Four months have passed since the Government of India unilaterally imposed a lockdown in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, a day before abrogating Article 370, which granted special status to the state. The multiple restrictions ranged from complete communication blockade in Kashmir and complete Internet ban in Jammu & Kargil. The erstwhile state was suddenly catapulted to the limelight for a new “historic” development. The stories of arrest, illegal detention and tortures came out in the public view. Opposition leaders in both regions of Jammu and Kashmir were kept under house arrest. Any voice against the government was threatened, intimidated or sent behind bars. Meanwhile, the news of normalcy was being peddled by the government via few media channels. As the international pressure built up, the Congressional meetings saw no representation from Kashmiris living in Kashmir.
While Jammu remained relatively calm, areas including Kishtwar, Doda, Bhaderwah and Poonch, with majority Muslim population, witnessed mass arrests for opposing the government’s decision. As Indian government is assuring normalcy to the world, the silent residents of Jammu are gathering courage to speak up. NewsClick spoke to residents of Jammu from different classes to understand the ground situation. One thing that was common across various sections was that people want to speak out but are fearing the repercussions of the same.
A young lawyer from Jammu, Sugandha Sawhney told NewsClick, “It feels like we are living under an authoritarian regime. There is a sense of unease and anxiousness amongst the people of Jammu and people are afraid of speaking up. Students have been suffering because of the restrictions on mobile internet as they cannot access online courses and research material for their education. The Jammu Bar Association is still continuing its strike, and the district and high court is barely functioning. Businesses are facing setbacks in Jammu. The Centre is taking no interest in quelling the strike or normalising the situation. There’s a sense of fear over the land being prepared to be sold off to outsiders without any transparency. The situation of law and order seems askew for now and owing to harsh crackdown over the opposition, there’s an absence of political activity and dissent with a number of politicians from Jammu still under detention.”
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The fear that their lands will be taken away by the outsiders was palpable among the residents. Speaking to NewsClick, an auto driver, who wished to stay anonymous. said, “Kashmir se badla lene ke peeche, government ne Jammu ka bedagarak kar diya (In order to take revenge from Kashmir, Jammu has been put in a difficult situation.) We fear that our lands will be taken away by the outsiders and nobody will be able to visit Kashmir as people are angry there. They won’t let any one enter.”
A passenger travelling in a Matador told NewsClick, “Revocation of Article 370 is a step towards Hindu Bharat and a way to take a revenge from Muslims for all the atrocities committed upon Hindus for years. We, Dogras, have been facing discrimination for years because of Kashmir (the situation in Kashmir) and now this will end. So, I am happy but can’t trust media people so won’t tell my name.”
Meanwhile, there are several others who remain unaware of what Article 370 is. A waiter at a local pizza restaurant in Jewel, Jammu, told NewsClick, “I don’t know what Article 370 is. I had heard that the government has done something and that’s why internet is not working. But never thought of digging deeper into it. Yes, I am facing trouble because of no internet, other than that my life remains the same. I didn’t get any increment too.”
Another auto driver, Devendra Singh, said, “I was an auto driver before the abrogation of Article 370 and I am still an auto driver. This episode has not affected me. Gareeb gareeb hii rehta hai.(Poor will remain poor.)”
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Speaking about the last four months and how it has been in Jammu, the executive editor of a local daily, Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin, said, “Economy is down, there is partial internet ban in Jammu and complete ban in some districts which has affected all spheres of life. There is a fear of uncertain future and above all fear of speaking out.”
Earlier NewsClick had reported on how communication restrictions have brought business and economy to a standstill in Jammu and Kashmir. Rakesh Gupta, Chamber of Commerce president said, “Economy is on the verge of collapse in Jammu and people are scared to speak out.”