Srinagar: Entangled in a mesh of barbed and concertina wires, Srinagar, the summer capital of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir appears like a ghost town as its inhabitants try to recover from the shock and awe following the abrogation of Article 370. People avoid greeting with a smile as a maddening quiet has taken over busy markets, roads and celebrations.
In the last two weeks, the government imposed massive curbs on people and all modes of communication in the restive region. As people in the valley grapple with the unprecedented clampdown in the wake of abrogation of its special status and carving out of two union territories, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in New Delhi maintains that the situation in the Valley is improving. The setting in the valley, however, only point towards signs of deterioration.
“It is as if when someone you know dies a sudden death and we can’t cry. We are in a similar state of shock,” a resident of the volatile Nowhatta region, Abdul Rashid said.
The movement of residents of Srinagar city, especially those from the old city areas has been curtailed by huge presence of security forces and personnel from J&K police at every entry and exit points, on major roads and even around lanes and alleys. Protests and clashes have broken out in several areas, but mostly in certain pockets like Soura, Palpora and Old city areas. The number of those injured during the protests are estimated to be between 60-80 across the valley, some of them gravely. The actual number, however, remains unconfirmed due to the information black-out.
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In the absence of communication, tension within the valley has only heightened as hundreds of families are unable to talk to their members travelling outside J&K. A woman Haj pilgrim died and was buried in Madina and her family in Hyderpora only came to know when a person from the neighbourhood personally delivered the information amid the curfew.
“More hearts will break once the restrictions are lifted completely. Many people will come to know that someone they knew has already died,” a resident of the same locality Shahid pointed out.
The administration says the supply of essentials has been stored in abundance and there is no dearth. An official statement on August 16 said, “Steps have been taken to ensure that there are no shortage of essential supplies, medical facilities and hospitals continue to function, electricity, water supply and sanitation services are maintained.”
However, contrary to the statement, the biggest problems in the last two weeks has been access to the essential supplies especially, medical facilities.
Sheikh Suhail, who runs a medical shop in Downtown Srinagar’s Nawab Bazar locality, said despite witnessing several protest and agitations for months, he did not face major medicinal stock problems but this time the situation has turned out to be more difficult.
“Due to the restrictions, the distributors are not able to deliver medicines. Also I am not able to visit them which I used to do earlier in case of emergencies,” he told NewsClick.
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In a letter to the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sheikh Ashiq termed the prevailing situation as a build up of a ‘grave humanitarian crisis’. Apart from seeking restoration of communication lines, Ashiq urged the government for the release of members of business community who have been kept under ‘preventive detention’.
“Several among those need regular medical supervision,” the president of KCCI said.
Many believe the government’s decision to blackout information and then unilaterally remove the special status is a depiction of absolute betrayal against the people of J&K. “I am shocked to see that the Article 370, which acted as a bridge between Kashmir and New Delhi for the last seven decades, was burnt within no time,” a resident of Srinagar’s Owanta Bhawan said.
Another resident of the same neighbourhood, Hamid says the way the clampdown was imposed and subsequently Article 370 removed is clearly aimed to alienate the people further. “Hospitality towards our guests from outside Kashmir was a hallmark of our culture but I do not feel hospitable anymore and all this happened in a jiffy,” he added.
Abrogation of Article 370 Not A Sudden Decision
The removal of Article 370, however, many claim did not happen in a single Parliamentary session. Experts claim that over a period, only a ‘hollow shell’ of the original agreement existed, as most arrangements were stripped gradually over the past decades starting with the Presidential Order of 1954, a year after the then Prime Minister of J&K and co-author of the original agreement Sheikh Abdullah was arrested. Following this, Abdullah was incarcerated for 11 years.
Constitutional expert A.G. Noorani in his book Article 370 – A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir states that the article was ‘denuded of content by conscious executive acts’ on the advice of Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru through one Presidential Order after another.
In the book, Noorani also points out what Nehru, another co-author of Article 370, had declared in the Lok Sabha on November 27, 1963. “Article 370 has been eroded, if I may use the word, and many things have been done in the last few years which have made the relationship of Kashmir with the Union of India very close. There is no doubt that Kashmir is fully integrated…We feel that this process of gradual erosion of article 370 is going on,” he had.
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Completing the circle, to abrogate the Article, the administration put Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah under preventive detention a day before the final announcement was made in Rajya Sabha by Home Minister Amit Shah on August 5, 2019. The date, many consider, is another ‘milestone’ in the contemporary history and polity of the region.
Dispute will Continue
Suvaid Yaseen, a scholar of history at Brown University in the US, however, says that even as the situation is precarious the abrogation of Article 370 will not have any bearing on the larger nature of the dispute. The conflict, nevertheless, might escalate. The autonomous nature of the state lost due to abrogation of Article 370 has fanned multiple fears among locals, Yaseen voiced. “The legislation was done in an extraordinary manner; the reaction will also not be simplistic. The article gave autonomous powers to the state and the threat of a possible demographic change are even more serious,” he added.
The incarceration of political leadership across spectrum has only fuelled fears. According to a senior police official posted in Srinagar, more than a hundred senior politicians have been detained and kept in undisclosed locations. Those put under arrest include three former Chief Ministers of the state including the first woman chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. She will be the last as well. Mehbooba’s daughter Iltija has also been detained despite being unaffiliated with any political party openly. She, although, had been vocal about her mother’s plight.
Several politicians who participated in electoral politics have been arrested and sent to different jails, many among them – as indicated by administrative officials – slapped with the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA).
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The detention of politicians, many believe, has annihilated and undone years of electoral politics in Kashmir. “The central government’s crackdown on politicians especially Farooq Abdullah means there is no room for Kashmiri representation in Parliament any more. What’s the use of electing a member for Parliament if he is not allowed to even speak or walk out of his home,” Abid Khan, a resident of Illahi Bagh told NewsClick.
The government on Saturday eased restrictions to some extent and there is limited traffic on the roads. The civil secretariat has resumed, and schools are expected to open from August 19, in a similar phased manner. But the locals, marred by heavy clampdown, say the only thing they are certain about is that only uncertainty will prevail ahead. Amid all this, how the situation will shape up further remains to be seen.