS, really removed any such wall and smoothened the process  of  democracy  in Jammu and Kashmir? Or the reality, as vouched by one and all save and except the ruling dispensation and a few of its lackeys, is just the opposite and the state is now studded with numerous walls or barriers to keep it secluded not only from the external world but also from the rest of the country? Is it that the people of Kashmir are celebrating hitherto denied democratic environment or their normal life is impeded by a host of coercive impositions and imperilling restrictions? Facts speak otherwise and speak loudly.

Kashmir virtually taken over by military before revocation of Article 370

It bears recall that in July last, the BJP government deployed about 10,000 central military and para-military forces in Kashmir on the pretext of strengthening counter-insurgency operations and law and order situation. This was in addition to the existing 100 companies of such forces stationed there. The drama heightened when the Army personnel announced that Pakistan-based terrorists were planning to target the ongoing Amarnath Yatra. Then, the state administration issued an advisory, asking pilgrims and tourists to “curtail” their stay in the Valley and leave immediately. The authorities stepped up security at vital installations and in sensitive areas, suspended mobile and internet services and either “arrested” or “detained” several opposition leaders.  There was thus clear indication of ‘something big’ in the offing which made the already persecuted, harassed, heckled and tortured Kashmiri people more panic-stricken. It was indeed a novel way to restore ‘democracy’ shrouded in secrecy of the highest order. And then on 6 August, capping days of speculation, anxiety and suspense, the union home minister announced the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under the said Article and divided the state into two Union Territories. Needless to mention that both the steps were taken without consultation with the people of Jammu and Kashmir or their elected leaders. It was an arbitrary and unilateral decision of the central government which glaringly trampled democratic norms and principles and hence smacked of autocracy.

Backdrop of Article 370

Before unfolding the lurking reality of Kashmir ‘relieved’ of its special status in a highly questionable manner, it needs to be added that Article 370 was not whimsically incorporated in the Constitution. It was the product of a definite historical necessity and commitment. Jammu and Kashmir was one of the 562 princely states in undivided Indian sub-continent under British paramountcy. Though a Muslim majority state, it was under the rule of a Hindu king, popularly known as the Maharajah. While under British colonial rule, the people of various provinces of India in spite of speaking different languages and having cultural diversities were in course of their struggle for independence developing as a nation, the people of Kashmir were not connected with that process. So the sense of oneness that developed to an extent among the people inhabiting the Indian territory did not grow among the valley people. In course of rising anti-feudal struggle in that princely state, a kind of Kashmir identity sense that came to be known as Kashmiriat developed in them. This feeling was neither similar to the sense of Indian nationalism nor compatible with the most unhistorical and preposterous theory of religion-based nation first proposed by the Hindu Mahasabha leader Savarkar, and later endorsed by the Muslim League and finally concurred in by the Congress under the compromising leadership of the national bourgeoisie. Based on that fallacious theory, the power- hungry bourgeois leaders of both future India and Pakistan in collusion with British imperialist design became instrumental in the partition of the country. Following that, Pakistan was formed as an Islamic theocratic state, while India declared itself to be a non-theocratic state with avowal of adherence to democratic principles. After partition, all the princely states were given option to either continue to stay independent or accede to India or Pakistan. Pakistani leaders claimed that since Kashmir was a Muslim-majority state, it  should come to Pakistan. But Sheikh Abdullah, the undisputed leader of the Kashmiri people’s movement to gain azaadi (freedom) from feudal autocracy, and who was spurred by liberal democratic values, felt natural inclination towards India, which unlike Pakistan spoke of building the country on the bedrock of modern democracy. So, he convinced the Kashmiri people that their future and aspiration of development would be best served by way of accession to India. Thereafter, overcoming strong religious appeal of Pakistan as well as discarding the criterion of the British imperialists of accession based on religion of the majority of the people, and persuading the ruling Hindu king, who initially lent support to the claim of Pakistan, and repelling an armed invasion by the Pakistani army, Kashmir acceded to India in October 1947. Article 370 was incorporated in the Constitution as a condition of this accession so that the special status of the state was maintained to facilitate voluntary integration with the Indian nation in course of developing oneness with the Indian nation through mutual exchanges and close association. Till that time, Jammu and Kashmir was to be conferred the status of an autonomous state.

