Following the abrogation of article 370 on August 5th, 2019, it has been a long regime of deceit and deception marked by extremely devious and sinister plans being pushed in Kashmir, mostly by stealth and insinuation. All these plans and policies are aimed at the disempowerment and complete immiseration of the local population which is sought to be subjugated and to be brought to its knees.
The long reign of brutal repression that has followed the monumental betrayal on August 5th has manifested itself in many ways, ranging from the complete cessation of business activity, including especially the tourist industry and the Kashmir handicrafts, the colossal loss of one full academic year of the students of all levels and the irreparable loss of revenue in the horticulture and agriculture sectors. ‘The icing on the(ir) cake’, as it were, has been the killings of young Kashmiris by the Indian security forces, some of them reportedly in fake encounters, and the others during the so-called cordon and search operations.
The young people who are taken on and eliminated in such operations are hardly in a position to pose a serious threat to the authority of the state. The mere fact that they nurse certain grievances - and genuine ones at that - and that they merely wish the Indian state to address those issues is certainly no reason for the state to take a maximalist position while dealing with these ‘angry’ young men, a position which is invariably in the shape of bringing maximum force to bear upon them and eliminating them in one fell swoop. In such a situation, a much needed recourse to a dialogue between all the contending parties would have saved not only the precious human lives on both sides of the fence, but would have also saved the vast resources being frittered away in the pursuit of a goal that is otherwise unachievable.
What has been said above is only the tip of the iceberg, involving what has been on display in Kashmir since August 5th, 2020. Apart from its impact at several levels on the domestic front which is going to be discussed below, an unintended but an inevitable fallout of the August 5th political putsch has been the Chinese ingress into Ladakh, a development that has added a new dimension to the Kashmir conflict by highlighting it as a trilateral issue between India, Pakistan and now China. In the lines that follow, an attempt has been made to provide a bird’s eye view of the many more of such mischievous and dangerous machinations whose redundancy on one hand and baneful effects on the other, are going to be felt and experienced over a long period of time to come:
Censorship and Mass Arrests
In the run up to August 5th, 2019, the total censorship on media was accompanied by mass arrests of thousands of Kashmiris who were picked up and sent to jails both in Jammu and Kashmir and other states where many of them continue to remain incarcerated even one year since they were arrested. Though no reasons were given for their incarceration, it soon came to light that some of them happened to possess the otherwise good qualities of rallying people around for a cause which should instead have won them accolades from the government. The Bar Association President of the J&K High Court was surely one of them. We should note that in his reaction to the Hurriyat call for boycott of the elections to the state assembly which were scheduled then, he had chosen to take it upon himself to motivate and reach out to the people and exhort them to participate in these elections which they had previously decided to boycott. The spree of arrests, custodial deaths and killings of innocents continues to this day, regardless.
Just a day before the abrogation of article 370, a complete suspension of the high speed 4G internet was accompanied by the withdrawal of all other modes of communication including the cell-phone services from the entire state. While the broadband service was resumed after a couple of months following August 5th, the internet service was partially restored in December 2019, but only in the low speed 2G mode which has not been revived to the 4G category even after close to one year since it was withdrawn. The impact of this limited access to the internet has been severe on the business activity, but more so on education, with the educational institutions having functioned barely for 100 days since August 5th, 2019. Now with the online classes being the only available mode of teaching in the middle of the pandemic, the blocking of the 4G high speed internet has further complicated matters for the students who are made to suffer on account of an inadequate access to online classes. In the much awaited verdict by the SC on the petition challenging the denial of this fundamental right to the people of Kashmir for the 10th month running, the apex court on May 10th, 2020 had refused to pass a directive for immediate restoration of 4G speed internet service in Jammu and Kashmir which had, instead, chosen to direct the centre to constitute a ‘special committee’ to examine whether 4G internet could be restored in the UT. That’s an appalling error of judgement by the apex court which has, inexplicably, referred the case back to the government as the judge, jury and the executioner, all wrapped in one. Earlier, the A.G. Mr. S. S. Venugopal had told the apex court that “the orders that have been passed had specifically stated that restrictions on internet speed were required for national security”. Such is the hypocrisy, including of those who should have known and interpreted the law better.
New State Domicile Law
Over seven months after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has repealed the 93 year old state subject law which barred non-permanent residents from owning land and immovable property in the erstwhile state and ensured employment protection for permanent residents of the former state. With the approval by the J&K administration of the new domicile law, the process has started of issuing domicile certificates to permanent and those non-permanent residents who have lived in J&K for at least 15 years or worked for the J&K government for ten years or studied in the state at least for seven years and appeared for board examinations here. Moreover, in an effort to fast track the issuance of domicile certificates to the no-resident Kashmiris, online application facility has been made available for the purpose. In the same vein, it has been stipulated that the tehsildar-in-charge shall face a fine of up to Rs. 50,000/- if he/she fails to issue the certificate within 15 days of receiving the application. The first to get the domicile certificate was Navin Kumar Choudhary, a senior J&K cadre IAS officer from Bihar for having served here over a period of ten years. It is no brainer to assert that all this has been designed and contemplated to engineer a demographic imbalance in the erstwhile state.
