Srinagar: Kashmir remains in a state of shock. Ever since the home minister Amit Shah announced scrapping of the special status and bifurcation of the state of Jammu & Kashmir in the parliament, people are struggling to come to terms with the new reality: a reality where their identity and the demographic composition of the territory is no longer shielded by law. And there is now a sense of paranoia about what might be in store.
The continuing lockdown which has now entered its third week has only heightened the uncertainty. People have suddenly been transported to a pre-communication era. There are no phones and no internet. Landlines which have just been partially restored in select areas are of little use as their penetration is negligible compared to cell-phones. People can move within the interiors of their localities and some private transport does ply too but only up to a small distance. In many cases, a place just ten kilometres away seems like another country, reaching which involves crossing many security barricades and possibly stone pelting by knots of protesting youth.
INFORMATION BLACK HOLE
Air is rife with fear and rumour. There are unconfirmed reports of large-scale demonstrations being occasionally held here and there in Srinagar. There is little information flowing in from other parts of the Valley, more so from north and south Kashmir. Reports often float around of some killings having taken place during protests but Government vehemently rejects these, acknowledging only some minor injuries.
Daily briefings by the Government at Srinagar’s Media Facilitation Centre have become the only source of information about the situation for the people, in addition to some skeletal reporting by some television channels. Even though local newspapers publish daily – albeit reduced now to a few pages only – they mainly regurgitate the government version of events. Their content largely comprises the reports of official functions dished out by the state’s Information Department besides some agency stories on the evolving situation in the state. In the absence of internet, the papers store and transfer content through pen drives. In a telling comment on the state of affairs, local newspapers often skip editorials choosing rather to give more space to opinion pieces on apolitical issues like environment and health.
The drift of the official discourse which so dominates the scene is one of a gradual progression, towards normalcy when the situation on the ground presents a contradictory picture. People are in a state of enforced ignorance about the situation. It is only crumbs of information, sometimes a mix of reality and rumour, that are floating around. Government has largely drained the public sphere of all the news except the one it wants people to know.
But this hasn’t made much of a difference to the public sentiment. An initial sense of shock over the revocation of Article 370 is giving way to alienation and anger. But it hasn’t so far bubbled up to the surface with the force that it otherwise did in the past. Last unrest in the Valley broke out in July 2016 as a spontaneous reaction to the killing of the militant commander Burhan Wani. It lasted until the end of the year and left around a hundred people dead and several hundred either partially or completely blinded as a result of the widespread use of pellet guns to quell the protests. Earlier, three successive summer unrests until 2010 had claimed scores of youthful lives, around 120 of them in 2010, the year which also witnessed the introduction of pellet guns as part of J&K Police’s riot control gear.
GOVT PREPARED FOR A LONG HAUL
Will things go the same way again once the lockdown is lifted? So far all signs are pointing towards this outcome, a reason the government seems in no mood to loosen the curbs. Apart from the partial restoration of landlines and some selective easing of movement of private transport, the communication blockade and the security clampdown remains very much in place. And there is no indication that this state of affairs is going to change anytime soon. Government, official sources say, is prepared for a long haul and won’t relax its grip on the situation unless there is some certainty of the prevalence of peace. The understanding is that the Kashmir Valley will go through its “stages of grief” to finally get used to the new reality.
But will people reconcile to the situation? There is no easy answer to the question. The prevailing dominant sentiment in Kashmir points towards a deeper alienation with New Delhi. And it is unlikely this reality will change for a long time to come.
Kashmir hasn’t gotten used to New Delhi’s rule over the past seventy years. It is least likely this will happen now,” says Naseer Ahmad, a columnist. Now, there is a grievance far bigger than there was at any other time in the past.
According to observers, Kashmir is protesting right now and the lingering lockdown only attests to this fact. If there is an unprecedented security lockdown across the state, it only shows that some large public response is sought to be curbed and prevented from unleashing itself, observers assert. “Longer the government continues with this exercise, deeper the depth of public unhappiness is”.
For Gowhar Geelani, a political commentator, the situation in Kashmir now goes beyond any overt expression of the discontent. “The scrapping of Article 370 has fundamentally altered the situation. It has, at once, put the identity and the demographic composition of the state on the line, something that has always been unacceptable to a predominant majority of the people of the state,” says Geelani. “This has introduced a new factor in the situation, something that has made reconciliation with New Delhi almost impossible. One can be sure of a new potential phase of uncertainty, turmoil and the violence”.
Many Kashmir observers also foresee intensification of the ongoing militancy in the state. Kashmir has already been reeling under a three decade long militant struggle. “Among the many implications of the revocation of Article 370 could be a renewed resort to armed insurrection in the state. Besides, Kashmir could also witness an increased influx of militants from across the military line of control which will substantially raise the level of violence in the state”, some keen Kashmir watchers apprehend.
NEW POLITICAL LINGO
There is one more post-clampdown scenario being bandied about in Kashmir: And it is the response to the situation by the state’s pro-India politicians currently under detention. Also termed as the state’s political mainstream, these politicians include three former J&K Chief Ministers – Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. They have bitterly opposed the repeal of the state’s special status and vowed to fight for its restoration. In the run up to the abrogation of the Article 370 on August 5, all mainstream parties had closed ranks against such an occurrence but to no avail.
“Once released, these politicians could also decide to unite and launch a mass movement for the reversal of the Article 370 revocation. Considering the mood in Kashmir, such a movement is likely to witness an significant public participation,” say observers. “Should this happen, the long running movement for independence will gel with the struggle for the restoration of special rights under Indian constitution. For once, both separatists and unionists may define their politics in adversarial terms to New Delhi, if not sharing the same platform. And this can pose New Delhi its biggest challenge in Kashmir. For the first time in seventy years, it may find no Kashmiri leader is on its side in the state”.