Kashmir a year after: A lot happened since August 5, 2019  

A year has passed since the extinction of a promise for freedom from an oppressive state, a promise that has remained a promise

Kashmir a year after: A lot happened since August 5, 2019   

Wajahat Habibullah

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was to become free India’s Home Minister, had in a message of June, 1947 urged Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir that “the States Department were prepared to give an assurance that if Kashmir went to Pakistan, this would not be regarded as unfriendly by Government of India.”

Yet, in face of a Pakistani invasion in what is now history, Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India to the rhythm of Amir Khusrau’s poetry recited by its popular leader Sheikh Abdullah at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk: ‘Mun tushudamtumunshudi, Mun tun shudamtujaanshudi (I have become you and you me, I am the body, you the soul).

This had been primarily a Kashmiri movement, drawing almost universal Kashmiri support in a Muslim majority state where the Kashmiris were the largest single ethnic group. Despite efforts by Maharaja Hari Singh’s prime minister Ram Chandra Kak in eliciting Abdullah’s support for independence, the latter stood steadfast in his demand for an end to the monarchy. As Abdullah made clear to Joseph Korbel,who headed the UN Commission for India and Pakistan, Kashmir could enjoy true freedom only as part of India.

But the questions framed by that very Abdullah in his speech at Mujahid Manzil, Empress Nur Jahan’s mosque that was his party’s headquarters, on the eve of the conclusion of the Beg–Parthasarathy talks that led to the 1975 Indira– Sheikh Accord remain relevant to this day.

Referring to the state of emotional integration since 1953, Abdullah asked, ‘Do you honestly feel that the foundations of democracy and secularism are more stable than before? Can you honestly dare say that the shackles of distrust between Kashmiris and India are broken? ... Have the people here got the clean administration which they have long yearned for? Were they freed from the morass of unemployment and poverty?’

The answers to Abdullah’s questions are clear today.

After the accord of 1975 came the Rajiv–Farooq Accord in J&K, which seeking to escape the weaknesses of earlier accords, specifically addressed social and economic issues together with its political content, which was central. It sought to generate popular support with common development goals. In this, it failed.

But by taking recourse to removing even the fiction of freedom when Jammu & Kashmir was stripped of its statehood after the withdrawal of special status under Article 370 and a tight shutdown imposed, Kashmir was left with images of roads blocked with coils of concertina wire, protesters left blind by pellets, militants’ bombs tearing lives apart, mothers at police stations awaiting news of their sons. Years of militancy and largescale militarisation have taken a toll on the mental health of generations of Kashmiris. Last August the isolation was complete.

Describing Kashmir as being imprisoned in intellectual, political, constitutional, strategic and moral lockdowns, Pratap Bhanu Mehta (Covid lockdown is seen as a cover for Jammu and Kashmir -Indian Express May 16, 2020) cites as ‘the latest exhibit’ the Supreme Court’s order in the petitions asking for restoration of 4G access in Kashmir.

By referring the matter back to a committee led by the home ministry, he says that the court has created a new precedent violating every principle of natural justice. “It implies,” he says “that the home ministry can be plaintiff, judge, executioner, jury in its own cause. It will not be held to account when it abridges the liberties of Indian citizens”. He accuses the judges of having been ‘offensively inhumane’, and India’s legal luminaries and elites of ‘cowardly lack of outrage.’ For Kashmir, he protests, the Indian Constitution is no portal of hope, but the oppressive dead end.

Looked at from the government’s own yardstick, which is security, Mehta asks if India is strategically more secure in Kashmir. His answer is: No. Terrorism has only increased, even with a limited number of terrorists. And that abrogation of Article 370 without so much as a nod by the representatives of the people of J&K has mortally wounded our international image in the eyes of friends encouraging jealous neighbours into an ominous fit of adventurism.

A group of eminent jurists, academics, former civil servants and officers from the defence services, from across the country, including many hailing from J&K calling themselves The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir has in its first report covering the period August 2019-July 2020 found the economic, social and political impact of these actions, and their long duration – eleven months thus far –disastrous.

Kashmir a year after: A lot happened since August 5, 2019   

All the former state’s industries have suffered severely, pushing the majority into loan defaults or closure; widespread loss of jobs or salary deferment. The centuries old handicraft industry solely reliant on 4G networks that are available in the rest of the country for its production, assemblage and marketing has languished. Closures of schools and universities without access to distance learning with the suspension of all communication has disrupted education; the limiting of networks to 2G has made it impossible for online classes to function.

Graduate students and teachers have been unable to participate in conferences or have their papers published, causing wilful harm to their careers and violating the rights to education under the Indian constitution; healthcare suspended altogether to begin with has remained severely restricted by curfew and roadblocks; the local and regional media was silenced and remains muted.

PrernaKoul Mishra (New guidelines deliver final blow to Kashmir’s iconic houseboat industry, July 3, 2020, India Today) finds Tourism Department’s draft Houseboat Policy unimaginative. The initiative has come after three decades of issuing no licences. The draft policy now in the public domain, supposedly for deliberation with stakeholders, outlining norms and guidelines for registration, renewal, and operation of houseboats in the Dal and Nageen lakes, fails to account for the fact that it will be impossible to assemble all stakeholders either physically or virtually, given internet restrictions in the Valley.

And as pointed out by the Forum for Human Rights counter-insurgency concerns have been given absolute priority over public, civilian and human security, leading to an across the-board violation of human rights.

The new domicile rules introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Jammu and Kashmir administration, moreover, erode prior employment protections for permanent residents of the former state.

Journalists have been harassed and even had draconian charges slapped on them, for example under the UAPA. The new media policy, which introduces censorship by the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) in coordination with security agencies, abandons every pretence at freedom of the press or the freedom of expression, although the 2005 RTI Act is supposedly functional.

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