Control of Buildings Operations Act
On 17th of July, 2020, the J&K administration approved an amendment to the Control of Building Operations Act, 1988 and the J&K Development Act, 1970 to allow notifying any areas in J&K as “strategic areas” where the Indian armed forces can carry out unhindered constructions and other related activities in terms of the requirement of the armed forces through a special dispensation. It envisages that in addition to the land on which existing camps/cantonments of the Indian armed forces located in various areas are notified as ‘strategic areas’, similar areas could be identified elsewhere in the valley for the construction of new camps/cantonments which would be permanent as opposed to many camps which are currently based in private properties like orchards, houses, state government properties and which are thus temporary in nature. The amendment would also facilitate the construction of residential blocks for the troops and their families. The high point of this exercise is that an entire area could be designated as a ‘strategic area’ which could be taken over and developed for the use of armed forces and their families.
New Housing Policy
Of a piece with this gigantic sleight of hand, the J&K administration has also accorded sanction to the proposal of “Housing and Urban Development Department” for adoption and notification of “J&K Housing, Affordable Housing, Slum Redevelopment and Rehabilitation and Township Policy, 2020”. This new policy seeks to come up with models of housing involving slum redevelopment and integrated township. There will also be a scheme for rental housing “in which EWS (Economically weaker sections) of families from other states will be provided dwelling units on license basis for occupation and use for a particular period on making initial deposit and monthly charges”.
Why the Influx of Non-Locals during Pandemic?
Free Press Kashmir (FPK) reported on July 22, 2020 that 113 out of 14,937 non-locals who were brought into the valley in buses last week were found to be COVID positive. The Administration subsequently claimed that they would test the migrant workers for the virus. According to a spokesperson for the administration, “The scheme (to bring in migrant labour) has been notified keeping in view the large workforce of brick kilns. There are no brick kilns operating in District Srinagar; however labour for construction activities and infrastructure projects has been reported to be arriving in some cases.”
The same report stated that “a local news agency, KNT reported that locals in Arizal area of Central Kashmir’s Budgam district were up in arms against the district administration for admitting over 30 COVID infected non-local labourers at a government school in the area. The locals demanded immediate shifting of these labourers from the area. ‘The school building is surrounded by the village population and there are chances that infection may spread in the area and we may get infected too,’ locals told KNT.”
At a time when the Administration is telling locals of the Kashmir Valley to keep indoors to avoid spreading the virus, why are thousands of non-locals being brought in from other states, without due precautions, in a manner that is bound to spread the pandemic? According to a July 20 report in the FPK, “The administration has said that it is trying its best to keep the local populace off the roads to contain the spread of the Coronavirus disease. As concerned as the administration might sound in its public advisories, on the contrary, there has been an enhanced influx of non-locals into, and across, Kashmir in recent weeks. A wave of apprehension and suspicion was triggered yesterday after social media were flooded with eye witnesses sharing information about buses loaded with non-locals being ferried on different routes. Earlier on Sunday, a video of a bus packed with non-locals surfaced on social media. In the video, a man is heard questioning the non-locals about COVID tests, to which the answer was either non-committal or in the negative. Women and children can also be seen in the buses.” The video was shared on the Twitter handle @haziq_qadri with the caption “See how non-local labourers are let inside #Kashmir without the mandatory COVID test. On the other hand, small scale shopkeepers are being thrashed by local police for opening their shops.”
The July 20 story in FPK adds this intriguing report: “On July 17, a local Kashmiri, Fayaz Peer, who identifies himself as a travel blogger shared that while flying back to Kashmir and finding himself surrounded by the non-Kashmiris, he asked his co-passengers why were they heading to Kashmir amidst the pandemic. The funny reply that they were coming here to pursue a computer course was shared on the Twitter handle @FayazPeer.
The claim that students are coming to Kashmir for computer courses is laughable, and plainly ludicrous, given that no institute of education, whether private or public, has been allowed to open in Kashmir ever since the first lockdown was announced way back in the third week of March. Still funnier is the ‘plea’ of pursuing a computer course in a place which does not boast of the internet service beyond the 2G speed, and that too in fits and starts.
Apart from workers and students, there is also a visibly large number of non-local persons seen everywhere in the valley begging for alms. How have they been able to enter the Valley without any testing for Covid-19, is a question that baffles one and all? Could they have entered the Valley without the Administration facilitating their entry? If the Administration is enabling a large influx of non-locals into the Valley, is it a case of criminal negligence during the pandemic? Or is there a method in the seeming madness?
As the FPK report of July 20, 2020 observes, “Many in Kashmir say that the influx, in the backdrop of changing laws regarding land ownership and citizenship, have fanned the fears of a demographic change.” In the event of such a devious strategy actually coming about, it would be a ‘befitting’ climax of a thoroughly destructive game-plan that was set in motion on August 5th, 2019, but that would only cause a massive devastation all around and engender a million more mutinies that would be impossible to contain.
(Prof. M. A. Sofi teaches at Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar).