THE LOUD SI­LENCE

THE VAL­LEY IS QUIET, BUT IT IS FAR FROM PEACE­FUL. THE GOVERN­MENT CLAM­P­DOWN HAS KEPT THE LID ON AN AN­GRY POP­U­LA­TION, WAIT­ING FOR RE­STRIC­TIONS TO LIFT EVEN AS IT STRUG­GLES WITH THE EV­ERY­DAY

India Today - - INSIDE - By Ab­hishek Bhalla and Moazum Mo­ham­mad in Sri­na­gar Pho­to­graphs by YASIR IQBAL

An un­easy peace rules in J&K as Kash­miris seethe over their down­graded sta­tus; the Cen­tre main­tains all is well

PLUS

Q+A with Ram Mad­hav

Good­bye to Kash­miriyat by A.S. Du­lat Fear and Anger Runs Deep by Jean Drèze

ON THE MORN­ING OF Eid al-Adha in Sri­na­gar, a young boy in spot­less, if creased, kurta-pyjamas is try­ing but fail­ing to keep his sheep un­der con­trol. The sheep, per­haps sens­ing its impending sac­ri­fice, tries to make a run for it and be­comes en­tan­gled in the coiled mesh at one of the se­cu­rity check­points that have blan­keted the city since Au­gust 5, when the govern­ment an­nounced its in­ten­tion to do away with Ar­ti­cle 370 which con­ferred spe­cial sta­tus and au­ton­omy on Kash­mir. An­tic­i­pat­ing protests, the govern­ment had cleared Kash­mir of tourists, in­clud­ing Amar­nath pil­grims, at the height of the sea­son, and im­posed a com­mu­ni­ca­tions ban, af­fect­ing mo­bile phones, the In­ter­net and even land­lines.

Stuck, the sheep bleated while the boy be­came in­creas­ingly up­set at be­ing un­able to help. It was fi­nally res­cued by the men man­ning the check­point. They were wear­ing cam­ou­flage, their bod­ies weighed down with pro­tec­tive gear; some of them were armed. And soon the boy is joined by other chil­dren his age who help him cor­ral the sheep. They say their Eid plans will dif­fer this year, with no one light­ing fire­crack­ers, go­ing shop­ping, or fly­ing kites. In­stead, says one boy shyly, “Iss Eid par

Khuda se dua karenge ki ha­laat theek ho jayein (This Eid, we will pray to God for the sit­u­a­tion to im­prove).” Per­haps Kash­miris be­lieve only di­vine in­ter­ven­tion can help them now. It’s been over two weeks since they be­came vir­tual pris­on­ers, un­able to say what they feel about the mo­men­tous changes be­ing forced upon them, to the cheers of much of the rest of the coun­try.

The small steps be­ing taken to re­store to Kash­mir the ap­pear­ance of nor­mal life—in­clud­ing the restora­tion of some land­line con­nec­tions and the re­open­ing of pri­mary and mid­dle schools—have had lit­tle ef­fect, with par­ents too scared to send their chil­dren back to school and com­mu­ni­ca­tions still mostly re­stricted as peo­ple take to the streets in protest. The govern­ment, though still main­tain­ing that not a sin­gle bul­let has been fired in anger, has had to ac­knowl­edge that there have been

protests, in­clud­ing in­ci­dents of stone-throw­ing, and that tear gas and pel­lets—as re­ported in the in­ter­na­tional press and sec­tions of the In­dian me­dia—have been used to dis­perse crowds of pro­test­ers.

But, say au­thor­i­ties, none of this is new to Kash­mir. “Most im­por­tantly,” says Ro­hit Kansal, prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary, plan­ning and de­vel­op­ment, in the now erst­while state, “there has not been a sin­gle death, un­like in 2016, when 37 peo­ple died in the first week of protests af­ter the killing of Burhan Wani.” He makes this point fre­quently to the mem­bers of the Delhi me­dia holed up in a Sri­na­gar ho­tel. Wani had been a po­tent sym­bol of Kash­miri alien­ation—a so­cial me­dia celebrity of sorts, of­ten pho­tographed pos­ing with an AK47—who suc­cess­fully re­cruited young men to be­come mil­i­tants.

