Jammu Kashmir Continues to be A Ministry of Fear

Sandeep-Pandey
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 30 November, 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 5th August.

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
23rd November. 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. 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 lakhs migrant labourers were sent back to India before 5 August.

“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.

By: Rajendran Narayanan and
Sandeep Pandey .

(Rajendran teaches at Azim Premji University, Bangalore and Sandeep is a socio-political activist.)

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