The ongoing lockdown across countries and regions due to COVID-19 has cheered many enthusiastic people of Kashmir. Not that they are heartless, insensitive to the human sufferings and derive sadistic pleasure out of other peoples’ miseries. They are rather sensitive people, full of compassion and love for humanity.
It is their satirical grin to communicate to the world what it means to live under a lockdown. Street gossips and social conversations in Srinagar too are loaded with telling, more often, sarcastic memos and complaints that “silence of the world over Kashmir lockdown has turned the entire world into Kashmir”.
Divine Retribution for silence on Kashmir?
Having undergone the terrible experience of lockdown for over four months just before the outbreak of corona-virus, many people in Kashmir assume it as “divine retribution for being mute to the agonies of Kashmiri people”. They hold the international community in guilt and contempt for being “accomplice to the sufferings of Kashmiri people by showing no sympathy with them”.
Lockdowns to save people versus Lockdown to suppress people?
The economic and social cost of the COVID-19 lockdown does not need to be explained. The world, by now, must have got to know how the health, wealth and liberty of people get ruined when restrictions are imposed as security measures.
One thing which cannot be ignored about the ongoing lockdown is that it has been imposed as a people-friendly measure to counter the coronavirus. There are no curbs on information flow. The channels and means of information (internet) and communication (telephone–landlines, cell phones) are normally functioning.
Governments are all taking care of their people. Essential commodities, food, medicine and other relief materials are provided to the citizens on-demand and at their doorsteps. Respective governments have announced whopping relief measures for the affected citizens. Yet the volume of peoples’ sufferings is unfathomable.
We kashmiri have humble request for OIC and international community and UN Commission please resolve kashmir issues because we kashmiri want to only freedom from, we are Muslim population in kashmir but now India want change there demographic#free kashmir#save Muslim kashmiri pic.twitter.com/q2LdiWI2zM
— Mudasirali71@gmail.com (@mudasirali71) April 21, 2020
Kashmir: Lockdown for punishment
Now imagine the level of agony, pain and torment of a people or region where lockdown is imposed as punishment. In Kashmir, there is complete information and communication blockade, authoritarian curfew measures, no empathy with the besieged population, ready to shoot uniformed men around houses, city squares, street corners, lanes and by-lanes.
That is how Jammu and Kashmir, more particularly the valley of Kashmir looked like on August 5, 2019, when the government of India scrapped Article 370 (and 35-A) of the country’s constitution which granted special status—limited autonomy—to the state.
How Art.370 was negotiated over five months?
The special constitutional position granted to Jammu and Kashmir was a mutually negotiated arrangement between Indian and Kashmiri leadership in lieu for the Muslim majority state’s accession to the Hindu majority India discarding Islamic Pakistan.
Read more: India attacks journalists in Kashmir
It took almost five months (May to October 1949) to Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah to negotiate and work out the terms of accession. Eminent constitutional expert and historian, A G Noorani, in his chronicle—Article 370: A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir—has pieced together all communication records between the two leaders during this period.
“The state of Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in the union of India which negotiated its terms of membership in the Union. The Constituent Assembly merely put the imprimatur of its approval on 17 October 1949 to a draft agreed between the Union of India and the State”, writes Noorani calling Article 370 as a “solemn compact”. “Neither side can amend or abrogate it unilaterally, except under the terms of that provision”, he reminds.
But the August 5 (2019) decision of Indian government was one-sided, a brute betrayal of trust and sheer display of arrogance of power. It was more like a constitutional coup carried out through a military operation.
August 2019: A Renewed Reign of Terror
Kashmir is the most militarized zone in the world. Though no official figures are available but unofficial estimates say that over 800,000 forces personnel of different security wings (army, BSF, CRPF, ITBP, SSB, CISF besides local police and their allied wings) are permanently stationed in Jammu and Kashmir.
