Over the past many weeks, television visuals from the rest of India have kept Kashmiris hooked.
For decades a staple of their protests, the various iterations of their favourite Azadi slogan now reverberate in other parts of the country.
Across India, students, teachers, advocates, and other civilians have marched against a new citizenship law, enacted in December, that’s been widely deemed anti-Muslim. Pitched battles have been fought between the police and armed hooligans often on one side and students and other protesters on the other. Some 25 people have reportedly died across India till now in clashes and police shootings.
The supreme court of India has said, inexplicably, that it wants the violence to stop first before it will hear any pleas against the new law.
Yet, Kashmir itself remains eerily calm, mostly thanks to the iron curtain that has descended around and inside it since the state’s autonomy was abruptly withdrawn on Aug. 5 by India. Under Kashmir’s Orwellian siege—visible and invisible curbs and penalties and a lingering internet gag have muted the expression of public dissent in the state—not even social gatherings with suspected political overtones are allowed.
The state’s senior political leadership has anyway been rendered completely powerless by the iron hand dealt by New Delhi. For instance, three chief ministers of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir—Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti—remain under detention. This is besides the hundreds of other political detainees.
On Jan. 7, Iltija Mufti, daughter of Mehbooba Mufti, was stopped from visiting the grave of her grandfather Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on his death anniversary. Sayeed was himself a chief minister.
Earlier, a small group of elderly women from elite political and business families was arrested and despatched to Srinagar’s central jail, the moment they began gathering in a city park to protest the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted Kashmir autonomy. They were released only the following day after being made to sign bonds promising not to engage in fresh protests.
Five months since the revocation of Article 370, the internet remains shut in Kashmir. Only some 7,000 additional paramilitary personnel out of the 100,000 deployed in the region since early August have been withdrawn.
Today (Jan. 10), the supreme court of India ruled that the internet was a fundamental right and asked the government to review the curbs on it in Jammu & Kashmir.
Kashmiris themselves see little rationale for the perpetuation of these restrictions. The situation has largely been normal over the past three months. Markets have re-opened and public transport has resumed.
The government is in no mood to make any concession, though, let alone allow protests. It doesn’t listen, engage or reach out in a democratic spirit, but only hoists more indignity. At least this is what journalists have learnt to their detriment. Demanding restoration of the internet service to facilitate the discharge of their professional duties, the media has been met with a growing indifference. Yet, the “internet apartheid” sees senior police and administrative officials—and recently some major hospitals—enjoying the facility denied to media, businesses, and the people at large.
Also, while lockdown has apparently been eased somewhat in its external manifestation, coercion is designed into the government approach: It only goes into a latent state as long as the situation remains normal. Any whiff of a protest, and the security machinery springs back.
The politicians who have been released so far have only earned their freedom by signing a bond saying they wouldn’t challenge the revocation of Article 370.
This has created an atmosphere of fear. Recent history also suggests a broad political consensus in the rest of India over Kashmir: Political parties, media, and a predominant majority rarely protest against the blackout in Kashmir. The move to do away with Article 370 or the unprecedented restrictions to suppress resistance have hardly evoked discussions beyond a cursory level.
As protests widen in the country against the citizenship law, meanwhile, the increasing “Kashmirisation” of India is only more conspicuous. The Muslim-majority Himalayan state is now watching the events unfold in the rest of the country—part amused, part bewildered.
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