Kashmir after nine months lockdown

Prof Upendra Kaul

It is nine months since the demotion of Jammu and Kashmir to a union territory. This population has always been better than the national average in terms of education, employment, and wealth. A review of this period and the achievements by a frequent visitor could make a meaningful analysis.

It all began from 1st August when I, along with a team went to the valley to conduct a medical camp organized through the local authorities in Kangan, a picturesque township with a mixed ethnic population on way to the beautiful Sona Marg meadow. On our arrival there we were told that the camp may not be possible because there was a news in the air that something adverse is in offing. An additional 38,000 troops had been sent to the valley a few days back for no announced reasons. One of the talks going around was that the Indian state had finally decided to invade Pakistan Administered Kashmir and unite the two parts as was often reiterated in the election speeches. There were signs of anxious looks on the people, long queues at the petrol pumps in the city and also people buying and stocking rations including things of daily necessity.

The morning of 2nd August was full of advisories being announced asking one lakh pilgrims on way to the holy cave of Amar Nath to immediately return because of security reasons. The route is always very well guarded by the security forces well in advance. Next announcement was that all tourists from the valley should immediately pack up and leave for their homes by the 4th of August.  Airlines were given directions to advance the tickets of tourists and pilgrims without levying any extra charges. We also dejectedly changed our tickets and came back on 4th of August.

Came 5th August and the Home Minister in the parliament announced the decision of setting aside article 370 and 35 A. Bifurcation of the state into 2 union territories. All the methods of communications including telephones were cut off. Army started patrolling streets and people were caged in their homes. All the political leaders including block presidents and thousands of people including prominent lawyers arrested. They were put under house arrest or sent to un-disclosed places. These included 3 past Chief Ministers and their key associates including Farooq Abdullah who has been an un flinched supporter of the Kashmir’s accession to India.

Consequences of this sudden lock down and disruption of communications and the miseries faced by Kashmiris can now be understood better with the COVID-19 experience by people of India and world.

I was interviewed by a National TV Channel on the 6th of August since I had seen Kashmir during these days of un-certainty. I narrated whatever I saw about the prevailing atmosphere in the valley. Few weeks later on 30th of August I was summoned by the National Investigations Agency (NIA) for some case of a Hawala transaction of 2017 at a very short notice. It finally turned out to be a misinterpretation of the term INR (international Normalized Ratio) a blood coagulation parameter with the currency code for Indian Rupee. Whether this summon was just coincidental or a move to warn me against speaking out the truth publicly is anybody’s guess?

With the leaders in jails, there was spontaneous resistance, protests and show of unity by way of shutdown of all the shops for several months. Tourism industry has been nearly shut, hotels and house boats are empty. The season’s booming business of apples, dry fruits, saffron and handicrafts plummeted to a new low and very little exports leading to losses in all the fields.

Patients faced enormous difficulty in reaching hospitals for seeking treatment, medicines became scarce. Students lost academic sessions because educational institutions including schools remained closed till March 2020 till the Corona -19 arrived on the scene and the lock down got extended.  Nine months down the line there are as yet no signs or programs of development.

The administration and civic amenities in the valley went for a toss. Most of the non-Kashmiri labour which fled or was driven out from the valley and now complicated by the Corona virus fear is unlikely to return. The roads are in a pathetic condition with pot holes all over, electricity wires at innumerable places have fallen and are touching the ground posing a serious threat of electrocutions. The whole atmosphere is very gloomy and hopeless with psychiatric problems especially depression seeing an upsurge.  People are very scared to open up because of the fear of getting beaten up and arrested. The recent happenings in East Delhi and the campaigns of harassment and spread of hate against minorities has further shaken the people’s morale and the present regimens promise is not being taken seriously.

The present regimen wants to scrap important events linked with the late Sheikh Abdullah, an undisputed leader of Kashmiri’s. The other thing being introduced is changing the names like: Kashmir’s water supply department is now Jal Shakti department. The Chenani-Nasri Tunnel on the national high way has been named after Hindutva ideologue Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. The Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium is going to be named Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium and many similar changes are on the cards. This is how the present dispensation thinks a complete integration with India will come.

What is required is to gain the confidence of people by engaging with their spokesmen and finding out democratic ways of solving the issue. Majority of the people of the valley in fact had reconciled to the fact that their future is best served by living peacefully and these draconian measures were uncalled for.  A government which can afford to keep 1 million security forces in J&K can easily rehabilitate 50,000 Kashmiri Pundit families living outside the valley by solving their issues amicably, instead of using them as a political tool.

A new scare has now engulfed the valley like all parts of the world with more than 700 cases testing positive till date with an increasing trend. It is time to understand the difficulties people have been facing during the last 9 months in particular and take an empathetic attitude. This will also help to solve the lingering issue of 70 years by ultimately discussing it with all the stakeholders through their true representatives. It is never too late. What is required is to have a vision and a will to do it like Sh Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh, who had started this process for lasting peace in the sub-continent. Closing doors is not an option.

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