Government of India knew that stripping Kashmir’s special constitutional position would be deeply unpopular, and could result in street rebellion in the state. Additional central forces (over 200 companies) were summoned and deployed all across the valley to curb every kind of dissension—verbal or street.
On August 2, three days ahead of the abrogation move, the annual Hindu pilgrimage—Amarnath Yatra—was cut short and all the tourists—domestic as well as foreign—were asked to leave the valley.
Army and other security forces identified the main trouble spots and kicked-off preparations for tackling any possible untoward situation in the Valley. A major crackdown was launched all across the valley and round 10,000 people including politicians (of all hues), young and educated youth, religious leaders, social activists, businessmen and lawyers were arrested and stringent curbs were placed on freedom of speech and expression.
The Indian Army also deployed an additional brigade from the northeastern region in Kashmir to strengthen its counter-infiltration grid on the Line of Control (LoC).
This clearly aimed at demographic change has serious consequences for Jammu and Kashmir and suggests the implementation of plans that scholars have openly called Israeli-style settler colonialism.
https://t.co/NYmIQRf7IO via @project_polis
— SOPORE UPDATES ¹💿 (@SoporeNews1) April 23, 2020
“At various locations especially in South Kashmir region, the local army commanders had started preparing for dealing with any attempt of creating unrest. At some places, even Army Chief General Bipin Rawat (now chief of defence staff) has reviewed the preparedness of the forces to handle the possible trouble,” ANI, an Indian news portal, quoting official sources then said.
An impression was created at ground level that security forces have been authorized to go to any extent to crush the possible street revolt even if it meant “killing people at will”.
It does not need one to be extraordinarily intelligent to understand the fear in the streets. From the cities to towns to the far off rural and hilly inhabitations the fear spread like a plague, communicating its presence in every nook and corner. And on the actual day of reckoning (August 5), the fear appeared to come from all directions—well out of earth and sky ricocheting across the valley in every possible way with heavily armed uniformed men, fingers on the triggers, besieging every household, lane, by-lane and street in every city and town.
Voice of silence
And when it appeared that a season of bloody outrage was hovering around, people of Kashmir chose to go the other way putting down all the plans of the government. They chose the mode of silence to protest against the government move. Silence, on occasions, is a stronger means of protest than voice. At least, in this case, it proved right. It also portrayed the wisdom and maturity of a common Kashmiri as how to conduct oneself in extreme unfavorable conditions.
Kashmiris have a strong history of hitting streets on crucial political and emotional issues. Just in recent years, around 60 people died and hundreds were injured when people, in tens of thousands, hit streets against government decision to allot forest land to Amarnath Shrine Board in 2008. Over 120 died in three-month-long revolt in 2010 ignited by the custodial killing of three youth in Baramullah.
The 2016 street rebellion was even more horrific. Over 100 persons were killed around 15000 injured at the hands of government forces to calm the streets erupted in protest against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. This had led many people (in and outside the government) to believe that it would be again the streets versus the State in Kashmir.
Then Jammu and Kashmir Governor S P Malik (currently the governor of Goa) recently said that when he informed the chief secretary about government’s decision to scrap the Article 370, the chief secretary told him it would need to kill at least 1000 to keep the valley calm.
Valley people, however, reversed the government plans by reacting in an altogether different way—voice of silence.
“Woh Jo samjhe thay tamasha ho ga
Mien ne chupp reh ke palat de bazi”
(They had thought that the day would altogether belong to them. But I turned tables back on them by remaining silent)
How Kashmiris turned tables by adopting silence?
The move was, no doubt, received with shock but remaining mute had two major reasons.
The primary reason was information/communication blockade and security clampdown. With inflow and outflow of information under tedious curbs, the government completely drained dry all the sources of news except the one it wanted to tell the world. Internet, telephone (landlines as well as cell) and all other sources of information were turned dead with unprecedented curfew restrictions in the streets. Even close neighbours found it difficult to know about each other’s safety.
