First Person | The Quicksand of Kashmir

A year after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, the situation remains dire

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

On 5 August 2020, people of Kashmir ushered in the first anniversary of the day that was to change their destiny for good with a curfew. Perhaps, it was appropriate too. After all, 5 August 2019 did start with a curfew. If curfew is the fate, might as well get used to it.

Lifestyle gurus are wont to quote a line, ‘Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans’ from John Lennon’s song Beautiful Boy. He probably would have never thought that his song would fit the Kashmir template so well. Change is what happens in Kashmir when the people are locked-up in their homes. Except that nothing really happens in Kashmir. Change is merely a cycle of sameness. And so, on August 5, Kashmiris ushered in the anniversary of sameness.

Anniversaries come with the certainty of response—celebration, commemoration or reflection. It is rare for an anniversary to elicit confusion. But with Kashmir, everything is possible.

So, here we are marking one year of the abrogation of Article 370—basically an anniversary of removal of pretence about who really called the shots in the state of Jammu and Kashmir—and even officially there is confusion about how exactly the year should be summed up. Nothing can describe the present state better than the Hindi proverb, jitney muh utni baatein (as many versions as people).

Ironically, in this cacophony, the voices of the primary stakeholders, the Kashmiri people themselves, are silenced. Their sentiments about the life altering change in their lives are irrelevant to the larger picture that the government of India believes it is looking at. Of course, belief has seldom to do with reality, but that’s another story. Meanwhile, in Kashmir, even the government is speaking in different voices.

Srinagar’s famous Lal Chowk after the abrogation of Articles 370 & 35A

Other Voices

While on the one hand, the Union home minister Amit Shah asserted in Rajya Sabha as early as November 2019 that the situation was ‘normal’ in Kashmir, that there was no curfew in any police station areas of the valley; on the other hand, as late as May 2020, the senior-most army officer in the valley, GOC 15 Corps Lt Gen. B.S. Raju, told PTI that, “The back of terrorism is virtually broken. Because of the success in eliminating terrorists operating in the hinterland, we expect cross-border infiltration to increase in the summer season... I anticipate more attempts to replenish the depleting cadres… All the terrorist camps and around 15 launchpads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) are full.”

These are not the only two voices on Kashmir. In the run up to the first anniversary on August 5, Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir G.C. Murmu told Indian Express in an interview on July 26, “We have been making (a) representation for this… I feel that 4G will not be a problem. I am not afraid how people will use this. Pakistan will do its propaganda, whether it is 2G or 4G. It will always be there… But I don’t see an issue.”

The home ministry was swift to respond. Three days later, it told the Supreme Court that 4G cannot be restored in the valley. If there is one thing that the government cannot be blamed for, it is lack of consistency. Earlier on July 21, in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, the home ministry had said that the special committee formed to review the security situation in the valley has decided against restoring high speed internet. The ministry had then assured the court that it will continue to monitor the situation over the next two months.

This was in line with its approach even last year, when Amit Shah, despite claims of normalcy had told Rajya Sabha with regards to internet that ‘there were activities by Pakistan too in Kashmir region, so keeping security in mind, whenever the local authority deems it fit, a decision will be taken.’ Incidentally, 2G internet services were restored a few months ago because of Covid-19 pandemic.

Hence, while the home ministry insists that the security situation remains a matter of concern, its executive arms on the ground—the police—speaks differently. In an interview to FORCE (in this issue), director general of Jammu and Kashmir Police, Dilbag Singh says, “Security situation is well under control and we are far better today. Post abrogation, Jammu and Kashmir Police and other forces deployed in the valley have shown responsibility and professionalism in maintaining peace and order. There has been no firing to maintain law and order. The people of Jammu and Kashmir, too, have been supportive in maintaining peace.”

Despite the feel-good vibes created by the officers posted in the valley, it seemed that the government was not keen to indulge in triumphalism to mark the first anniversary. In fact, it appeared that it almost wanted to draw attention away from Kashmir by creating another landmark event on August 5—laying of the foundation stone of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. The event was presided over by none other than the Prime Minister.

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