Tweaking terms of accession and unleashing a reign of terror

But the Indian bourgeois rulers and their trusted political managers like the Congress and subsequently the BJP systematically eroded the provisions of Article 370, tried to force Jammu and Kashmir to accept status of an Indian province forthwith and thereby flagrantly violated the conditions of accession. Even Sheikh Abdullah who was unanimously chosen prime minister of autonomous Kashmir state in terms of the conditions of accession was wrongfully taken into custody by the Indian government and replaced by their own puppets who were meant to be instrumental in materializing vile class intention and interest of the Indian bourgeoisie in the valley. Obviously the Kashmiri people were first disappointed, then aggrieved and finally enraged at the way there was increasing interference with their rights and liberties in an unjust, arbitrary and unabashed manner in betrayal of the terms of accession. These accumulated grievances finally gave rise to large scale resentment which started getting expressed in protest rallies and demonstrations in various forms. But the Indian capitalist rulers and their government, instead of opting for a peaceful political solution of the problem brought about on their own, instead preferred to adopt a militarist approach to handle the situation. Even a communal outlook was also glaringly manifest on the part of the Indian government, earlier led by the Congress and now by the BJP, in particular, in tackling the Kashmir issue.  Obviously, with people’s dissent gaining momentum, the reactionary fundamentalist forces and various terrorist as well as separatist-secessionist groups many of whom are backed by the Pakistani rulers began to fish in the troubled water and tried their level best to mislead innocent Kashmiris. And the BJP-led Indian government further aggravated the situation by practically unleashing a reign of terror with its military and para-military forces, blinding countless protesting and  at times stone-throwing youths by targeting their eyes with pellet guns, killing and torturing innocent people, torching village after village, raping and molesting women, arresting people indiscriminately and looting properties, in the name of combating terrorism, controlling militancy and suppressing insurgency. In fact a brutal state terrorism was let loose to bully the Kashmiri people into submission.  

Exacerbation of brutal coercive measures

So, Article 370 was neither a ‘historic blunder’ nor an impediment before ‘integration’ of Kashmir with India. In fact, revocation of Article 370 is destined to bring in its wake not ‘integration’ but further alienation of the Kashmiri people who despite deepening sense of injury and growing feeling of alienation have still not fallen  victim to communal-fundamentalist preaching nor do they nurture any ill-feeling about the common Indian people. They do consider themselves as Indians and possess fraternity with the common masses. Their ire is against the Indian government and Indian army. All available informations and experiences attest to this fact. Aware of this and anticipating further worsening of the situation following the step to make Article 370 defunct, the BJP government put the valley under siege. And immediately thereafter, starting from the prime minister and home minister down to the RSS-BJP leaders of various levels and administrative heads are on a propaganda spree claiming that Kashmir is totally normal and there is no more any agitation there. Conflicts and clashes between common people and the army have also come down. Equally reduced are the incidents of stone throwing at the army. They claim that 99 percent of examinees had appeared in their annual examinations, and that at the initiative of the central government, the development in Kashmir is about to commence in full swing.

