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J&K continues to be haunted, as parts of India 'degenerate' into quasi-Kashmir situation

By Rajendran Narayanan*, Sandeep Pandey**
“Jab har saans mein bandook dikhe toh baccha kaise bekhauf rahe?” (How can a child be fearless when she sees a gun in every breath?) remarked Anwar, a gardener from Srinagar, when asked about the situation in Kashmir. On November 30, 2019, a walk through an iron gate in a quiet neighbourhood of Srinagar took us inside a public school. It was 11 am when typically every school is abuzz with activity. Not here though.
We were met with an eerie silence as we went past locked classrooms to the staff-room that had ten teachers. The teachers of this school -- and several teachers of other schools and colleges we met -- told us that no classes have been held since August 5. When we tried taking a photograph of a locked classroom, the teachers panicked. They came running and would not let us leave until we deleted the photograph from our mobile phone.
We realised that the 98% attendance that the Home Minister Amit Shah was claiming is that of teachers and not students. We are also told by Amit Shah that examinations have been conducted in schools. Reality is, that question papers, for all except the Board examinations, were taken by teachers to homes of students and answer sheets brought back to schools. Many parents now have to spend up to Rs 5,000 per month on private tuitions at home.
Imran, an apple tradesman of Kulgam district recounted the horror faced by his friend around November 23. The friend, a taxi driver, was returning to Srinagar from Banihal after sunset. He was first made to wait in his taxi for over 4 hours outside the city limits because an army convoy had to pass. The army at the check post asked him to turn on the lights inside his car but the light wasn’t working.
This mechanical glitch in his car became the reason for him being brutally beaten up by the army. He returned home with blood spurting out from his nose and forehead. Feroze, a baker from Ramban in the Jammu region, was threatened with arrest for asking the local authorities to reconstruct a broken bridge. With much exasperation he said “I was not raising any so-called anti-national slogans. I was merely asking them to build a bridge.”
These are just a handful of testimonies from our recently attempted ‘Restore Democracy March’ from Jammu to Srinagar. The marchers weren’t allowed to interact freely with the press or with the local community in many places. The police stopped the march at Ramban, midway between Jammu and Srinagar.
Indeed, a police vehicle followed us and ensured that we crossed the Ramban district border on the way back to Jammu. Nevertheless, six among us continued our journey to Kashmir the following day from Jammu around the 4 months completion of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. The clampdown on Kashmir, the poster child of subversion in India, still continues.
Youth, who continue to be detained in Kashmir, are released on a condition that some community members sign a bond that the person being released will not speak against the abrogation of Article 370. “Effectively, for every detainee, 10-15 others are being held as virtual hostages”, said Khurram Parvez of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies. “Kashmir has been a laboratory for military adventurism for the sake of winning elections. Has India been able to win the heart of even a single Kashmiri with the barrel of a gun?” he lamented.
Another senior Kashmiri man said with a mix of pain and agony, ‘Unofficially more than 40,000 innocent civilians are languishing in jails without trial for no fault of theirs. After being subjected to such harsh injustice, how does the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government expect them to support India? Majority in Kashmir have now turned against India after 5th August. Even I am deeply hurt by the decision as it is akin to snatching away my identity.’
This sentiment was not limited to Kashmir alone. Anand, a Kashmiri Pandit, in Udhampur employed with a telecom company said “Article 370 for the residents of J&K was like the peacock feather on Lord Krishna’s head. Now we have been reduced to being slaves of Delhi.”
As per news reports, there are less than 300 “militants” in Kashmir. To counter them there are 8 lakh military and 1.5 lakh local police. This roughly translates to one security person for every 10 civilians and close to 2,700 security persons for every “militant”!
Reportedly close to 500 security persons have committed suicides owing to the tortuous psychological conditions. While a few army men we spoke with expressed their work as “duty where right and wrong don’t matter”, some were annoyed at the manner in which they were brought to J&K prior to 5 August on the pretext that they would be on election duty and could leave soon after. But they’ve been ordered to stay till the situation becomes 'normal.' This, in itself, contradicts the government’s claim of situation in J&K being normal.
Government employees, all within a day, were coerced to sign an agreement making a choice to serve either of the two Union Territories -- J&K or Ladakh, implicitly endorsing the government's decision. People, reportedly, have to sign a similar agreement saying that they abide by the government’s decision of abrogating Article 370 even to get a broadband connection at home in Kashmir.
A Kashmiri Pandit said: Article 370 was like peacock feather on Lord Krishna’s head for  J&K residents. We've been reduced to slaves of Delhi
The local cable channels are barred from showing local news about Kashmir. Some college students in Jammu region expressed much anguish about the disruption of internet facilities. They aren’t able to apply to other places to study and some of them had to go to Punjab just to download their admit cards.
About 3.5 to 5 lakh migrant labourers were sent back to India before August 5. “It may not be a surprise that after some time Kashmiris may be blamed for this just like they are blamed for driving out the Kashmiri Pandits, even though they were evacuated then, initially only for several months, on the pretext of some planned action against militants, both of which have now prolonged.” said Khurram Parvez.
We saw vacant houses near Pulwama belonging to Kashmiri Pandits, keeping open the option for them to return. Additionally, we also saw a colony established for Hindu government employees here. “We Kashmiris are proud of our culture, Kashmiriyat, which is inclusive and syncretic” said Ghulam Mizrab of the Communist Party of India.
J&K is enveloped in a ministry of fear. The overarching impression everywhere was one of anguish, uncertainty, loss of rights, and financial loss. Mir, an elderly gentleman, speaking eloquently about the history of J&K, referred to the abrogation as the biggest betrayal so far. With much anger he remarked “I have lived all my life here. Everybody knows me and yet some outsider in uniform from Madras, Bombay or Delhi comes and asks for my identity?” Everybody in Kashmir was scared of being recorded on video or audio, lest they be arrested under Public Safety Act.
On our way back from Srinagar to Jammu, we were stuck in traffic for nearly 5 hours in Qazigund. Amidst heavy army patrol, vehicles were made to stand in a single file so that if required army convoy can pass. A jeep tried to overtake and occupy an empty spot behind a standing lorry. This angered an army man who broke the window and shattered the glass panel of the jeep. A taxi driver standing there asked, “Does this also happen in the rest of India?”
Given the recent State sanctioned violence and police brutality in Uttar Pradesh against protestors of the patently discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, the answer to the rhetorical question of the taxi driver has changed dramatically in a month. For a purportedly democratic country, it is a matter of shame and condemnation that Kashmir continues to be haunted while some other parts of the country are rapidly degenerating into a quasi Kashmir situation.
---
*Teaches at Azim Premji University, Bangaluru, **socio-political activist

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