One year after Jammu and Kashmir was deprived of its special status and its mainstream political voices were stifled, the people of the valley remain committed to fighting for justice.
The first anniversary of the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5 was accompanied by a low-key yet determined exhibition of political resolve by mainstream actors, who emphasised their commitment to fight in the Supreme Court and outside for the restoration of Articles 370 and 35A.
The administration had imposed a two-day curfew on August 4 and 5. As a result, the all-party meeting called by former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to chalk out a programme to take forward the Gupkar Declaration, a document which multiple leaders had signed under his aegis on August 4, 2019, could not take place. The declaration stated that any unilateral action on the part of New Delhi would be an “aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh”. The following day, the government revoked Articles 370 and 35A, which guaranteed the people of Jammu and Kashmir exclusive rights in employment and ownership of property.
Several leaders took to social media to condemn the curbs put on the operation of mainstream politics, while appealing to the Supreme Court for a favourable verdict on their plea for the restoration of special status. Iltija Mufti, daughter of former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is detained under the Public Safety Act, maintained that the exercise of coercive force would not prevent mobilisation of the Kashmiri emotion. She tweeted: “A year ago we witnessed how a majoritarian govt mutilated & robbed J&K in broad daylight. Seasons may have changed but the betrayal will never be forgiven or forgotten. Prolonged enforced silence wont suppress emotions forever.”
The National Conference (N.C.) had invited many leaders, including its Lok Sabha members Hasnain Masoodi and Akbar Lone, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) MP Fayaz Mir, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, and the Awami National Conference (ANC) leader Muzaffar Shah, for the meeting. Masoodi and Mir were stopped at the Gupkar road, while Tarigami, Muzaffar Shah and Akbar Lone were not allowed to venture out out of their homes.
Muzaffar Shah’s mother and ANC president Khalida Shah said “nowhere in the world has curfew been imposed owing to the COVID pandemic, the single exception being Kashmir”. She said the Centre’s strong-arm tactics could not mask the resentment that was brewing against it, not just in Kashmir Valley but also in Jammu and Ladakh. “The events in the State in the past one year have demonstrated that the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has lost the plot in Kashmir,” she said. She expressed the hope that the Supreme Court would mitigate their grievances.
Khalida Shah, the eldest daughter of Sheikh Abdullah, said: “The act of Parliament on August 5, 2019, was not only a gross contravention of the Indian Constitution, its basic and fundamental tenets and structure, but also a contemptuous one. The Supreme Court is legally and constitutionally duty bound to declare the same null and void without any duress or pressure and create history in protecting and preserving its impartial status and its role as given to it under the Constitution.”
On August 5, Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor G.C. Murmu resigned from his post. The following day, Manoj Sinha, former Union Minister and senior BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh, was appointed to the post. The move gave rise to speculation that the Centre was likely to restore statehood to Jammu and Kashmir., which was revoked last year. The State was split to form the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Ladakh does not have a legislature. Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary, said in July that the party’s Jammu unit was in favour of statehood.
The N.C. outlined the atmosphere of fear and frustration in which people were living. Imran Dar, party spokesperson, said in a statement: “The commitments [for autonomy] had come from the country [India], profusely guaranteed by its Constitution. While the people of Jammu and Kashmir stood by their word, the Union of India chose to backtrack from its solemn commitments made to the people of Jammu and Kashmir unilaterally and undemocratically. The decisions on August 5, 2019, were taken on false excuses, all of which stand debunked today. One year later the situation is as it is; it has rather become more fragile and unstable.”
The N.C. asserted that it would constitutionally and legally fight against the infringement on Jammu and Kashmir’s rights. Imran Dar said: “The people of Jammu and Kashmir have been at the receiving end; we don’t want to put them through added trepidation. Our struggle has always been peaceful. We will continue with that proclivity of ours until our rights are restored.” The N.C. has decided to mark August 5 as a day of mourning.
On August 3, the Srinagar District Magistrate issued orders promulgating curfew in Kashmir on August 4 and 5 by virtue of the powers vested in him under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. “Protests are not ruled out. There are specific inputs about violent protests endangering public life and property,” the order, which was applicable across all 10 districts of Kashmir, stated.
The government used the anniversary to catalogue its achievements in the Union Territory and share its vision for “Naya Kashmir”. Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar said that a “transformation was under way” in the Union Territory. He listed expansion of education, employment opportunities and advancement of women’s rights as major takeaways. Earlier, the Murmu administration had claimed that Jammu and Kashmir had progressed in the direction of decentralisation and economic revival. It listed 10 fields where Murmu’s regime registered growth; these included the health sector, ease of governance and democratic decentralisation, social sector development, economic revival, implementation of Swachh Bharat mission, and skill development and employment.
But Tarigami, a four-time legislator from Kulgam, questioned these claims. He said although “Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah justified the decision saying it would end decades-long militancy, separatism and corruption in the region and bring development, jobs and prosperity, one year down the line the promises proved to be a mirage and the claims a hoax”.
“None of the aforementioned claims pass the test of reality. Not only people of the valley, but residents of Jammu and Ladakh regions, too, are suffering because of the wrong policies of the BJP government. The uncertainties and uneasy calm combined with alienation pose a greater threat to the socio-politics of the State,” he said.
It is pertinent to note that in the past one year Kashmir’s economy has suffered losses to the tune of Rs.40,000 crore. This was largely because of restrictions in movement, which hit the apple industry badly, and the prolonged discontinuation of Internet connectivity.
Although people remained locked indoors, the day was punctuated by violence. In South Kashmir’s Kulgam district, at Vessu village in Qazigund block, militants opened fire on the BJP sarpanch, Sajad Ahmad Khanday. Khanday was rushed to hospital in Anantnag, but doctors there declared that he was brought dead. On August 4, a BJP panch, Arif Ahmad, was critically wounded after militants shot at him in Kulgam.
Several voices from different pockets of the world have condemned India’s hard-fisted policies in Kashmir. The culture of detentions and the prolonged shutdown of Internet connectivity, which have become a permanent features in the valley, have also come under attack. Prominent among such critical voices is Amnesty International, which has asked India to “urgently stop the protracted clampdown” in Jammu and Kashmir. It has also pressed for the release of all political leaders, journalists and activists.
Amnesty International India said in a statement: “Over the last one year the Government of India has been systematically dismantling all avenues for justice for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. With zero representation, protracted Internet restrictions, arbitrary use of some of India’s most stringent laws, verbal orders of detention and crippling of the local media —most of this disproportionately higher in Kashmir – it has been a complete year since we have heard the people of Jammu and Kashmir speak.”