TO THE proud Kashmiris, the conversion of their state into a mere union territory would be seen as utter humiliation, even by those who were previously well-disposed and in favour of the prime minister Narendra Modi’s abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. This has been a brutal move of suppression or coercion, which in any case has never been known to bring either peace or prosperity to the disturbed region.
The timing of the government’s clampdown on Kashmir was also strange. Modi has just been re-elected with an impressive majority at a time when the faltering economy needed urgent attention and foreign investment was not forthcoming Why risk adverse international publicity by such a draconian measure? Was, one wonders, the action driven by majoritarian hubris to rid India of its only Muslim-majority state?
In the days after August 5, I had several conversations on Kashmir with my friends of Indian origin whom I have known for many years in America.
Contrary to my beliefs, most of them have carried their personal pride and emotion. They enthusiastically approved of the abrogation of Article 370. It was the general belief that the status quo was unacceptable and something had to be done to break it. Obviously, they were very optimistic about the outcome of this radical rupture; perhaps the consensus was that Kashmir had been legally ‘integrated’. This would create fresh waves of investments flowing into the Valley, thereby resulting in the subsequent economic prosperity — which likely, would prevail over any remaining sectarian discontent.
Time has moved forward quickly. It is now more than three months since the abrogation of Article 370. The current news reaching us from the Valley suggests, sadly, that my allayed fears and apprehension have persisted and that hopes and aspirations my Indian friends shared with me faded away in the new spin of realities.
Fresh reports in daily news media suggest crippling economic losses — Rs 10,000 crore and counting — suffered by workers, artisans, and small traders because of the security blanket and communications shutdown in Kashmir.
A week after the abrogation of Article 370, India’s richest industrialist, Mukesh Ambani, promised to announce a wave of investments by Reliance in Jammu and Kashmir. He talked of setting up a ‘special task force’ for this purpose. The governor of Jammu and Kashmir, meanwhile, said a special investors’ summit would be held in Srinagar in September. I could say at once that this was mere a display of posturing. And so it has turned out. Mukesh Ambani has stayed conspicuously silent on Kashmir since while the government’s own planned ‘investment summit’ has been postponed indefinitely.
Promises of more jobs, more factories — this has been what the Kashmiris have got instead, since August 5. There are more troops and greater restrictions. This has angered them immensely, pushing even the more moderate among them away from identification with India. The lawyer Nitya Ramakrishnan and the sociologist Nandini Sundar recently journeyed through the Valley, meeting a wide cross-section of ordinary Kashmiris.
They have also reported: ‘the constituency for Pakistan has increased drastically, along with those who regard Hurriyat leader (Syed Ali Shah) Geelani as their principal leader. There are no takers for the so-called full integration that the government of India is promising post-370, especially given that this promise has come with a communication blockade, heavy military presence, severe repression, and the denial of fundamental rights which in theory, are made available to every Indian citizen.’
Ramakrishnan and Sundar have found that the Kashmiris had chosen to show their anger and discontent through Gandhian-style satyagraha. Thus ‘the Shopian fruit mandi was completely closed with not even trucks parked outside. One grower we met said he was prepared to lose lakhs if the hartal helped to get azadi.’
Meanwhile, reportedly, ‘schools are technically open, but no children are going to school. The teachers continue to mark attendance for a couple of hours a day, sometimes two or three times a week. A six-year-old girl in Soura Srinagar said she was really scared to go to school because “police uncle goli marenge” [will shoot].
‘Life must go on. Parents don’t want to send their children to school with such heavy militarisation and without phones… Rural schools are shut. Even if it’s within the locality, the armed forces are everywhere and people are scared they [sic] may be some incident/shootout.’
Ramakrishnan and Sundar have noted: ‘While people hate the Indian government, they displayed enormous hospitality and graciousness to us as ordinary Indians. They have no problem with Indians si long as they are not from the media.
The increased suffering of the Kashmiris post-August 5 is also documented in another report, prepared by the mental health professionals, Anirudh Kala and Brinelle D’Souza, the writer Revati Laul and the social activist Shabnam Hashmi. This foursome travelled through five districts, speaking to a wide cross-section of the citizenry. They write that ‘Kashmir is riddled with fear that spiral binds itself in sharp concertina wire around the valley. There are stories of torture, arrests, even of young boys detained under the draconian Public Safety Act.’
The report by Kala and others is very rich and detailed; it runs to 70 pages. Here are some quotes from ordinary Kashmiris:
‘TV is all saffronised. (The) crap that they’re dishing out to the public.’
‘Can you live without a phone for even an hour?’
‘They can subjugate us physically, but mentally they can’t.’
‘There is a loss of trust, a feeling of deep betrayal, humiliation! There was a strong pro-India sentiment before August 5. We used to say Pakistan is not a democracy, there is no secularism there!’
‘The middle ground has been lost forever. The pro-Azadi and pro-Pakistan sentiment was actually not substantial. But today people are talking about Azadi.’
The group also visited Jammu where they found that the initial euphoria about the government’s decision had disappeared now that its awful costs became apparent. The economy of Jammu and the economy of Kashmir had always been intimately connected. Now, with trade, travel, tourism and transport between these two regions coming to a halt, many Jammu residents were feeling the pinch.
As one personas bitterly remarked, ‘The biggest fallout of 370 is in Jammu. The taxi business has failed, hotel failed, transport failed, tourist failed’.
Another Jammu trader said: ‘We are in the Dussehra season. The wholesale market, the mandi, is normally so crowded there’s no place to stand. Now it’s desolate. Empty.’
It is important that these two reports are widely understood. These write ups have demonstrated that the abrogation of Article 370 has backfired, horribly. It has furthered the alienation of Kashmiris from the rest of the country, placed unwanted (and unnecessary) burdens on security forces, brought much adverse publicity for India in the foreign press and diverted attention from the economic and institutional renewal, that is so vital to India’s future.
In seeking to boost the Kashmiris, the Modi government has succeeded only in pushing India towards harm’s way. Towards embarrassment, and further in the direction of chaos. August 5, 2019 has been a dismal day in the history of India.
Nazarul Islam is a former educator based in Chicago.
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