But, the Kashmir valley and parts of Jammu have been under a security, political and communications lockdown from a day before the constitutional provision was declared null and void. Thousands of troops began manning the entrances and exits to the homes of the Kashmiri people as well as the schools and universities. Mobile phones were blocked and internet snapped, though landlines, claimed to have been partially restored, have been of little use as their penetration is negligible. Trade and commerce has come to a grinding halt since that fateful day. People have not been in a position to move freely and virtually forced to live a captive life, being surrounded by barbed wire fencing everywhere on the streets in the state including the capital city, Srinagar. Students are unable to go to their schools and colleges for studies. With internet and mobile services suspended for long six months, on-line supply of items of daily need including life-saving drugs is non-operational. Ailing persons have been denied necessary medical treatment. Higher studies, research work and all India examinations also continues to sremain out of reach of Kashmiri students. Even people could not obtain any information about the whereabouts of their kith and kin as well as acquaintances in a communication-snapped, transport-disrupted, curfew-clamped situation. Normal life was completely paralyzed. Political and social activists, particularly  those  who  have strongly opposed and criticized the  BJP-led government’s unilateral decision to abolish decades-old Article 370, have been debarred from entering the state. Later also, the movement of a few of such activists, who were allowed to enter the state for meeting their acquaintances, was restricted and placed under surveillance. If the situation is normal as claimed, why is then the BJP-led central government keeping even its former coalition partners under detention, not releasing other detainees, including former CMs Farooq and Omar Abdullah, and denying people from outside Kashmir the right to visit the state? Many political activists of Kashmir are reported to be in jail in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and other states, particularly the BJP- ruled ones. It is also reported that one Kashmiri leader has died in a prison at Naini in Uttar Pradesh. For the journalists, too, in the region, the blockade is unprecedented as even in most turbulent times they were able to file stories and reports, unlike now. In the face of such an unprecedented communication shutdown, clearly the Indian government’s persistent refrain that all is normal in the region sounds hollow. Except the government propaganda channels and a handful of pliant media-houses, the rest of news media, print or electronic, have been turned mute by the inviolable walls of prohibitions.

If the situation in Kashmir is normal as claimed by the prime minister, home minister and the bandwagon of the host of  BJP leaders at all levels and the high-ranking bureaucrats including the  Lieutenant Governor of the presently bifurcated state of Jammu and Kashmir (now under the rule of the Union government), why the political opponents are restrained in their movement or placed under arrest? Why the state is not being opened to all and sundry including the media persons? There is hardly any perceptible change in that situation even today i.e. six months after the lockdown.

In the eyes of the beholder

Yet, despite all attempts on the part of the ruling quarters to keep the countrymen in a state of enforced ignorance about the situation, piercing the blockade, some information has been leaked to give the outer world a feel of what has been going on in ‘normal’ Kashmir valley after the age-long ‘error’, according to the RSS-BJP and their government, has been rectified. A lady professor of Srinagar asked: “Has the government assessed the number of deaths in various hospitals due to unavailability of internet? Truly, the government is out on a murderous spree in Kashmir.” Tourism is one of the main planks of business in Kashmir. Every year during the Christmas and New Year holidays, Kashmir is flooded with tourists from different parts of the country and abroad who throng to enjoy the peerless beauty of nature including snow falls. But this year even during this holiday-cum-festive season tourists visited Kashmir scantily, leaving the valley, especially the world famous ski-resorts of Gulmarg, almost vacant. Houseboats and shikaras of Daal Lake have been floating empty during the last six months. One Asian affairs journalist of the journal ‘The Globe’ during his visit to Kashmir valley in November 2019 after much efforts, wrote that on the green carpet at the foothills of the snow-capped silvery white Himalayas, horses grazed. But there was no tourist or pilgrim for them to carry and entertain. Naturally, the owners of these horses had practically no income since the month of August. Confirming this virtual collapse of the tourism industry, the lifeline of Kashmir’s economy, one leading office-bearer of the Tourism businessmen’s organization told that every year during this time the hotels and resorts used to remain totally booked. This year only 10 to 15 percent booking was made. How could the tourists dare to visit Kashmir under so many prohibitions and such a fearful atmosphere, he lamented? According to the report of ‘Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry’ in the four months since revocation of Article 370, Kashmir has suffered a financial loss of Rs.17,878 crore. One Kashmiri gentleman who used to spend his days running around Srinagar signing up merchants for Paytm, a digital payments service, is now stuck in his house. He said he had not been able to contact his fiancé since the shutdown began, and his smartphone is now an inert hunk of metal. “Kashmir has become invisible even to itself,” observed  a senior policy officer at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore. The Centre published a report last year on the social and economic toll of internet shutdowns across India.

