No end to a tragic saga
“Jammu & Kashmir is a big jail”, said a political leader who, like many others, is under ‘house arrest’ without written orders, following the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India on August 5, 2019.
Project J&K was intended to break up the state, reduce its status to Union territories, bring the territories under the direct rule of the Central government, suppress political activities, intimidate 7.5 million people of the Kashmir Valley into submission, and quell separatism and terrorism. While the means have been employed, none of the ends has been achieved and, in my view, will never be achieved under the current dispensation’s policy.
The state of the erstwhile State
Let’s get some hard facts on record (main source: Report of The Forum for Human Rights in J&K, July 2020):
– Between 2001 and 2013, the number of terrorist incidents had declined from 4,522 to 170 and the number of fatalities (civilians, security personnel and militants) from 3,552 to 135. Since 2014, and especially post 2017, the hard and muscular approach has caused a spurt in violence (see Table):
– At its peak, 6,605 political activists (including 144 minors) were taken into custody. Many including Ms Mehbooba Mufti are still under detention. The draconian Public Safety Act was invoked indiscriminately (444 cases). Security of political leaders was downgraded and their protected housing withdrawn, putting an end to mobility and political activity.
– The Army and Central paramilitary forces have an overwhelming presence in the Valley. 38,000 additional troops were rushed in after Article 370 was abrogated. Restrictions under Section 144 CrPC are in force practically throughout the year. After March 25, lockdown has aided the administration to shut down everything. If there is seeming ‘peace’, it is what John Kennedy called the ‘peace of the grave’.
– All major fundamental rights are effectively suspended. The Public Safety Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are invoked indiscriminately. Cordon and Search Operations (CASO) are conducted widely and daily to curb movement. All statutory commissions to uphold rights have been wound up. The new media policy is a candid admission that a free media has no place in J&K and it sanctifies censorship.
– The cases of Mubeen Shah, Miyan Abdul Qayoom, Gowher Geelani, Masrat Zahra and Safoora Zafgar illustrate the abuse of law and the difficulties in getting justice.
– The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry has estimated that the loss of production in Kashmir Valley alone since August 2019 is about Rs 40,000 crore and loss of jobs is 4,97,000. Tourist arrivals fell from 6,11,534 (2017) to 3,16,424 (2018) to 43,059 (2019). The fruit, garment, carpet, IT, communications and transport industries have been badly hit.
– The Supreme Court has yet to hear finally and decide the cases on constitutionality of the J&K Reorganisation Act, restoration of 4G services and the amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, besides the numerous PILs challenging the denial of different human rights.
The new Kashmir issue
There was a Kashmir issue since 1947, when Pakistan objected to the ruler’s accession to India. Pakistan learned the lesson that it cannot win a war with India and seize the Valley. Since August 2019, however, there is a new Kashmir issue. The new Kashmir issue has many dimensions — the constitutionality of abrogating Article 370, the reduction of status from a state to two Union territories, the denial of political and human rights, the devastation of the economy, the increase in militancy, the new domicile policy, the complete alienation of the people of the Valley and, now, disaffection in Jammu over the new domicile policy and in Ladakh over the complete absence of any administration.
The rest of India asserts that the state of J&K is an integral part of India but, shockingly, there is little concern about the distress of the people of J&K and Ladakh. The incursions by China into Ladakh and China’s axis with Pakistan have finally shaken the somnolence of the rest of India, but not enough.
Lockdown during a lockdown
The rest of India understands a total lockdown — no movement outside one’s home. The rest of India, even in a lockdown, has free speech and expression and access to newspapers, television, mobile telephones, Internet, hospitals, police stations, courts and elected representatives. In the Kashmir Valley, there is a rights-denying lockdown during a total lockdown. The rest of India should imagine a lockdown without free speech and expression or access to newspapers, television, mobile telephones, Internet, hospitals, police stations, courts and elected representatives. That is the situation today.
It will be a year on August 5, yet our vaunted Constitutional institutions — Parliament, courts and plural political system — have found no answers to the new Kashmir issue created on August 5, 2019. That is a sad failure, and the sadness is compounded by the fact that there is no Abraham Lincoln on the horizon. Nor can we hear the soul-stirring words “that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth”.