Kashmir: 10 Million Dead Phones and No One to Say ‘Hello’
How does a place look like when 10 million mobile phones and their talkative owners are shut down forcibly for a month and more? How does the place look like when concertina wires are used to block the movement of people to their schools, colleges, offices, courts, hospitals and to playgrounds? When the markets are shut endlessly and the economy has been totally destroyed? When 8 million people stay indoors from fear of arbitrary detention and the stares of impersonal, armed paramilitary forces?
Then, truly speaking, can this place be called normal?
Over the last 40 days (at the time of writing) the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been racked by these descriptions and worse after the central government led by the BJP annulled Article 370 and 35 A and fulfilled the Sangh Parivar's long-held promise to end the special status conferred on J&K and ‘integrated’ it with the rest of the country. The BJP diminished J&K’s status from statehood to a Union Territory and created a separate UT in Ladakh and Kargil. In doing so, they have sent a dark message to the country that neither the Constitution or courts nor elected state assemblies and a federal structure can stop them from re-carving the boundaries of the state to fulfill their sectarian and polarising ideological agenda.
To be fair to the BJP, its ideological mother ship, the Rashtriya SwayamSevak Sangh (RSS), has been campaigning for the removal of Article 370 for long. It found its separate flag and its own Constitution abhorrent. What riled the party more was that the demographics were in favor of the Muslims, more so after the Kashmiri Pandits were bussed out some years ago by the then Governor Jagmohan for reasons of safety. Worse, the ratcheting up of violence in the name of azadi (freedom) and the manner in which it acquired a virulent religious spin, buttressed the BJP’s point that the Kashmir issue could not be dealt by constitutional methods as it allowed Pakistan’s interference, which had been demanding a plebiscite since independence and had contributed to providing ideological and physical support to the cause of secessionists.
The BJP government at the Centre has sent a dark message to the country that neither the Constitution or courts, nor elected state assemblies and a federal structure can stop them from re-carving the boundaries of the state to fulfill their sectarian and polarising ideological agenda.
In its manifesto, the BJP had offered consultations with stakeholders, which could mean talking with other national and regional parties and taking up the matter in the assembly. The BJP did none of that. Instead, it arrested hundreds of politicians, lawyers, traders, and party workers. It also drove civil society leaders and many young people behind bars, including outside the state and in unknown detention centers. Politicians who swore by the Indian Constitution like Farooq Abdullah and his son, Omar, Mehmooba Mufti and scores of mainstream politicians were put away in Centaur Hotel in Srinagar and at other locations. Strangely, Home Minister Amit Shah had earlier declared Farooq Abdullah free on the floor of Parliament. When a petition was filed to summon the 83-year-old politician to Delhi, the government quietly reported that he has been put away under the draconian Public Safety Act, which has the provision to keep alleged “violators” for two years in jail. That the opposition has protested this draconian move against an eminent former chief minister makes little difference to a muscular BJP and its government. Listening to contrary opinion or respecting dissent in a democracy does not seem the principles which guide its paradigm of maximum or minimum governance.
After putting away all these pro and anti-India leaders behind bars, the government, with the help of a friendly and loyalist media which basically celebrates pro-government propaganda and fake news, has been claiming widespread normalcy, including in the volatile and suffocated valley which is in a complete lockdown with army everywhere and all communication lines blocked. Except for Jammu and Ladakh, the valley is under siege.
The government has flown gullible reporters in helicopters to show how peaceful and green the valley is. This graveyard peace was disputed with evidence by the western media and sections of Indian media (including Hardnews) to show that protests were taking place all over Kashmir and in Srinagar. Kashmiris are worried about the implications of this forcible merger. They have heard disquieting and indecent voices of sexist triumphalism from BJP leaders promising their supporters "fair Kashmiri brides". There are others who are worried whether they could retain their properties after the predatory finance backed by majoritarian politics began to pick up land, houseboats and the rest. What will happen to their social and economic identity?
The government has flown gullible reporters in helicopters to show how peaceful and green the valley is. This graveyard peace was disputed with evidence by the western media and sections of Indian media (including Hardnews) to show that protests were taking place all over Kashmir and in Srinagar.
There are thousands of worries all shut down by dead phones. Imagine when life returns in these tiny devices and people talk with each other, what will happen. Will they agitate when they know what happened to their lives when barbed wires blocked their way to the famous mosques on important religious occasions, or how daily life became a virtual suffocating jail? The big question is, how will the Kashmiris react as and when life gets normal? Indeed, if at all life gets normal, considering the fact that the regime in Delhi seems completely bereft of sensitivity or compassion.
If they behave like everyone expects them to be, then violence and unrest might hit such an unprecedented level that the central government just cannot imagine its proportions. Pakistan, which has been campaigning against New Delhi in international fora, hopes that the streets and roads will fill up with agitators that will demand azadi. The Indian government agencies are on the razor’s edge as they haven’t faced the hybrid attacks that have been visible in Kabul or Syria -- if a bunch of fanatic Islamic State fighters enter the Kashmir valley and engage the security forces. These are worrying times, but we may still hope to pray for peace in the days to come before the 'normalcy of violence returns' when phones start ringing again. Truly, between peace and resistance, angst and anger, imprisonment and freedom, its a volcanic and tragic situation in Kashmir. And its the BJP-led regime which should take all the credit for this abysmal mess.