A personal experience may perhaps lay bare the real situation. My in-laws live just around 300 meters away from my residence in Srinagar. On August 7 when entire Kashmir was reeling under the lockdown, my father-in-law suffered a brain haemorrhage at around 9 pm. We came to know about it after 20 hours only after I paid a customary visit the next day in the evening. This was general experience of almost every individual and family living under lockdown.
Political leadership which on such occasion acts as a motivator was completely isolated with the majority of them having been put in jails and police lock-ups. Senior and influential voices like Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq were placed under house arrest with unprecedented restrictions.
The Indian government did not spare even its people like Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mahbooba Mufti—all former chief ministers. They along with dozens of ministers, legislators and party colleagues were put in dungeons for months.
The entire valley looked like a large jail with every single individual in chains. A sense of collective wisdom came into work and nobody wanted to do anything that, in the absence of information outflow, would have gone unnoticed. His silence rather paid him more than what he, perhaps, could not have achieved otherwise.
It caught the attention of the world at large, and the government of India was put in the dock. Right from the United Nations to the United States, UK, Germany, China and France (though partly), Malaysia, Turkey and to the OIC, the Indian government faced embarrassing questions about Kashmir lockdown.
The second reason that made major vocal sections of Kashmir society to react to the Indian move in silence was the compulsion of local politics. Article 370 had never been an issue for the people who demand the right to self-determination. For them it was an instrument of exploitation for Pro India politicians who under its garb were protecting and promoting Indian interests in the state.
Read more: Challenges: Kashmir, Afghanistan & Beyond
Major pro-India political groups—National Conference (NC), Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and Peoples’ Conference (PC)—have, in the past, advocated roadmaps almost around the provisions of Article 370 as a solution to the conflict of Kashmir challenging all other options outside Indian constitution. The abrogation of Article 370, indeed, is a deafening blow to them. “It (scrapping of 370) is their (pro-India politicians’) battle. They have been harvesting on it. Why should we fight their battle” was a common refrain of many foot soldiers of pro-freedom camp in the valley.
Plans to turn Kashmir into Palestine
But that never meant that people of Kashmir, in general, are indifferent to the Indian move. The initial shock they got through 370-abrogation has turned into an added sense of alienation and anger. A general feeling creeping in the minds is that the people in power in Delhi are working on an agenda of changing the demography of the state, more particularly in the valley. “Another Palestine in the making” is their common refrain.
India locked down kashmir in August 2019. That itself is a violation of huma rights. There is documented proofs of rape, using children as human shield, cutting off utilities and now moving non kashmiris into Kashmir to change the demographic. World has been sleeping on this
— Farhan Hussain (@fhussains) April 22, 2020
Some moves have already been made in this regard. The Indian government has granted domicile status to over 300,000 West Pakistani refugees in Jammu—all of them Hindus. Kashmir is also home to around 700,000 to 800,000 security men besides over 600,000 migrant labourers. There are fears that many of them might get qualified for domicile status under new laws.
The Indian government has also renamed the Jammu & Kashmir Property Rights to Slum Dwellers Act by deleting references to “permanent residents.” This has paved the way for non-local slum dwellers to acquire property rights.
These developments of severe political magnitude and consequences are not going unnoticed. A discontent of sorts is brewing up. When and how it would explode and what could be its fallout, only time will say. Government of India is, perhaps, aware of the impending discontent. It is for this reason that the New Delhi has not lowered its guard in the valley. The presence of security forces and their alertness is as high as ever.
In the times of deadly disease corona-virus when governments across the globe have eased out facilities for their citizens, the restrictions in Kashmir go harder. Government of India is not ready even to restore high-speed internet service (4G) in the valley. The curbs on free-talk continue. Even pro India politicians do not dare to talk. Hundreds of people continue to remain in jails. The corona-virus lockdown has come as handy weapon for New Delhi to keep its lid more tightly on Kashmir cauldron.
All this makes an out-of-sorts recipe for a disturbing future.
Rashid Ahmad is a Srinagar-based senior journalist. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.