At least 5 lakh people have lost their jobs. Kashmir is pre-dominantly an agrarian state. The rural economy of Kashmir hinges upon production and selling of fruits, flowers and vegetables. Since Kashmir valley has been in the tight grip of military, fruits like grapes, pears, cherries, apples and other produce perished and was wasted in the garden itself. Due to unavailability of transport, those could not be sent to even national markets, let alone exported overseas. The cultivators had to suffer great losses shedding tears helplessly. In the month of November last, a 7-member delegation team of all India farmers’ organizations including Comrade Satyawan,  President,, AIKKMS, visited some of the farms of the farmers in Gandharwal, Gampol, Pulwama, Kulgam and Anantnag areas of the valley. At Kulgam one mass hearing of the farmers was held by them. The discussions they had with the fruits and flowers farmers’ organizations as also with the representatives of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry revealed that the condition of the farmers is alarmingly distressful. Teachers of private schools were found working as labourers, carrying stones at the wages of Rs.100 per day as their schools remained closed for months together. Little boys were found playing cricket on the streets since they could not go to school, closed for indefinite time. There was no traffic on the streets. Many students of colleges and universities had migrated to different parts of the country to earn their livelihood. They had taken to selling shawls and woollen clothes in the big metropolis like Kolkata. Though annual examination was held in schools, in colleges and universities classes were practically suspended. Rows of shops were there on the roadsides, but their shutters were down. Srinagar was silent,  tense. The sweet note of the lively city had vanished. Instead there prevailed a peculiar silence which could only match the silence of graveyards. It prevailed from the Daal Lake to apple gardens – nowhere was there any haste. It looked like a self-imposed ‘Hartaal’ or strike, which Kashmir had never witnessed for such a long time. ‘I feel frustrated. There are things that I have seen with my own eyes but I cannot say anything. It feels like living in a cage’, observed a physicist born in Kashmir but working outside the state.

Since 5 August 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir administration have closed down all the big mosques there. Community namaz (prayer) in big mosques has been declared prohibited. Even in the famous Jama Masjid of Srinagar, the usual Friday community namaz could not take place continuously for several weeks, till at least the last week of December. Bakr-e-Eid was observed just nominally. On the birthday of Hazrat Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic religion, near about 50,000 people used to gather at Hazrat-bal Darga. This year that was not permitted. Even people are not being allowed to attend the religious proceedings at the Sufi community Darga at Charar-e-Sharif. The common Kashmiris, as per all available reports in national and international media, hold that they are being forcibly debarred by the central government from pursuing their religious practices. They are fuming, as they call it a flagrant violation of the fundamental right to practice religion enshrined in the Constitution. Obviously, this gross injustice glaringly militates against democratic principles and values. One Khalid Basir Dua, who lives at Naohata near the Jama Masjid holds that the government of India is now apprehensive of any congregation of Kashmiri people. Veterans recall that even in 1989-90 things did not turn this bad even though the state saw a surge of maximum extremist activities and ferocious coercion and oppression on the part of the government to control that. All records have been surpassed this year. The scenario is no different even today.

Do  such collapse of economic life, total disruption of normal life, plummeting means to eke out a livelihood, measures of curbing observance of religious festivals and curtailing religious practices and persistent fear psychosis attest to claimed normalcy prevailing there? Or what is proved is to the contrary?

Some queer admissions and revelations

In reply to a question under the Right to Information Act, by an inhabitant of Jammu, the Home Ministry admitted that that during the four months from August to November 2019, the incidence of throwing stones at army and police had increased to 1193. The Home Ministry submitted  in a written reply on 3 December 2019 that during those four months 309 terrorist attacks took place in Kashmir while during previous 7 months from January to July 2019 prior to unilateral and undemocratically engineered  abolition of the Article 370 the number of terrorist attacks were 282. If this admission is to be accepted, how can we believe that there is ‘perfect normalcy’ in Kashmir with incidents of stone pelting having dwindled perceptibly? Such self-contradictory versions are bound to tumble out of the stable of the government when there is an attempt to shield the truth with a pack of lies.

Moreover, after a lapse of five months, at last the Supreme Court had to pronounce a verdict on 101 January 2020 stating that suspension of internet for indefinite period is against the fundamental rights. The Apex Court also added that repeated imposition of section144 is misuse of power, even extending it for long time to curb the legitimate right to speak and stage agitation is unconstitutional. It cannot be allowed. These are no great words. The people of Kashmir as well as right-thinking people of the country had been reiterating this time and again all through these months of the unprecedented ordeal the state has been facing. If this is the legal position as upheld by the Supreme court, then why should not the BJP government be held guilty of undertaking unlawful activities?

