As the whole country was busy in rejoicing the ‘Independence’ Day with tricolors and patriotic songs, a strict curfew was imposed and mobile internet (2G) was suspended across Kashmir valley as a precautionary measure. Photos circulated on social media showed big screens broadcasting the PM Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech live from Lal Qila in many locations of Srinagar,Kashmir, however in one of the photos the peculiar thing to notice was the audience- merely five men in uniform holding big guns.
This isn’t the first time the valley has witnessed the use of force to shove down the facade of nationalism and normalcy down the throats of people. On August 3, the government imposed curfew in the Kashmir valley on the eve of first anniversary of unilateral move of abrogation of Article 370 that stripped the erstwhile Muslim-majority state of its special status as a part of its ‘full integration’ with India. The ‘historic’ move promoted as a step towards the ‘development’ of the former state, introduced the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act,2019 to downgrade it from a state into two union territories-J&K and Ladakh, putting it under absolute control of New Delhi.
The country hailed the move and sang praises for the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) for they had fulfilled the decades long promised to remove the ‘special status’ of the erstwhile Muslim-majority state and satisfied the ‘collective conscience’ of the nation. The only voice that was missing was that of Kashmiris- who were trapped in their homes when the brutal millitarised lockdown and communication blockade was imposed in the region. In a single night, all communication channels including mobile phones, internet and landlines further isolated and caged Kashmiris inside their homes at the same time thousands of people were put under house arrest or taken into illegal police custody.
The Hindu-majority Jammu celebrated on the streets despite the internet shutdown hailing it as ‘end of decade’s long discrimination with the Jammu region.’ As for me, I remember the dreadful night of August 4 when I called my mother from Delhi at around midnight asking about the ground situation. The rumors of increased millitarised movement into the state had reached Delhi and heightened the anxieties of my fellow colleagues from J&K rushing to call their families.
The anxieties of uncertainty were put to rest with the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, now after one year and ten days the definition of ‘normalcy’ is accompanied with men in boots with their guns and frequent internet (2G) shutdowns and imposed curfews. With the longest internet shutdown in J&K, and the hollow promises of employment and development the sheer blanket of deception has opened the eyes of youth of Jammu too. As of 9th August, 4,66,760 applicants have applied for 8,575 Class IV jobs announced by the J&K government in other words- 54 unemployed youth competing for 1 Class IV job. Students have turned to social media to show their concerns since all the cries for help with the administration have gone in vain.
The looming fear of demographic change and loss of jobs has united the people from both regions despite being poles apart in their political aspirations. The newly passed Domicile law in April granting provisions of land and employment to the outsider’s .According to reports, around 33,000 domicile applications were received for the 10 districts in Jammu and only 720 applications for Kashmir. In May, the modifications to the domicile provisions in the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Services (Decentralization and Recruitment) Act of 2010 allowed domicile status to outsiders who have lived in Jammu and Kashmir from 7 to 15 years, earlier an exclusive right guaranteeing the rights to jobs, education seats and land in the state to the Permanent Residents only.
The last one year has seen huge business losses, According to the Preliminary Economic Assessment Loss Report by Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), Kashmir’s economy suffered a loss of Rs. 18,000 crore, combined with the global pandemic the economic blow counts to Rs 40,000 crores.
Transition from one lockdown to another destroyed the economy of the newly formed UT. The tourism and horticulture which is the backbone of the Kashmir economy suffered the most forcing over lakhs to go out of jobs.
Youth in the former state has been dependent on government services because of the lack of investments in private sector, however with one year down the line and no sight of the 5 crore promised jobs to the youth, dissent voices are heard in BJP-supporting Jammu youth. Tiptoeing around the fear of speaking up and the gripping fear of arrests was exemplify in the recent example of arrest of a youth in Jammu known as Mask man, allegedly arrested for anti-government activities. The youth representing the concerns of youth of Jammu was arrested for holding a silent placard protest on the false promises made by the BJP government. What followed was the pouring of appreciation and support from youth of Jammu rightly pointing out the lack of freedom of expression in the post 370, authoritarian regime.
The apprehension of voicing one’s concerns has entered the media fraternity too with the introduction of ‘new media policy’ aimed at completely surveilling the publications and editors. The 53-page document released in July this year aimed at “creating a sustained narrative on the functioning of the government in media” regulates reporting in the freshly minted Union Territory is a mechanism which empowers the government to decide what is “anti-social and anti-national” news. The increasing criminal cases against several journalists has created a climate of caution censoring the local media publications. The case of journalist Qazi Shibli, editor for The Kashmiriyat detained under draconian Public Safety Act(PSA)-which allows the authorities to detain anyone without a charge for up to two years- for reporting on the increased troop presence sparked an outrage over the restrictions on media and journalists of the valley.
Several other journalists had been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for ‘controversial social media posts. In April, female photojournalist Masrat Zehra and another renowned journalist Gowhar Geelani were booked under UAPA whereas; Ashiq Peerzada for the Hindu was accused of publishing fake news.
The systematic attack on the independent voices post the abrogation of Article 370 combined with mass surveillance only points towards the realization of the Orwellian model of Totalitarian regime that permits no individual freedom and that seeks to subordinate all aspects of individual life to the authority of the state. The big screens installed in each household in Orwellian world broadcasting ‘Big Brothers’ speech, ridiculously draws parallel to the deserted streets of the Valley installed with huge screens blaring the PM Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech while people of Valley were silently pushed inside their homes on the occasion of 74th Independence Day. The greetings of the Independence, only in Kashmir, were met by uniformed men and a deafening silence of its hushed voices.
Aamna Malik is a freelance journalist. She writes on the issues of marginalized and national politics.
(Views expressed here are personal only).