March succeeds in reaching Srinagar from Jammu in spite of hurdles

Sandeep-Pandey
Sandeep-Pandey

A ‘Restoration
of Democracy
’ march, part on feet and part on vehicles, was planned from
Jammu to Srinagar between 26 November and 1 December, 2019 in Jammu and Kashmir
after the decision of Government of India earlier on 5 August to abrogate
Articles 370 and 35A and division and downgrading of state into two Union Territories,
J&K and Ladakh.

When the
march started on 26 November from Press Club, Jammu with over fifty people the
police stopped it just before it reached a main road and told us that we could
not proceed on feet. They however, allowed it to go on vehicles.

The marchers
then assembled at a nearby Gurudwara and about 30 of them went ahead in five
vehicles. Prominent among the marchers were Sheikh Abdul Rehman, former Member
of Parliament from J&K and two times Member of Legislative Assembly from
Madhya Pradesh, Dr. Sunilam.

The group
reached its destination for the day Udhampur and distributed a pamphlet
prepared for the march taking out a procession though the market.

The next
morning, however, the police prevented the group from holding a press
conference.

The march
proceeded towards its destination for the second day Ramban. Local political
leader Amrit Varsha received the march with much fanfare. Slogans were raised
for restoring the pre-5 August status and a press conference was immediately
held.

On 28 November
morning distribution of pamphlets took place at the local bus stand and market.
Small group discussions also took place with people while pamphlets were being
distributed.

However,
after a public meeting held inside a hall during the day, the police arrived
and threatened the journalists not to further cover the march and, on the
pretext, that route ahead to Srinagar was closed due to land-slides asked the
march to return to Jammu.

The police
vehicles followed the march and ensured that they crossed the Ramban district
border on the way back to Jammu.

However, six
marchers, including the two writers, decided to make an attempt to directly
reach Srinagar by shared taxi and were successful on the second attempt on 29
November.

In Srinagar,
the group met Communist Party of India leader Ghulam Mohammad Mizrab in his
village Poshpora in Shopian district and activists of J&K Coalition of
Civil Society and Haq Insaf Party in Srinagar besides common citizens.

The group
also interacted with security personnel deployed at short distances from each
other on stringent long duty hours for long stretches extending from several
months to years.

Common
sentiments expressed by people ranged from disappointment to anger at the way
Union Government has handled the situation.

G.M. Mizrab
says that earlier there were three kinds of people in J&K, one who had
accepted being part of India, second who aspired for independence from India
and Pakistan both and third who looked towards Pakistan with some hope,
although the latter two segments had realised over a period of time that their
dreams were not practical and had shrunk in size. For example, the total number
of militants presently in J&K, according to government’s own figures, is
not more than 300, for whom 8 lakhs security personnel have been deployed and
the government incurs an extra expenditure, other than salaries and upkeep, of
Rs. 3 crores daily.

Most
Kashmiri families now have some connection with India, either their children
are studying in some educational institutions or they have business interests
elsewhere in India. But after the 5 August decision of Government, when even
the most pro-India leader Dr. Farooq Abdullah was put under house arrest,
majority in Kashmir have now turned against India.

Mizrab says
that even though he would prefer to be with India, he has been deeply hurt by
the decision as he thinks it is taking away his identity in a way.

A college
teacher put it more succinctly, Articles 370 and 35A were like nikah-nama,
document of marriage, between India and J&K and the Indian government by
abrogating these Articles has annulled the marriage. The link between India and
J&K has been severed and the alienation is now complete. Another college
teacher said previously they were not so conscious of Indians coming to J&K
but now they view them with suspicion. It is what the British rule was for
India. Khurram Parvez of JKCCS informed that about 3.5 to 5 lakhs migrant
labourers have also been sent back to India before  5 August just like the tourists, whose
departure was publicised, and 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.

The group of
marchers also saw vacant houses belonging to Kashmiri Pandits on the border of
Shopian district and Pulwama, keeping the option for them to return open, in
addition to a colony established for Hindu government employees here. It
doesn’t appear that there is any problem in common Kashmiris belonging to any
religion living together as they emphasise that their culture is Kashmiriyat
and the variety of Islam practised here is Sufi.

 The economic life seems to be limping back to
normalcy from external appearance, with business and economic activity going on
for several hours during the day, but the fact is that the four-month long
clampdown has broken the back of the economy which was further compounded by
bad weather. The apple industry suffered the worst. The producers could not
meet the demands of buyers due to lack of labourers and restriction in
transportation and trees have been damaged due to early snow which will take
about a decade to re-grow. It is being claimed that Jammu region, especially
the larger Hindu population is happy with government’s decision, but the fact
is that economy of this region is tied with Kashmir and has also suffered
badly. People in Kashmir now want to bypass Jammu and want to do business with
other regions of the country.

When one of
the marchers Amit Maurya took photograph of an empty classroom in a school in
Haval on 30 November, 2019, the teachers present panicked. They would not let
him leave until he deleted the photograph from his mobile phone. In spite of
the claims being made by the Home Minister, the fact is that except for the
Board examinations, the questions papers were taken by teachers to homes of
students of all other classes and answers brought back to the school. The
parents of children are forced to engage the same teachers at home for tuition
classes at monthly charges up to Rs. 5,000 for a child of class VI or VII.

It is not
clear when the economy or education will return to normalcy but the most
serious damage that the government has done is to politics.

There is no
sign of revival of political process. While the Bhartiya Janata Party has
realised the political agenda of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in J&K, it is
preventing other Parties from carrying out their activities.

There is a
ban on political activity, especially related to Articles 370 and 35A.
Government employees have been made to sign an agreement to be part of one of
the two Union Territories.

The people
who were arrested are being released after 10-15 community members are made to
sign bonds guaranteeing that the person being released will not take part in
any activity opposing the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. The government
doesn’t want any other voice than its own. Most newspapers are carrying
government advertisements or reporting government and apolitical events. The
media is totally censored. The bureaucracy and security establishment are
dominating the politics. There doesn’t seem to be any hope for restoration of
democracy yet. Senior activist of JKCCS Pervez Imroz asks how can there be
democracy in a situation of occupation, either before 5 August or after that?

By
Sandeep Pandey and Rajendran Narayanan

(Sandeep Pandey is a social-political activist and Rajendran teaches at Azmi Premji University)

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