The permanency which the BJP government seeks to achieve through abrogating Article 370 is that of annexation, force, and domination. This, however, is an illusionary permanency, as history teaches us. One noted American dissident once wrote that “The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer.” The same reasoning can be applied to Kashmir in the current context.

Smouldering fire of rebellion

In a full-page  advertisement in all the newspapers of Kashmir the government itself wrote on 11 October 2019  that the people on their own were not opening their shops, not using the transport, not coming to the government. The government 1 asked, “What are you afraid of”? That question has been answered by a journalist of the ‘Associated Press’, an international media house, in his writing on 10 December last. He narrated that when one journalist photographer was taking photograph of the closed-door Jama Masjid in Srinagar, one of the local policemen cautioned him asking to leave the place. He confided that if the Indian armed para-military force deputed to  act as watchdog to  guard the 600 years old famous Jama Masjid, would have found  him taking photograph, they would have subjected him to physical torture.  Because, glistening on the walls of Jama Masjid, on the banks of the river Jhelum are the words “you may kill us but cannot bow us down.” At the bottom of the hills of Anantnag there is a wall writing “Return our rights”. Witnessing such instances of agitations during the extreme winter, one of the senior politicians of Kashmir who has been just recently released from prison has reportedly reiterated his apprehension that “It seems that the valley would see a  blood-strewn summer this year … different  sources are letting out signs  that  bloodshed is likely to take place this summer”. It is pertinent to mention in this connection that way back in 1950, Khaja Mohammad Abbas, the noted novelist and film script-writer wrote in the ‘Current’ magazine of Mumbai that if the government of India really wished to win the hearts of the Kashmiris, it must have to strictly and unwaveringly maintain the principles of secularism. Today’s India government underlines that such a wish remains a far cry. Instead, what the Kashmiri people are experiencing is escalated coercion, deception, deprivation, communal discrimination, encounter deaths-meaning a life of paranoia. The serene splendour of unparalleled natural beauty is now splashed with blood of the innocent, tranquillity marred by wailing of the bereaved and tortured, as dark forces of communalism-fundamentalism-separatism are being unleashed and sense of piety and fraternity replaced by suspicion and mistrust. Obviously, beneath the apparently peaceful scene of Kashmir, the heaven on  the earth as it is called, the smouldering fire of rebellion is alive in a suppressed manner and might any day burst out like a volcanic eruption.

Kashmir is under virtual emergency

Just this apprehension was expressed by SUCI (Communist) when after the unilateral revocation of the Article 370,  the last vestiges self- governance of Kashmir by the Kashmiris were abolished and the people of Kashmir started to  suffer from the  pain at their being betrayed  by the government of India. When in the name of opposing the scrapping of Article 370, the Congress and other regional bourgeois parties like the Trinamool Congress  as well as the pseudo-Marxists like the CPI (M) were all swirling in the vortex of questioning the method adopted, it was only our Party, the  SUCI (Communist), who unhesitatingly issued a statement on 6 August, 2019 which inter alia, stated, “when it was necessary for full implementation of Article 370 to win over the Kashmiri people, isolate and defeat Pakistan-backed secessionist forces, this unilateral scrapping of Article 370 would not only further alienate the people of Kashmir but also strengthen secessionist forces.” Can the BJP leaders seated in power of the Union government read   the writings on the walls they have erected in Kashmir before it is too late?[Sources:-(India Today-05-08-19) (New York Times-14-09-19) (The Wire 07-10-19) (Huffington Post 07-09-19) (the Quartz-23-08-19) (Al Jazeera-21-08-19) (scroll.in-18-08-19) (Ananda Bazar Patrika, dated ;  26.12.2019, 01-01-2020,  01-01-20, 11.01.2020). (Bartaman, a Bengali daily dated 21.12.2019) (NDTV dated 11.10.2019) (The Hindu dated 06.01.2020).]

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