Kashmir situation is anything but ‘normal’, suggests report by Nandini Sundar and Nitya Ramakrishnan
A report published by sociologist Nandini Sundar and advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan summarising their visit of Kashmir Valley suggests that the situation is anything but “normal” there
A report published by sociologist Nandini Sundar and advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan summarising their visit and observation of Kashmir Valley between 5th and 9th October 2019; suggests not everything is “Normal” in the valley. Speaking to approximately 75 people, and observing, markets, people and the surroundings they conducted a thorough search for some common questions.
The state of the peoples’ mind
There is a complete hartal across the state, in spite of unadorned economic and educational losses. Since the complete leadership is in jail – from ordinary parties to the separatist parties, this satyagraha is being carried out by the people themselves. There is some social compulsion, but by and large, this is completely self-invoked. Unlike what is reported in full page advertisements by the government, none of this is with the will of the militants.
People are also not interested in the complete integration with India, especially now that this promise has come with an inhumane communication blockade that has lasted over two months now. People are increasingly upset over this, feeling more alienation from India than before.
Journalism and Law
Kashmiri is censored at every step, with Orwellian wild statements that people are happy, and Kashmir is “normal”. GOI runs full page advertisements promoting their benevolence in making everything okay, how the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A are both wonderful for the people. The national television media is simply a disgrace since they are collaborating with the government in the pretence that everything is normal. The correspondents for national media have reported abuse and torture devotedly but the news is not always carried. They observed that in over two months, there has not been a single editorial in Kashmir on Article 370. Everybody feels that they are being pushed back to the stone age without phones and internet.
The High Court is hardly functioning. Lawyers told us that some 300 habeas corpus petitions had been filed but the court gave generous time to the government by which time the petitions became fruitless. There were hardly any private lawyers. Of the approximately 75 plus people they spoke to, not a single person we met was happy with the abrogation of Article 370 and obliteration of Article 35A, as well as the change of the state into a UT. Almost every single person wanted azadi.
People are facing huge economic losses due to curfew-turned-hartal. Although there are now officially no restrictions, the uncertainty over where the government has re-imposed restrictions continues.
One taxi driver who was earlier employed at Rs 8000 pm is now earning Rs. 5000. An auto driver said he used to run a hotel with 16 rooms but since there were no tourists, he was now driving an auto.
Shops are open only from 7-9 am. The hartal is largely voluntary but there is also some social enforcement. They found a couple of establishments (restaurants) that had started staying open all day. It may be that people will slowly inch back to keeping open their businesses, out of compulsion. However, one apple grower they met said he was “willing to lose 9-10 lakhs every year by not harvesting and selling his apples if it gets us azadi.”
Houseboat owners, workers, and everyone dependent on tourism has been particularly badly hit. One houseboat owner with a five-room houseboat said he lost 7 lakhs this year. A shopkeeper who sells perfumes sourced from Gujarat to tourists on houseboats said that due to the communications blackout, he was not able to contact his suppliers, and anyway, what would be the point since there were no buyers.
This year eid was hardly celebrated. Around Qalamabad in Kupwara, the police went around villages and it was prohibited to gather in Idgahs or to use loudspeakers. People had to offer eid namaz in their local mosques. There was no namaz in the Qalamchakla Idgah either.
A college teacher said that she and other colleagues have been going periodically to college, but no students come. On 9 October when colleges officially opened, there were almost no students that they could see. While schools are technically open, no children are going to school. The teachers mark attendance for a couple of hours a day, sometimes 2-3 times a week. A six-year-old girl in Soura Srinagar said she was scared to go to school because “police uncle goli marenge”. Rural schools are shut. Even if it’s within the locality, the armed forces are everywhere, and people are scared they may be some incident/shootout.
Children being detained
Both in Pulwama and Srinagar, we were told that children fear their own homes, worried they would be picked up. They sleep at a grandmother’s or other relatives. For a year or more, the army has been carrying out a census of households in villages. After August 5th, it was thus easy for them to target families with youth.
Speaking to a child who had been picked up from a mosque in Srinagar (now released), they found the six-year-old child is now interested in playing with guns and thinks of them all the time. Small children, some as young as six years, are being picked up and kept for a day to several days or asked to report morning to evening for several days. Most often there is no record of their detention.
In SB village, Shopian, four children aged between 8-14, had been picked up in May 2019 and released. They met some of them and their parents.
In SS village, Shopian district, 20 children (approx.) between the ages of 12 and 20 were picked up and kept for 15-20 days.
Torture and Custodial deaths
They met two brothers, Shabir Ahmad Sofi, aged 25 and Muzafffar Ahmad Sofi, aged 23 years, along with their father Sanaullah Sofi, at their home in Parigam village, Pulwama. The family runs a nanwai (bread) and bakery. On the night of August 6, the army first knocked on the door of the chowkidar, Abdul Ghani, and told him to call a man called Qayoom Ahmad Wani who runs a kirana (groceries) shop. Qayoom was then used to show them the way to the baker’s house. When Sanaullah opened the door, the army asked for his sons (they knew them because of the prior census, the boys had not had any previous charges).
Inayat Ahmad of Soura, shopkeeper, was arrested on August 29 for speaking to Al Jazeera and participating in protests, booked under Public Safety Act.
Riyaz Ahmad had just returned from labour in Ladakh when the police came on 2nd September and summoned him to the thana in connection with a year-old timber smuggling FIR. On the 3rd the police went to his uncle, Jamaldeen Shabangi’s house and took him to the PS. There they informed him that his nephew had committed suicide with the drawstring of his salwar. After Riyaz died in police custody there was a procession from Heral to Varpura, Qalmabad, but the police fired tear gas. They then seized the dead body and forcibly got it buried near his home before anyone could come. His uncle Jamaldeen was hit on the face during the protest.