Millennium Post
Opinion

Ground reality

While the government is focussing on bringing benefits of revising Article 370 in the Valley, people’s narratives stand bereft of any optimism

A few days before BJP government did away with the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and stripped it of statehood, I spoke to 15 odd people comprising journalists, academics and intellectuals from both within and outside the state, now Union Territory, about the central government's plans vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir after it deployed legions of additional forces in the valley. From the odds of scrapping article 370 to cross LOC infiltration, almost every issue was taken up. There were some good conjectures with little logic while many directly precluded the possibility of abrogation of the special status of the state, assigning reason and logic. The valley was in bedlam and people were desperate to know about what the government was up to. The rumours flew thick and fast for quite a few days. A day before August 6 when the balloon went up, a New Delhi based journalist friend messaged me about the government's designs to hollow the state out of its special status.

I asked him a flurry of technical questions which he failed to answer but came out with exclamations, "They are driven by a fascist ideology. Their mind is shut to reason and rationality". These two small sentences expressed almost everything that was happening and were to occur. I was fidgety.

Now as the pal proved right in anticipating the impending disaster, many people in the valley were left with a deep shock, unable to come to terms with the unprecedented move. The land-locked valley has been reeling under curfew since August 5. The communication lines are down though some landlines in Srinagar and few other districts were restored. Students who study outside the valley are still unable to communicate freely with their families back home. The parents, in hundreds, trickle down to police stations and the offices of district magistrates to try to connect with their children.

Two former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are still under detention. Dozens of their party members were also collared during multiple takedowns executed by police while many have gone into hiding. According to a police official, almost 4,000 people including political activists were arrested in the valley since August 5 though there are some who have been released on a bond.

The separatists and leaders of banned religious-political organisation Jammat-I-Islamia are already behind the bars. Although the government claims that things are getting normal, there hardly seems any improvement in the situation on the ground. Multiple incidents of stone-pelting take place in the valley on a daily basis.

While the Srinagar cityscape more than a month later still largely wears a deserted look, the alleys in far off rural areas are filled with the knots of people discussing the ramifications of the ruling dispensation's new ventures. The common apprehensions among people include job loss, transferring large swathes of land to security forces and bringing about the demographic changes. Barely anyone in the valley talks about the development and opportunities that the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir's special status, as government claims, will bring about.

The governor's recent announcement of providing 50 thousand jobs to youth in Jammu and Kashmir hardly evoked any response among the jobless youth in the valley.

"What will we do after getting a job when our "identity" is on the line?" says a band of unemployed young men in Srinagar, adding that after the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, they feel like strangers in their own homeland.

"Although Modi government uses well-nigh every television channel to spread lies about the normalcy in Kashmir, things in the valley are going down the hill with every passing day," said Javed Ahmad, a resident of Srinagar. Ahmad said that recently a youth died of multiple pellet injuries after battling for life for several days at a local hospital in Srinagar.

"...But the government said he died after he was hit by stone. His medical reports clearly showed metallic balls fired by shotgun lodged in his head," he added.

The R K Sanovar Protico hotel in Srinagar's Sanowar area these days witnesses a huge rush of journalists. Every day, scores of scribes throng the place and scramble for hours to get access to the internet. The hotel is the only place in the valley where journalists could send across stories to their respective media outlets or download the content. The government in the valley created a media cell in the hotel after it brought down all the communication links on August 5, making it extremely difficult for journalists to carry out their daily assignments.

"News gathering has become extremely difficult under the current circumstances. We are notable to contact our sources; send mails or reach out to authorities for official version," says Akeel Rashid, a valley-based journalist who works with Kashmir Images.

Akeel says that the hotel housing the media cell has only a few computers and journalists have to queue up and wait for their turn. "Owing to communication blockade, we bring out an 8-page edition in lieu of usual 16 pages", Akeel adds.

While there are stringent curbs on the free movement of journalists, many local scribes have been consistently cribbing about ill-treatment by the security forces. "I was stopped at a security check post in south Kashmir and as soon as I displayed my press card along with the curfew permission to one of the security men he greeted me with a stream of expletives," said a reporter who declined to be identified in this report.

(The author is a Kashmir-based freelance journalist writing for national and regional newspapers. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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