Vinod Mubayi


At the time of writing (September 25), Jammu & Kashmir remains in a locked down condition. There is no internet or mobile phone service over most of the state, there is an unending curfew for many inhabitants of major towns like Srinagar, the schools are largely closed, and thousands of political and business leaders in jail for no reason apart from the whims of the central government, i.e. the wishes of Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Shah, and National Security Adviser Doval, and the repressive security apparatus at their control. J&K, especially the Valley, is beginning to resemble a vast open-air jail on the lines of Gaza.


Belying the false claims of “normalcy” in the Indian media, a fact-finding eye witness report on the situation in Kashmir by a group of five respected women professionals from India, reveals the atrocities being committed by the security forces on young men and boys and the fear enveloping large sections of the population.


Although this tragedy has been brewing for several decades, the decisions announced by the central government on August 5, abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of India’s constitution that defined the status of J&K, and the abolition of J&K’s statehood and its sundering into two union territories, decisions taken without even any pretense of consultation with any  representative body in the state, signify the crossing of a threshold into hitherto uncharted territory. No matter to what extent Article 370 was ignored in practice as more and more laws made by the central government in Delhi eroded J&K’s autonomy, the formal existence of 370 in conjunction with earlier promises made at the U.N. as well as the Shimla agreement kept alive the possibility that, in principle, a political solution acceptable most importantly to the people of J&K besides the states of India and Pakistan could be found, as it almost was when Musharraf met Vajpayee in Agra. However, unless the Supreme Court rules against the government on the numerous petitions filed challenging its decision on J&K, an outcome that looks very unlikely at this time, Modi and Shah have blown away completely the possibility of a democratic, political solution that took into account the wishes of the state’s inhabitants.


The justification cited by Modi that Article 370 kept J&K away from the development enjoyed by the rest of India and promoted terrorism would be certainly laughable if the lockdown of the entire state did not render it cruelly cynical. The spectacle of Modi strolling arm in arm with the liar-in-chief Trump in the jamboree at Houston (whose average lie count according to the Washington Post tracker is 8 per day) is symbolic of the lies Modi and his cohorts have been telling on J&K over the last 50+ days. What government can claim that it is promoting economic development by imprisoning large sections of the population? It is on a par with the statement of a US military commander in Vietnam that they had to destroy the city of Ben Tre “in order to save it.” In any case, J&K, contrary to the propaganda being voiced by the BJP supporters, was a middle ranking state within the ensemble of Indian states by the government’s own data on economic, social, and human development indicators. At the bottom are two states ruled by the BJP: UP and Bihar.


The impact on Kashmir’s economy is bound to be horrific. Almost 50% of Kashmir’s economy derives from horticulture, like the apple industry for which the valley is famous. Due to the suspension of the internet the links between growers and buyers outside the state who purchase the bulk of the apple production have snapped, transporters have been rendered idle and there is a strong possibility that the apple and the horticultural economy will go bust this year.  Among other impacts, the prolonged internet shutdown has put over a thousand IT workers in the state out of a job. According to credible newspaper reports, the campuses of central government institutions such as the National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology are locked and deserted.


How long will this state of affairs continue? It is no secret that most of the Kashmir Valley’s population has for decades been opposed to Indian rule. This is plainly obvious since the almost Indian 800,000 military and paramilitary forces in Kashmir are not simply there to counter the few hundred militant “jihadi” infiltrators from Pakistan. It is obvious that the additional 40,000 troops that were hurriedly brought into the state on the eve of the August 5 declaration were there to damp down potential unrest on the part of the population. In this period of complete lockdown, a few incidents like the wounding of protesting youth by pellets fired by the security forces, have been reported. But it is not difficult to imagine that the degree of embitterment among the occupied must have risen several notches.


Even the political leaders in Kashmir who staked their life and careers on association with India have been imprisoned without trial. Farooq Abdullah, for example, former Chief Minister of J&K, has been jailed under the Public Safety Act that allows jailing for two years without trial. Farooq Abdullah was elected as a Member of the Indian Parliament in May of this year and if a person like him can be arrested and detained who is left to say or send any pro-India message to the population of the dismembered state? In an editorial of September 19, 2019, the Hindu newspaper commented: “The detention of National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah under the Public Safety Act on Monday marks a new, dangerous low in the overreach of state power to curtail liberty in Kashmir…The amorality of the government’s treatment of pro-India forces is certainly dispiriting, but dangerous is the vacuum this is creating. The void will be filled only by forces inimical to India, if the government removes politicians from public spaces by wrongly labelling them anti-India.”


So far, the BJP government is hell-bent on clamping down on any dissent. The well-known former student activist Shehla Rashid, now a leader in Shah Faesal’s Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement has been charged with the crime of sedition by the Delhi police for allegedly spreading misinformation about Kashmir after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. Shah Faesal, who earlier resigned from the prestigious Indian Administrative Service to enter politics, is himself in jail after being arrested at Delhi airport when he was about to board a flight to deliver an invited lecture at Harvard.  Besides the political leaders, the government has also gone around arresting business leaders in Kashmir. Apparently, the government wishes to squelch all existing leadership in the Valley. But the logic of these moves, apart from showing that with hundreds of thousands of military personnel at its back the government can do what it likes, is not clear. Do Modi and Shah really want to tell the world that India is now a one-party BJP/RSS dictatorship?


No doubt, Modi and Shah are gambling that enough stooges will arise in portions of Jammu and Ladakh to replace the traditional political leadership that has mainly come from Kashmir Valley; whether this will happen remains to be seen.

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