Kashmir: No light at the end of the tunnel - GulfToday

Kashmir: No light at the end of the tunnel

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.


Protesters clash with police in Srinagar. File/ AFP

Tomorrow, September 4, Jammu and Kashmir completes one agonising month under the unprecedented lockdown imposed by the Centre to scotch protests against abrogation of the state’s special status under the Constitution and division into two Union Territories.

Neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Home Minister Amit Shah, who piloted the legislative measures to give effect to the government’s decision, now mentions Kashmir in public utterances. They seem to believe the issue, which has aroused grave concern in India and abroad, will go away if they remain silent about it.

The Governor, Sat Pal Malik, who does the talking, comes up with inane remarks. J&K leaders in detention can get political mileage by staying in jail, he said last week. Currently J&K is in a limbo. It has practically ceased to be a state but the two proposed UTs will come into being only on October 31.

The administration has become a laughing stock, making claims that run counter to known facts. On several occasions it announced relaxation of restrictions only to reimpose them quickly as the situation threatened to get out of control.

The national media, especially TV channels, have been accepting the administration’s claims unquestioningly and publicising them. But nuggets from local reporters working for foreign media from behind the Iron Curtain indicate that the valley is once again going through days of stone-throwing by boys and firing of pellets by security personnel. Reports of torture have also surfaced.

Initially the administration said the lockdown had put an end to terrorism. Later it admitted there had been a couple of encounters between militants and security forces. Complaints by the family of a soldier from Tamil Nadu, who was killed in an encounter, suggest that, contrary to recent practice, bodies are not being sent home.

Casualties among combatants and civilians are not heavy. But the clampdown on information leaves the field open for rumour-mongers. The worst part of the prolonged lockdown, without a parallel even in the valley’s chequered history, is the enormous hardship caused by lack of food and medicine.

Kashmiris living elsewhere have complained that they are unable to contact parents or children who are in the valley. Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, while speaking at an event last week, referred to the communication blackout and said when people stored everything in their hearts and were unable to tell anyone “it is the biggest punishment”.

His statement raises the question whether the repressive measures also involve psychological warfare against the people.

Doctors at Srinagar’s main hospital have reported a spate of cases of anxiety, resulting from panic attacks. The worst-affected are children. The lockdown had a huge impact on their psyche, and it could turn them into persons with a negative mindset, a doctor said.

There are reports of security personnel picking up children from homes in midnight raids and leaving them a few days later as there was no evidence of their involvement in protests. The police routinely detain political leaders flying into Srinagar and pack them off by the next available flight. Obviously the administration does not want them to meet people and get firsthand information on the situation in the valley.

The Centre appears to have lost its plot. The steps it took have no doubt strengthened its macho image among Hindutva elements. But is unable to take any meaningful step to restore normalcy, and there is no sign of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Hopes are now centred on the Supreme Court, which has before it more than a dozen petitions seeking restoration of the constitutional system in the state. The petitioners include political parties or their leaders as well as concerned citizens.

When the first petitions came, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said he was inclined to give the government time to restore normalcy. Last week the court admitted a petition by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of the Kashmir Times, challenging the curbs on the media. It asked the Centre and the state to respond within a week.

The court allowed Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury to visit his party colleague and former J&K legislator Yusuf Tarigami, about whose safety he had voiced concern.

The court directed the government to allow Yechury to meet Tarigami. The police picked up Yechury from Srinagar airport and took him straight to Tarigami, who is detained in his own house. He was not allowed to contact anyone else during the visit.

The court later said a five-judge constitution bench will take up the petitions challenging abolition of the state’s special status in October. That means Kashmir may have no relief for another month.

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