It is a silent resistance. No stone throwing, no massive street protests, no sloganeering and no violence. The shops are shut in Kashmir, the markets closed and there are few people on the street except when there is a brief two-hour voluntary break every morning.
For Gautam Mody of New Trade Union Initiative, New Delhi, what stood out was the scale of the civil disobedience, which is enormous. “The presumption of this government that the Kashmiri people are fed up with Kashmiri politics and want development is a figment of its imagination. This scale of disobedience was not in the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s playbook. This is probably the longest such civil disobedience after Indian Independence — it is extraordinary and impregnable,” he tells Firstpost. Mody was part of an 11-member team which visited various parts of Kashmir last month. A report of their visit, Imprisoned Resistance, 5th August and its Aftermath, was released on 31 October.
The new normal in Kashmir is that there is no public transport; the post offices were open but there was only speed post and no sorting or delivery, and access to phones was very limited, says Swati Seshadri, another team member. As a result, medicines sent by post, and especially the ones for cancer, are not reaching people. Those with post-paid mobiles have been asked to pay pending bills before connections are restored. There is heavy militarisation, she adds. The population of the Kashmir Valley is approximately that of Bengaluru and there are eight lakh military and para-military forces there. Life in Kashmir is being lived in the shadow of the gun with bunkers outside colleges and in residential localities, she points out.
People said that even if schools open, they are afraid to send their children to school for fear of being picked up or worse. The armed forces are carrying on with complete impunity, she feels. “If we are a democracy, which our Constitution gives us, we have to put in place democratic processes to listen and act on the will of the people," she adds.
A desperate government is offering hawkers Rs 500, now increased to Rs 1,000, to come out on the street, but people are unwilling to go along with this, Mody says. At the Sopore fruit market the apple traders and vendors are not selling their fruits to anyone. They would rather let it rot. The government is offering a 50 percent premium price on apples but there are few takers. At the Parimpora fruit mandi, “We calculated that barely 1,000 crates of apples (as opposed to 4.2 lakh) are sold in a day and they too were brought in by the police, and not by farmers. The mandis are ghost towns, everything is shut, there is not a truck in sight, no labourers and the markets are under the protection of the gun,” Mody explains. Responding to the silent protest, the government has issued advertisements asking people to open shops.
The team of lawyers, activists and a doctor also found that the oppression has an ideological character. “In one case, men who were tortured said they were forced to say “Jai Shri Ram” and security men said they would marry the Kashmiri girls. The security forces are now equipped with an ideological nationalism,” Mody remarks.
The other important aspect is the nature of the lockdown. There is a maze created using electronic surveillance and everything can be reordered in a few hours in terms of travel. People, once they leave their homes, have no way of telling when they will get back or how long it will take as there may be sudden changes in routes — this form of subordination and humiliation is unparalleled, he points out. Importantly, access to telephony was not suspended, he clarifies. It was withdrawn in a selective manner. “We had signals on our phones but only emergency calls were permitted. What that means is an overwhelming number were deprived of access. Services were provided to government officials, public prosecutors, judges and even government contractors. A few had privileged access to the phone,” he says.
Seshadri, a researcher and activist from Bengaluru, and a frequent visitor to the Kashmir Valley, told Firstpost that the idea of visiting Kashmir was not only to express solidarity, but stemmed from a sense of responsibility and a desire to also experience what was happening to the people there from a judicial perspective, as there were many arrested who were taken out of the state. There was little information on the impact on trade and the economy.
“What hit me the most was the people’s hartal. It was a poignant moment when I realised that people are still fighting and will continue to fight despite everything,” she says. In some places, people had dug up the roads around their settlements so the security forces couldn’t enter and pick them up. The terror was everywhere; there was huge security presence and the highways have vans at regular intervals. The night raids, the incessant checking, the random use of pellet guns is adding to the feeling of absolute terror, she says, adding that, “The silence is loud and clear — it says listen to the people.”
Some children told the team that their phones would be taken away by security forces and they would be asked to spy on what was being said during prayers, for instance, and come back and report that. In addition, the situation was lethal for young women who are told by family members to dress dowdily and wear thick firans in anticipation of being body searched. Brides are warned against dressing up and being seen.
In Kulgam, for instance, a doctor said that approximately 70 percent of his patients showed signs of depression and even young children are experiencing panic attacks. Seshadri says in her past visits, she had not witnessed this extent of terror being felt by the people. What was most disturbing for her was that young boys were picked up and tortured publicly on the roads so that the rest of the village could hear the screams. The night raids are meant to terrorise people and during torture, if men fainted, they would be revived with electric shocks (according to the testimonies of people she met).
For the first time perhaps this hartal has not been called by the Hurriyat and there is no calendar. The people said this is something “we had to do”. Even during the hartal, there is compassion for vendors who sell their wares, as without their daily sales, they wouldn’t survive. The government is using this to say that if there are vendors, then everything is normal, but that is far from the truth, she says. Vehicles plying on the road are made to stop and for traffic to accumulate. Photos are then taken from drones and are used to show the sense of normalcy in Kashmir. Another team member advocate Clifton D’Rozario, of the All India People’s Forum, Bengaluru, describes this as “the production of traffic jams. "While travelling, suddenly roads would be cordoned off and traffic diverted, then there will be a blockade and you have to wait, and lo and behold the traffic jam... to show everything is normal,” he says.
So many industries have suffered after the 5 August announcement and apart from the apple trade, the saffron market and the leather industry have been badly affected. There is a cascading effect as the people who make the crates for the apples are out of business, as also the transporters. Carpet traders too suffered due to lack of access to the telephone and many businessmen who had clients in Delhi, lost out on deals.
What was happening in terms of legal access was even worse. The fact that there was no public transport meant people couldn’t easily travel to courts. D’Rozario said at least 30 lawyers, including the president of the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association, are under arrest and there is anger that these are the very lawyers who are fighting so many cases. “Litigating in Kashmir is a different ball game, and the kind of threat and intimidation they face is also on a different level,” he adds.
More seriously, there are some 600 habeas corpus petitions pending in the J&K high court and 330 have been filed after 5 August. According to government rules, a habeas corpus petition should be disposed of within 15 days, he says. Now it can take months. The team even met the chief justice to discuss matters.
There are delays as notices cannot be sent through post and summons have to be issued personally by advocates. People are filing petitions in cases of detention but nothing is happening, D’Rozario says. There are many children who were detained and not getting help. People expected much from the Supreme Court but the next hearing is on 5 November and there is no sense of urgency, he points out. Fundamental rights are being trampled upon and even the courts are not standing up, he says.
“Indians seem oblivious to all this and there is jubilation when people are going through so much horror,” he adds. “The most serious testimony came from a bunch of young girls in Kulgam who don’t sleep at night as the security forces can come anytime. They said that the men’s mobiles are taken away and checked, and then the homes are searched,” he adds.
“Democracy, the way we understand it, does not enter the border of Jammu and Kashmir. What is abnormal is normal,” he remarks. What he recalls is the brutal torture of the people he met: "their bodies are marked”.
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Updated Date: Nov 04, 2019 09:31:46 IST