India Today - - UPFRONT - By Shougat Das­gupta with Ab­hishek Bhalla in Sri­na­gar/ Tangdhar (LoC)

No one with in­ter­net ac­cess— that is any­one in In­dia who does not live in Kash­mir—can be un­aware of the eerie dis­con­nect be­tween what our gov­ern­ment (and much of our me­dia) is telling us is hap­pen­ing in Kash­mir and what is be­ing re­ported in the for­eign press and in sec­tions of the In­dian me­dia.

On the one hand is an of­fi­cial story of peace and quiet, of a pop­u­la­tion ac­cept­ing of its di­min­ished Union ter­ri­tory sta­tus and per­haps cau­tiously op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture (if not ex­u­ber­ant like those in Jammu and

Ladakh). In this ver­sion, nor­malcy is re­turn­ing, al­beit grad­u­ally, and there have been no demon­stra­tions in­volv­ing more than 20 peo­ple. On the other hand, rep­utable for­eign me­dia have re­ported the use of tear gas and pel­let guns to dis­perse as many as 10,000 protesters. Some In­dian jour­nal­ists too have re­ported the use of pel­let guns and pho­tographed young men, in­clud­ing teenage boys, in hos­pi­tals with se­ri­ous eye in­juries.

It seems that if Eid al-Adha was quiet in the Kash­mir val­ley, it was be­cause the (for­mer) state was en­meshed in a se­cu­rity drag­net. For over a week, the streets have been mostly bare, save for troops and coils of barbed wire. Peo­ple have had to queue for hours for a few snatched min­utes on a tele­phone with fam­ily liv­ing abroad or in other parts of In­dia. The shut­ting down of the in­ter­net is al­ready fa­mil­iar; In­dia leads the world in such shut­downs, the sub­stan­tial ma­jor­ity of which af­fect Kash­mir. “There was a com­plete lock­down. I had come home from Dubai to cel­e­brate the fes­ti­val with my fam­ily,” said Aamir Ahmed, stand­ing out­side a locked mosque in Sri­na­gar. A maulvi at

a Sri­na­gar mosque said the day be­fore Eid, he had been told that “peo­ple would be al­lowed to of­fer na­maaz. Late that night, though, the or­ders were that no one would be al­lowed in.” But an of­fi­cial state­ment from the ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tends that “elab­o­rate ar­range­ments were made to fa­cil­i­tate peo­ple for of­fer­ing prayers”.

Con­versely, along the Line of Con­trol (LoC), se­cu­rity seems less prom­i­nent. In the Tangdhar sec­tor, vil­lagers gath­ered for Fri­day prayers, the night be­fore Eid. Mostly Gu­j­jars, Bakar­wals and Pa­haris, they feel cut off from the Val­ley. They say their iden­tity is dis­tinct, as is their ‘Pa­hari’ lan­guage, and their con­cerns too are less po­lit­i­cal than ex­is­ten­tial, fo­cused on sur­viv­ing poverty and Pak­istani fire. Shop­keeper Mo­hammed Maq­bool says whether Ar­ti­cle 370 “ex­ists or not has no im­pact on our lives. We need bunkers to pro­tect us from shelling”. It is a long­stand­ing ap­peal and though, say sources, 3,000 bunkers have been ap­proved, none has been built. The re­moval of Ar­ti­cle 370 “will be hailed”, says Shab­bir Ahmed Shah, 60, from Tit­wal vil­lage on the LoC, “if it will bring the youth bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and jobs”. He says the peo­ple in his vil­lage are “ex­tremely poor and of­ten face dis­crim­i­na­tion from Kash­miris, so if re­mov­ing Ar­ti­cle 370 brings us closer to the main­stream, that would be great”.

Young peo­ple in the bor­der ar­eas echoed these con­cerns. Jobs, they said, were in short sup­ply, even in Sri­na­gar. First-year BA stu­dent Am­jad Dar said vil­lages along the LoC “need de­vel­op­ment”.

In Tangdhar, along the LoC, vil­lagers are more con­cerned about sur­vival is­sues and the con­struc­tion of bunkers to duck Pak­istani fire

Rafiq Ahmed, pre­par­ing for his 12th stan­dard ex­ams, says “if re­mov­ing Ar­ti­cle 370 can bring jobs and se­cu­rity, our lives will change”. Gu­j­jars in Kash­mir, says A.R. Bad­hana, a for­mer mem­ber of the state leg­is­la­ture, “have al­ways sup­ported In­dia and are proud of it”. Re­mov­ing Ar­ti­cle 370 is wel­come, he adds, “but full state­hood should have re­mained”.

Any such dis­cus­sion, though, has been vi­ti­ated by pol­i­tics and pro­pa­ganda. “Ter­ror­ists in Pak­istan-oc­cu­pied Kash­mir,” said Lieu­tenant Gen­eral K.J.S. Dhillon, com­man­der of the Sri­na­gar-based 15 Corps, “are mak­ing in­fil­tra­tion bids ev­ery night, but we are able to de­tect and stop them.” So, is the threat of ter­ror the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for im­ped­ing all com­mu­ni­ca­tion and free­dom of move­ment for or­di­nary Kash­miris? Is there a time-ta­ble for the restora­tion of nor­mal ser­vices? The Cen­tre is mum, and amid the in­for­ma­tion lock­down, news and opin­ion seem to have de­volved into a test of pa­tri­o­tism. ■

GROUND RE­PORT Kash­miris dur­ing a protest af­ter Eid al-Adha prayers in Sri­na­gar

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