The govern­ment, while main­tain­ing that not a sin­gle bul­let has been fired, has had to ac­knowl­edge that there have been protests

Truth be told, the govern­ment has been un­der­play­ing in­juries to civil­ians. There are no of­fi­cial num­bers to turn to, but there is anec­do­tal ev­i­dence of peo­ple be­ing treated for in­juries in hos­pi­tal, in­clud­ing those hurt se­ri­ously enough—like a small girl hit in the eye by a mar­ble fired from a sling­shot—to war­rant ex­tended stays. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has been vo­cif­er­ous, even high-handed, in its dis­missals of re­ports emerg­ing in in­ter­na­tional me­dia, but at the same time, it con­tin­ues to block out re­quests from jour­nal­ists for more ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion.

In this news vac­uum, most or­di­nary peo­ple in Kash­mir be­lieve that the govern­ment would rather give the rest of the coun­try false re­as­sur­ance than lis­ten to them. “If things were fine,” says Ab­dul Wahid from Down­town, a Sri­na­gar neigh­bour­hood that is a Hur­riyat bas­tion, “and there was no vi­o­lence, why are there still cur­fews? Why aren’t mo­bile con­nec­tions and In­ter­net ac­cess fully re­stored? The ad­min­is­tra­tion is ly­ing when it says things are un­der con­trol.”

There have been re­ports of clashes in Down­town al­most ev­ery day since the di­lu­tion of Ar­ti­cle 370. Streets in the area are car­peted with stones thrown by an­gry pro­test­ers, some of them flung at se­cu­rity forces from the ter­races of neigh­bour­hood houses. En­try and exit points into the neigh­bour­hood have been blocked and the nar­row lanes are choked with troops. Arif Mo­hammed, a BSc stu­dent in Sri­na­gar, says Kash­miris “are no strangers” to vi­o­lent clashes with se­cu­rity forces. “We have dealt with stone­pelt­ing, pel­let guns, ter­ror at­tacks, hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and se­cu­rity lock­downs be­fore,” he says, “and we will deal with them in the fu­ture.”

Few peo­ple in Kash­mir have bought into the govern­ment’s nar­ra­tive. While govern­ment spokesper­sons claim that those in Jammu and Ladakh have wel­comed the par­ti­tion of the state into two sep­a­rate Union ter­ri­to­ries, the si­lence out of Kash­mir has been deaf­en­ing. There are ru­mours about thou­sands be­ing de­tained, of or­di­nary

res­i­den­tial build­ings be­ing con­verted into pris­ons. Govern­ment sources, al­beit anony­mously, say as many as 4,000 peo­ple have been ar­rested since Au­gust 5.

Po­lice have jailed com­mu­nity or­gan­is­ers, lawyers, jour­nal­ists, ac­tivists and pro­test­ers who have a record of stone­pelt­ing—any­one who rep­re­sents a threat to the ap­pear­ance of or­der in Kash­mir. Most promi­nently, of course, the govern­ment con­tin­ues to hold such high-pro­file politi­cians as for­mer chief min­is­ters Me­hbooba Mufti, Omar Ab­dul­lah and his father Fa­rooq Ab­dul­lah, though home min­is­ter Amit Shah has de­nied that the lat­ter is un­der house ar­rest. But, Kash­miris are ask­ing, for how long can

so many be de­tained? Mu­nir Khan, ad­di­tional di­rec­tor gen­eral of po­lice, has told the press that some peo­ple have been de­tained un­der the Pub­lic Safety Act, which is typ­i­cally used to hold sus­pects be­hind bars for years with­out charge. “We don’t want col­lat­eral dam­age,” Khan said, “and civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.” There is a sus­pi­cion though, among Kash­miris, that such dra­co­nian mea­sures could back­fire on the Cen­tre—Kash­miris feel even their most ba­sic rights are be­ing snatched from them. “This is a war,” says a col­lege stu­dent in north Kash­mir’s Bara­mulla dis­trict, “when main­stream politi­cians aren’t safe, no one else is. But this move (the di­lu­tion of Ar­ti­cle 370) has united peo­ple to fight New Delhi.”

