Edit/Op-Ed

Kashmiris denied Justice: Does anyone care?

The Jammu and Kashmir (now J&K and Ladakh UTs) have always been vulnerable and capricious in terms of peace and security. People who lived here since centuries developed an intrinsic culture of a state that was called as ‘Kashmiri’ and represented Pandit-Muslim collective culture in the valley along with Dogras, Buddhists, Hindus, various nomadic tribes, etc. in regions of Jammu and Ladakh. People in other parts always knew this beautiful land that was popular by the phrase ‘Agar Firdaus bar roo-e-zameen ast, Hameen Ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast’ coined by great poet Amir khusro.

With the undecided princely state king at the time when India and Pakistan emerged as two sovereign nations, and then later developments of Sheikh Abdullah’s campaign, invasion from Pakistan, accession of Kashmir, Mountbatten-Jinnah Lahore meet, plebiscite promise of Nehru and UN resolution, bringing four members from J&K in constituent assembly for Constitution of India, provisions of Article 370 in Indian constitution and then 1954 Presidential order in terms of J&K for introducing 35(A) separately, a separate constitution of J&K, Emergence and Vanishing constituent assembly of J&K and then many further amendments by Congress governments; the controversial elections, the start of armed militancy and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, everyday violation of human rights, separatist movements, autonomy demands and AFSPA 1990, confidence-building measures of cross LoC trade and bus movements, interlocutors never implemented report, and then recently the present government’s actions in August 2019, Kashmiri population has witnessed a long journey of sufferings.

Now again with August 2019 decision by the government of India that came through imposing Governor Rule then President Rule, then orders of President through Parliament resolution of abrogation of Article 370, the Presidential order to remove 35(A) and making null and void of all previous orders, J&K State Reorganization Act, J&K domicile Act, and on ground, a long series of sufferings, sometimes physical, sometimes psychological with curfews, lockdowns, shutting internet, etc. there are so many things occurred in J&K in the name of restoration of peace and confidence-building but still there doesn’t seem any positive outcome from all these.

This continuous treatment of the population with trial and error formula has made a permanent mark upon the mindsets of people and they internalized it deeply in their unconscious mind. As I learn from people, a few years back one of my friends told me that when she went to Delhi Haat (a craft and art market in Delhi showcasing diverse culture), a Kashmiri shopkeeper told her that ‘crowd is very less here in haat today and it seems like there is hartaal (shutdown)’. Though it was a simple line, what she observed was that the person has normalized the ‘hartaal’ as he may be witnessing it frequently in Kashmir during state-imposed curfew and separatists mandated hartaal where both resulted in the closing of shops, emptying roads and vanishing crowds.

For me, this was a new perspective and it led me to think about the fact that how this everyday pain is now conceived in the subconscious. She also told me about the family of one of her friends who was a Kashmiri pandit witnessed during the exodus. And while advocating human rights, we discussed how narratives from all sides are important to understand anything in a better manner and to look at the issue through a third angle.

It was true that Kashmir faced huge human rights violations under AFSPA for which no one received punishment as security personnel has been granted impunity under the sections of the act. Despite few very highlighted and controversial incidents like Asiya-Neelofer, Kunan Poshpora, Ramban, Maachil, Pathribal, etc. and many less known and unknown incidents where no complete truth ever came before people, this only widened the already existed gap between the state and people and created separate groups. 

Addressing these challenges were like walking on a tightrope with balance, but instead,  government with August 2019 actions of abrogation of articles, without bringing people in confidence pushed more internalization of sadness, grief, anger, and irritation among common people who couldn’t move out, couldn’t even call each other to share the pain, couldn’t make themselves busy in even social media, couldn’t receive medical prescription through telemedicine, couldn’t continue studies and fear remained prevalent.

The government may have its own version of deriving the change to ensure minimum violence, avoiding bloodshed and enhancing public safety and it may argue the similar reasons for shutting internet, imposing lockdown and keeping hundreds of political activists under preventive detention and arguments of government may have its impact and validity to be judged in courts on techno-legal grounds but certainly for common people; it is no-where a justice, particularly to those who belonged to mainstream politics in J&K and social activists who remained active for peace, developmental works, RTIs, etc. in former J&K state as now they also feel cheated.      

On the other hand, by altering status, terrorist activities have also been not reduced, and instead, it also forced Pakistan to reignite the issue in international forums and exploiting it internally in the country to propagate anti-India sentiment. The fact is that soldiers deployed are also in vulnerable positions for their safety.

Nepal moved its constitutional amendment to include few areas (Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiadhura) as it was clearly stated by Nepal that India had issued a new map after J&K state reorganization. A Chinese think tank also indicated that this new map issue also contributed in Chinese aggression towards Ladakh. However, the question will remain that what benefit India would be receiving with such reactions and adverse environments where the three neighbour countries (Pakistan, Nepal, China) may be objecting when the threat of terrorism has increased and the local population is losing its trust that was gained in last decades.

Such moves may have been well thought with all such angles before adopting it on ground and India may be prepared to tackle it in a particular and well-thought way but it may not be true also. However, it must be remembered that the local population, common people in J & K, remained a victim of all such state, anti-state, and geo-state dynamics.

Ceasefire violations are continuing, civilian populations near the border are in fear, as usual, daily lives in the rest of places are restricted, a fear of any unknown bomb and firing persists, memories of horrible past still exist.

Even in recent days, civilians and soldiers died in ceasefire violations, while a few days back they had died in terrorist attacks. COVID-19 is rapidly increasing, people are at home, mass is leaderless, many cellphones are still not working or in slow speed, media is being regulated through new media policy, and all together, the local population is upon the mercy of state policies but still hopeful as there is nothing else except ‘hope’ for them.

The author writes on issues of human rights, peace, and developments. Views are personal. He tweets @ravinitesh.

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