In Jammu and Kash­mir, a year of loss and suf­fer­ing

Cit­i­zens have been de­nied their demo­cratic free­doms. De­vel­op­ment has got stunted. And the fu­ture is un­cer­tain

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Comment - RADHA KUMAR Radha Kumar is a pol­icy an­a­lyst. Her lat­est book is Par­adise at War: A Po­lit­i­cal His­tory of Kash­mir The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

On Au­gust 5 and 6 last year, the Naren­dra Modi ad­min­is­tra­tion took two steps that fun­da­men­tally al­tered the lives of the peo­ple of Jammu and Kash­mir (J&K). First, it re­moved the special sta­tus that the state en­joyed in the In­dian Union un­der Ar­ti­cle 370 of the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion. Then, Par­lia­ment en­acted the Jammu and Kash­mir Re­or­gan­i­sa­tion Act, which de­moted and di­vided the state into two Union ter­ri­to­ries.

To en­sure that there was no protest against these steps, the Modi ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­rested all the state’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers the day be­fore, ex­cept those be­long­ing to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), im­posed Sec­tion 144, and snapped all com­mu­ni­ca­tions in and with the state.

The BJP claimed these mea­sures would im­prove se­cu­rity, and give the peo­ple of J&K the same rights as pre­vailed in the rest of In­dia. One year has passed. How do we as­sess those claims? Take se­cu­rity first. There has been a sharp rise in in­se­cu­rity on the bor­ders, but some im­prove­ment in­ter­nally. We are still strug­gling to re­verse the Chi­nese in­cur­sions into Ladakh, and cross-bor­der fir­ing by Pak­istan has risen sharply. In­ter­nally, how­ever, there has been a drop of around 30% in ca­su­al­ties com­par­ing Au­gust 2019-July 2020 with the same pe­riod in the pre­ced­ing year. But we also find a ris­ing trend in ca­su­al­ties from April 2020, which is wor­ry­ing. The re­duc­tion in ca­su­al­ties was achieved at con­sid­er­able hu­man cost. Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures given by the J&K ad­min­is­tra­tion, this came at the cost of the de­ten­tion of 6,600 peo­ple — in­clud­ing chil­dren — un­der the dra­co­nian Public Safety Act, the con­tin­u­ous im­po­si­tion of Sec­tion 144 to date, the re­stric­tion of mo­bile tele­phony and In­ter­net to 2G ser­vices, and a new me­dia pol­icy that al­lows se­cu­rity agen­cies to cen­sor me­dia out­lets.

Most of the de­tainees have been grad­u­ally re­leased, but the ma­jor­ity of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers spent any­where be­tween eight-to-11 months in de­ten­tion. Many of them were re­leased only af­ter agree­ing that they would not crit­i­cise the Au­gust ac­tions. For­mer chief min­is­ter Me­hbooba Mufti is still un­der de­ten­tion and there is con­tro­versy over whether Congress leader Sai­fud­din Soz is un­der house ar­rest or not.

Since the Au­gust lock­down was only grad­u­ally be­ing re­laxed when the Covid-19 lock­down was im­posed, J&K has suf­fered one year of clo­sures. Ac­cord­ing to the Kash­mir Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try, busi­nesses across all sec­tors of the econ­omy have lost close to ~40,000 crore in the Val­ley alone. Even dis­count­ing these fig­ures, the eco­nomic cost to the for­mer state as a whole must be even larger.

Losses in ed­u­ca­tion and health are sim­i­larly grave. Schools had just re­opened af­ter the Au­gust lock­down and win­ter va­ca­tions, when the pan­demic struck. On­line classes barely worked on 2G net­works. In a re­cent re­port is­sued by the Fo­rum for Hu­man Rights in Jammu and Kash­mir, of which I am a mem­ber, teach­ers, stu­dents and re­searchers spoke in the same voice about the dam­age done to hu­man de­vel­op­ment, of which ed­u­ca­tion is a crit­i­cal pil­lar. Univer­sity stu­dents of­ten missed col­lege ad­mis­sions, teach­ers and re­searchers could not par­tic­i­pate in con­fer­ences or send pa­pers for pub­li­ca­tion.

Health care pro­fes­sion­als faced the same prob­lems. Doc­tors could not seek spe­cial­ist ad­vice on se­ri­ous ill­nesses or par­tic­i­pate in ex­changes of the lat­est in­for­ma­tion on Covid-19. In the first few months af­ter Au­gust, phar­ma­cies could not get de­liv­er­ies of medicine and clin­ics were closed.

Be­cause of the ban on 4G net­works and the con­tin­u­ous im­po­si­tion of Sec­tion 144, most of these prob­lems per­sist, along with a host of oth­ers. The me­dia has been deeply af­fected, both ed­i­to­ri­ally and fi­nan­cially. Any­one who reads the lo­cal pa­pers can see the dif­fer­ence be­fore and af­ter Au­gust 2019. There is some re­port­ing but no com­ment on ei­ther the Au­gust ac­tions or their im­ple­men­ta­tion over the past year.

Though chal­lenges to the re­moval of special sta­tus and re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of the state are pend­ing in the Supreme Court, the Modi ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­ceeded to im­ple­ment both. New domi­cile rules have re­placed the per­ma­nent res­i­dent cer­tifi­cates, rais­ing fears of fur­ther job and in­dus­try losses as well as long-term fears of losses of land and other priv­i­leges. The lat­ter im­pact Jammu more than the Val­ley; re­port­edly 2.9 lakh ap­pli­ca­tions for domi­cile cer­tifi­cates have been made in Jammu as against 73,000 in the Val­ley.

The past year has been one of a ter­ri­ble loss for the peo­ple of Jammu and Kash­mir. Not only has de­vel­op­ment been rolled back and in­comes fallen, po­lit­i­cal rights to rep­re­sen­ta­tion, civic rights to in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and hu­man rights to free­dom of ex­pres­sion, pro­tec­tion against ar­rest and at­ten­dant rights, to bail or a speedy trial, have all been de­nied.

The only gain has been in counter-in­sur­gency, and that too small in ab­so­lute num­bers. We should, of course, be glad that even a cou­ple of hun­dred lives have been saved — but we should equally ask whether ban­ning 4G has re­ally con­trib­uted to it, and how a dras­tic cur­tail­ment of rights can pos­si­bly be jus­ti­fied in the name of counter-in­sur­gency.

Worst still, we are yet to hear the voices of the peo­ple. One year has passed, but we do not know what they feel about los­ing their special sta­tus un­der Ar­ti­cle 370 and its im­ple­men­ta­tion, or what they feel about be­ing di­vided and turned into two Union Ter­ri­to­ries. We don’t even know whether these gov­ern­ment ac­tions are con­sti­tu­tion­ally valid.

Many ask, what can be done now to win Kash­miri hearts and minds. Af­ter what they have un­der­gone, I am doubt­ful whether for­give­ness will come so easy. But the first step would be to re­store special sta­tus as well as state­hood, hold elec­tions and open a di­a­logue based on the prom­ises made within the In­stru­ment of Ac­ces­sion. The fact that the Modi ad­min­is­tra­tion is un­likely to take these steps does not make them any the less nec­es­sary.

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