Life Under Siege in Kashmir

Kashmir remains an open air prison, leaving people with no control over their lives.

This is one of the darkest times to be a Kashmiri. We are being reminded of this fact every minute since the August 5 abrogation of Article 370 of India’s Constitution, which had granted Jammu and Kashmir partial autonomy as an Indian state. We encounter it in our minds, in the anxious look on the faces of fellow Kashmiris, in the listless markets that have only recently reopened after three and a half months of shutdown, and in the street-side huddles that invariably veer into discussions about an uncertain future and the specter of looming demographic change. We feel it every time we pick up our phones, knowing they won’t connect to the internet – even more than five months after the communication blackout began. Or for that matter when our prepaid phone SIMs can’t make a call.

True, under pressure from the international community and the country’s highest court’s direction, the government has selectively restored the internet connectivity to some “essential services” in the central parts of Kashmir, but service is still not available to the 8 million people of the region. And it is unlikely they will get it anytime soon, as the federal government’s plan to set up 400 internet kiosks across the valley would make you believe. These fewer kiosks will be there to enable access to the internet for the common people who are not being trusted with a connection of their own.

The Kashmir siege, however, goes well beyond indefinite denial of the internet and encompasses every aspect of life. It is about so many things done to the people simultaneously: in its external manifestation it is, of course, about a blanket security lockdown and a communication blockade, partially eased since, which between them have brought to bear almost the entire might of the Indian state on Kashmir to suppress all forms of dissent. So much so that Iltija Mufti, daughter of the detained former Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state’s Chief Minister (CM) Mehbooba Mufti, was stopped from visiting the grave of her grandfather Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, also a former CM, on his death anniversary on January 7.

Earlier, around a dozen elderly women, most of them from elite political and business families, were arrested and sent to Srinagar’s central jail the moment they started gathering in a city park to peacefully protest against the revocation of Article 370. They were released the following day only after signing a bond that they wouldn’t engage in a fresh protest.




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So, while protests have erupted in the rest of India against the new Citizenship Amendment Act, which offers citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, Kashmir is being denied any space to protest. In fact, what is happening in Kashmir goes beyond the denial of a space for protest: the region is being deprived of anything remotely resembling a working political and social organization that can either articulate the sentiments of their people or formulate a response to the current crisis. All major leaders or influential voices across the region’s separatist-establishment divide who are in a position to do so are under detention. This includes the three former chief ministers: Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. Leaders who have since been released have stayed short of challenging government’s move to revoke autonomy, making people infer they have signed a bond swearing off political activity.


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