There are re­ports that even young Kash­miri po­lice are grow­ing dis­en­chanted with the govern­ment’s meth­ods. An­tic­i­pat­ing some amount of anger, lo­cal po­lice, even those man­ning the bar­ri­cades, have been ac­com­pa­nied by large num­bers of cen­tral forces. Dur­ing the In­de­pen­dence Day cel­e­bra­tion at the Sher-e-Kash­mir sta­dium, some lo­cal con­stab­u­lary took digs at na­tional jour­nal­ists cov­er­ing the event. “Fake In­dian me­dia”, was heard, a com­mon in­sult among Kash­miri civil­ians, and “In­dian me­dia, go back!” Com­ing from cops in cer­e­mo­nial dress, the ep­i­thets were star­tling and an in­di­ca­tion of the strength of feel­ing.

“There won’t be a rebellion,” said one po­lice­man, “but there is anger among the ranks. That’s why we are be­ing mon­i­tored so care­fully.” One po­lice­man, in his early 20s, said about the evis­cer­a­tion of Ar­ti­cle 370: “It’s like killing some­body in their sleep.” Part of the se­cu­rity team of a high­rank­ing of­fi­cial, the po­lice­man had an AK47 strapped to his side. “I am well ed­u­cated,” he said, “I have a Mas­ter’s in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence. What was done was un­demo­cratic.” Stri­dent in his con­dem­na­tion of the meth­ods em­ployed by the Naren­dra Modi govern­ment, he was, none­the­less, cau­tious enough to add: “Please don’t write my name. I will be in trou­ble.”

Out­side Kash­mir, where the over­turn­ing of Ar­ti­cle 370 has been broadly pop­u­lar, it ap­pears In­di­ans are un­will­ing to ac­knowl­edge the dif­fi­cul­ties be­ing borne by their fel­low cit­i­zens. Just a week be­fore she was due to have her baby, Arifa Jan, from Shopian in south Kash­mir, had to take a tax­ing 60 kilo­me­tre jour­ney from her home to the Lal Ded Hos­pi­tal in Sri­na­gar, the only ma­ter­nity hos­pi­tal in the Val­ley. She was forced to ne­go­ti­ate se­cu­rity bar­ri­cades and cir­cum­vent protests to reach the hos­pi­tal for a check-up on Au­gust 12. Doc­tors told her that given the cur­fews and other re­stric­tions, she should stay in the hos­pi­tal rather than return home—but as a re­sult of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion black­out, Arifa couldn’t let her fam­ily know, plung­ing them into worry and prompt­ing her hus­band, Mo­ham­mad Iqbal, to defy cur­fews and make his own way to the hos­pi­tal. The jour­ney, with all the stops and checks, took hours. When he fi­nally ar­rived, Iqbal had to use the hos­pi­tal loud­speaker to let his wife know he was there, and then he made the same jour­ney back home to let their fam­i­lies know she was safe.

The very next day, he took the same me­an­der­ing route to the hos­pi­tal once more to see his wife, by­pass­ing secu

Even the po­lice seem weary. At the I-Day cel­e­bra­tions in Sri­na­gar, some lo­cal con­stab­u­lary took digs at jour­nal­ists, say­ing, “In­dian me­dia, go back!”

THE RIGHT TO DE­CIDE Kash­miris protest­ing the di­lu­tion of Ar­ti­cle 370 amid cur­few­like re­stric­tions in Sri­na­gar

FACES OF PROTEST: (from left) Kash­miri women shout slo­gans; a road dug out and bar­ri­caded to pre­vent se­cu­rity per­son­nel from reach­ing a protest site; J&K po­lice per­son­nel avoid the me­dia gaze af­ter the I-Day cel­e­bra­tions

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