Indians must today ask ourselves the question that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah raised in his speech at Mujahid Manzil on the eve of the 1975 Indira–Sheikh Accord: ‘Do you honestly feel that the foundations of democracy and secularism are more stable than before?’
AS five fighter jets, the first batch of the 36 Rafale fighter aircraft that India has bought from France for Rs 59,000 crore in 2016 as an emergency purchase, took off for Air Force Station, Ambala, Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather, India’s Air Attaché to France, whose name tells us that he is a Kashmiri, was among the senior officials present at the Dassault Aviation Facility, Merignac, France, on Monday 28 July, which included India’s Ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf and Éric Trappier, Chairman Dassault Aviation
Almost simultaneously The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir released its first report Jammu and Kashmir: The Impact of Lockdowns on Human Rights covering the year following upon August 5 2019. Among the retired Justices of the Supreme and High Courts, ex-civil servants, former Generals, academics and campaigners for human rights who constitute the Forum is Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, whose name also announces his nativity.
Dr. Vijay Sazawal, another Srinagar born and raised native, an eminent nuclear policy analyst living in Washington who advised the U.S. Government on the Indo-U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement and is also an advisor to the U.S. Government on the Kashmir issue laments:
“Chances are that most non-valley based folks-including the Kashmiri Pandits- know nothing about the trials and travails of the 800 odd families of KP’s that call Kashmir valley their home today. They are landowners tending orchards, shopkeepers, teachers in public and private schools, various government departments, hospital employees, and a few are working as real estate agents. Some work for Dharmarth and Batra Trusts, and yet others work at Yatri Niwas group of hotels catering to religious tourism. They was (sic) mostly unknown until one of them, a Sarpanch named Shri Ajay Pandita, was killed by terrorists on 8 June 2020.
The “non-migrant” KPs have survived in spite of being ignored by the rest and while their future looks bleak, they have shown persistence and resilience of the highest standards” (Kashmir Images Those Who Stayed Back July 12, 2020)
What Sazawal says of the Kashmiri Pandits is sadly true of the relationship of all India with those Indians who call themselves Kashmiris. Our concern for Kashmir is aroused solely by acts of terrorism. After 5th August 2019, the Concerned Citizens Group of which I am member, has made two visits to Kashmir on Sept 17-18 and Nov 22-26 last year. We observed in our statement of August 202: “A year later, J&K continues to be in a social, economic, political and communication lockdown. None of the stated goals of the government – of bringing Kashmir closer to India, ending militancy, bringing development to the state – have been achieved. Instead the Kashmiris have lost any faith they had in the Indian political leadership and the judiciary. The Supreme Court has still not found time to take up the petitions challenging the legal and constitutional validity of the J&K Reorganization Act. While many political, business leaders and lawyers have been released in the recent past, many continue to be in detention, the most prominent among them being former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.” Attempts to incubate artificial political processes – through village and local body elections and facilitating the launch of a new political party have failed to rouse political interest.
The findings of the Forum that I have mentioned are devastating:
• Counter-insurgency concerns have been given absolute priority bringing across-the-board violation of human rights and the vitiation of the rule of law, even arrest and detention of children in defiance of the Juvenile Justice Act. There has been denial of the right to bail and fair and speedy trial, with rampant misuse of draconian legislation, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent.
• The eleven months of lockdown saw incessant closures, harassment at barricades and checkpoints, and suspension followed by limits placed on mobile telephony and internet, which have crippled delivery of public health, bringing widespread post-traumatic stress disorder even to children.
• Education has been struggling. With the limiting of networks to 2G online classes have become dysfunctional. Graduate students and teachers have been hard put to participate in conferences or have their papers published, in violation of constitutional rights to education.
• Massive losses have beset every sector of commerce and industry large and small. Companies reliant on 4G networks that are available in the rest of the country, such as tourism and cottage industries, are out of business. The new domicile rules introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Jammu and Kashmir administration have eroded local employment.
• Journalists have been harassed often having draconian charges slapped on them even under the UAPA. Dozens have lost their jobs. Censorship by the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) has been introduced in coordination with security agencies
• There is a pronounced expansion of the military presence.
It has to be admitted that the personnel appointed to administer the two Union Territories born from the erstwhile state of J&K were, with some exception, of great merit. The officer chosen as LG of the UT of Ladakh, having served as Chief Information Commissioner of India when that position enjoyed the status of the Chief Election Commissioner of India, having himself served in the military, accepted a demotion in rank in serving the nation. But after becoming a Union Territory (UT), Ladakh stands side-lined with its administration working out of makeshift accommodation with minimal staff, without a recruitment agency to fill gazetted posts, no formal bank, with its elected Hill Development Councils dysfunctional in dispute over the location of its headquarters – Muslim majority Kargil or Buddhist majority Leh in a Muslim majority UT. And many residents protest that their lands have been occupied by China.
Although the officer appointed LG J&K was a nondescript bureaucrat of the Gujarat cadre, he was assisted by an array of outstanding advisors. The administration won popular appreciation for the manner in which it was able to arrange the return of students stranded abroad including in Bangladesh where there are over 800 medical graduate students, and Iran and their rehabilitation observing all rigours of quarantine in hotels requisitioned to supplement limited government resources. But COVID-19 has spread uncontrolled thereafter exacerbated by the import of migrant labour by government to work with the PWD many of whom have tested positive, and the abandon with which young men and women roam the streets of Srinagar, among the worst affected districts, without mask or social distancing in defiance of government advice.
Government has been busy issuing sanctions. As many as five medical colleges including two All India Institutes of Medical Science have been inaugurated and colleges of nursing sanctioned. Announcements are regularly made of the LG sanctioning a host of hydel projects in a state gravely deficit in power, which nonetheless is a major contributor to the national power grid, long pending road construction projects have been approved. But educational institutions are shut with no provision for distance learning except in the single DPS in Pulwama, owned and managed by a Kashmiri. Power supply is fitful and roads are awaiting repair for years including the vital Krishna Ghati link road between Mendhar and Poonch townships along the LoC. And pervasive corruption has ensured that new investment, which the constitutional amendment was expected to encourage has found few takers either at local or national level.
Indians must today ask ourselves the questions that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah raised in his speech at Mujahid Manzil, that served as his party’s headquarters, on the eve of the 1975 Indira–Sheikh Accord that brought him back to government after over twenty years in the political wilderness following his ouster from power in 1953. Referring to the state of integration since 1953, Abdullah asked, ‘Do you honestly feel that the foundations of democracy and secularism are more stable than before? Can you honestly dare say that the shackles of distrust between Kashmiris and India are broken? … Have the people here got the clean administration which they have long yearned for? Were they freed from the morass of unemployment and poverty?’
The answers are not flattering. They can come only from working with the Indians of J&K and Ladakh in making democracy and secularism real for them. Only then might we redeem the pledge made to his people by Abdullah at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk at the time of the accession to India of the then princely state of J&K in face of a Pakistani invasion, in the words of the great Indian poet Amir Khusro, “‘Mun tu shudam tu mun shudi / Mun tun shudam tu jaan shudi (I have become you and you me / I am the body, you the soul).’
- Wajahat Habibullah was the first Chief Information Commissioner of India. He is also the author of ‘My Kashmir: The Dying of the Light’
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