Tuesday, Jun 28, 2022

Paradise Shackled, Promises Broken: Civil Rights Activists On Kashmir

A team of civil rights activists who recently returned from a five-day visit of the Kashmir valley, say that life has been severely censored in the state.

Paradise Shackled, Promises Broken: Civil Rights Activists On Kashmir
Security personnel patrolling a deserted lane in a Kashmir town after abrogation of Article 370

A team of civil rights activists who visited Srinagar and adjoining areas has prepared a report that paints a picture completely contrary to the image of normalcy and calm in Jammu and Kashmir that the government has been projecting since the abrogation of Article 370.

The activists – noted economist Jean Dreze, All India Progressive Women’s Association secretary Kavita Krishnan, All India Democratic Women's Association’s Maimoona Mollah and Vimal Bhai, member of the National Alliance of People’s Movement – recently returned from a five-day visit of the Valley.

During their stay in the strife-torn region, the team interacted with scores of local Kashmiris, security personnel and some political workers, including one from the BJP, to ascertain the impact that the Centre’s recent decision of severely diluting Article 370 to strip J&K of its special status had on the local people.

The civil rights activists say that life has been severely censored in the state. “When we arrived in Srinagar, on August 9, we found the city silenced and desolated by curfew, and bristling with Indian military and paramilitary presence… We travelled widely, inside and outside Srinagar – far beyond the small enclave where the Indian media operates. In the small enclave, a semblance of normalcy returns from time to time, and this has enabled the Indian media to claim that life in Kashmir is back to normal. Nothing could be further from the truth,” the report compiled by the activists states.

Krishnan told Outlook that during the course of its visit, the team interacted with Kashmiri Pandits, Muslims and also Sikhs, shopkeepers, school and college students, local journalists, daily wage labourers and several migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and other states.

“Except for a BJP spokesperson, we did not meet a single person who supported the Indian government’s decision to abrogate Article 370. Most people were extremely angry. Anger and fear were the dominant emotions we encountered everywhere. Many of the people we spoke to said that massive protests could erupt after Eid and anticipated violent repression even if the protests were peaceful,” Mollah told reporters at a press conference at the Press Club of India in Delhi. The team had also brought with them videos and photographs they had shot in the Valley to bolster their claims but were not allowed to screen them by the Press Club management.

The report says that the words that the team heard repeatedly during their travels around the Valley in reference to the Modi government and its decisions with regard to Kashmir were “zulm” (oppression), “zyadti” (excesses) and “dhokha” (betrayal). “As one man in Safakadal (downtown Srinagar) put it: The Government has treated Kashmiris like slaves, taking decisions about our lives and our future while we are captive. It's like forcing something down our throats while keeping us bound and gagged, with a gun to our heads.”

Krishnan also described how, in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent clampdown in the Valley, a leading local newspaper – Greater Kashmir – “had two pages – the front and the back – with some news but two inside pages full of cancellation announcements of weddings and receptions".

On Eid, while Governor Malik and the State apparatus kept assuring some sections of the media that things were normal in the Valley and elaborate arrangements for celebrations and festivities had been made, the fact-finding team disputes the claim. “The Eid festivities were severely curtailed; locals were not allowed to assemble at the Idgah to offer namaz and were told that they can either pray at their neighborhood mosque or inside their homes. In some areas the government and security personnel also put restrictions on use of loudspeakers to give the azaan call,” Mollah said.

About the protests in Soura, which the government and security establishment initially denied and later attributed to “some miscreants”, the fact-finding team said: “some 10,000 people protested in Soura on August 9. The forces responded with pellet gun fire, injuring several. We attempted to go to Soura on August 10 but were stopped by a CRPF barricade. We met two victims of pellet gun injuries in SMHS Hospital in Srinagar. The two young men – Waqar Ahmad and Wahid – had faces, arms and torso full of pellets. Their eyes were bloodshot and blinded.”

The team said that “at least 600 political leaders and civil society activists are under house arrest or detention, the whereabouts of many of these people are not known even to their families and there is no clear information of what laws have been invoked against these leaders.”

Krishnan also recalled that the team met a “11-year-old boy in Pampore who had been held in a police station between August 5 and 11.” She said that the boy had been beaten up and told the activists that boys even younger than him had been taken into custody from nearby villages.