Blackout in Kashmir: Darker Days Ahead

Sadam Hussain is a guest contributor from Jammu and Kashmir. He is a fourth-year student at Ashoka University. All views expressed are personal.

Source: Greater Kashmir

The constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir has been decisively altered. The events of last week are not the first of the times Kashmir has made international news in 2019. In February, a suicide-bombing captured global attention, and in May, the killing of a militant by Indian forces spurred violent protest action. These stories are just a few in the long, violent history of Kashmir. Conflict is brewing again, and this time, Kashmir seems more volatile than any other period of unrest which has shaped life in the 21st century.[1]

Given Kashmir’s situation between the Partition twins — India and Pakistan — it

seems inevitable for the state to become a subject of contention. In fact, Kashmir has been a battleground since before its controversial accession to the Union of India in 1947 when, in 1931, twenty-two Kashmiri Muslims were killed in the duration of an Azaan at the hands of the ruling Maharaja’s troops. This cycle of violence continued in 1947 when Kashmir was home to an attempt of ethnic cleansing, now called the Poonch Massacre. The Times, London reported that the incident saw “systematic extermination” of more than 200,000 Muslim citizens.

Conflict, as well as the sub-nationalist sentiment, increased over the years and crystallized into an armed insurgent movement in 1989. This was followed by the mass exodus of Pandits — Kashmir's native Hindu population — to Jammu and other parts of India. Many in Kashmir feared this migration was state-engineered and intended to harm the remaining Muslim population. As feared, the Gaw Kadal Massacre followed, which saw the death of an estimated 200 Kashmiri Muslims. Similar instances of unprovoked massacres were later seen in Bijbehara, Handwara, Zukoora, Tengpora, Hawal, Sopore and many other regions of Kashmir. Now, as then, there is a resurgence of national-integrationist rhetoric and legal attempts at autonomy-erosion led by the political center.

Earlier in the year, India elected incumbent Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, to the position of Prime Minister. This week, under his leadership, the Indian government abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, which previously granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. This decision paralleled a Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) bill which called for the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, and demoted the state to the status of a Union Territory — a step unprecedented in the history of India. These decisions were made without any prior notice and seem intended to legalize violence through unconstitutional means. Taken together, they dislodge the constitutionally-guaranteed autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir.

Leaders have been cryptic about their decisions on Kashmir — speaking in actions instead of words. At least thirty-five thousand troops have been sent to Kashmir, adding to the state’s already-extensive operational paramilitary forces, numbering nearly 700,000. Most reports leaving Kashmir are firsthand accounts shared on social media, largely coming from outside of the state and including a popularized Twitter thread by citizen Sanna Wani and recaps on Instagram stories. These accounts report that forces have been deployed en masse to the streets. Tactics of control have been imposed, like strict curfews. Rumors of protests prevail, but repressive actions or deaths associated with them cannot be determined without open media. Many journalists have been disallowed entry into Kashmir, and tourists were directed to leave. A state-controlled blackout has severed all forms of telephone communication and internet in the state, leaving it numbly silent to the rest of the country and the world. It is reported that satellite numbers, too, are out of service. Those living outside of the state cannot reach their families in Kashmir, causing widespread worry about their safety. Shortages have been reported regarding essentials and cash in ATMs. In all, the situation is both dire and mounting, as well as inaccessible and secretive. But amidst the turmoil, official reports may be unreliable in their representations of experiences faced on-the-ground.

In the coming weeks, many are hopeful for a break in the silence and stasis the decisions impose. Some hope the Supreme Court will declare the bifurcation unconstitutional, and restore the allowances granted under Article 370. Until then, and perhaps even then, there is no promise to an end on violence, given its new legalization. Still, the International Court of Justice stated, “All eyes are now on the Indian Supreme Court to fulfil its functions in defense of the rights of people of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian Constitution.” The waiting persists for countless people who hope soon to reach their loved ones living through dark days in the disputed state.

[1] Notable periods of unrest include that which followed the Amarnath Land Row in 2008, the twin rape case of Asiya and Neelofar by the Indian Security forces in 2009, the Machil fake encounter in 2010, the unannounced execution of Afzal Guru in 2013 and more recently, the killing of the local Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani in 2016.

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