Kashmir Without 370

Oppression, Wounds and Freedom

Joydip Ghosal

Afour-member team from WSS visited the restive Kashmir–the valley of death–after the abrogation of Article 370. They wanted to interact with common people and listen to their unheard voices. They showed solidarity and tried to understand the volatile situation after the scrapping of article 370 and 35 A and bifurcation of state into two union territories. They travelled across the districts of Srinagar, Shopian, Baramulla and Kupwara. Their experience was published in a book titled ZULM ZAKHM AZADI, women’s voice of resistance in Kashmir which literally translated as Oppression, Wounds and Freedom. Their journey into the districts of Kashmir chronicled the stories of fear, loss and pain which were beyond measure. After the abolition of special status of J&K the whole country rejoiced. But in Kashmir common people felt a deep sense of betrayal, loss and simmering rage. According to them it was the ultimate blow to their identity and it wrecked heavily upon the common psyche. WSS team interacted with various people cutting across different strata of society but they did not find a single person who was happy with the scrapping. The summary execution of the decision angered everyone. The women who spoke to the team members in Soura expressed their feelings clearly: “With 9 lakh forces in Kashmir, do we have freedom of speech?”

A student from Pulwama was trying to appear for civil services after his Masters in Psychology from Jammu University. But he felt that his life was done for. Article 370 was the connection between India and Kashmir. Now clause 3 of 370 ceased to operate. According to his version “They are using gun to suppress us”.

Ordinary Kashmiris felt that scrapping of article 370 had a clear purpose which was to acquire land and property in the state. In 2018 the then J&K Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti stated that Army and government offices continued to illegally occupy over 21, 400 hectares of land in the state. In Drogmula,Kupwara army settled their transient camp upon a land which belonged to a lady. It was her only source of income. State already had control over many civilian establishments like Palladium cinema in Srinagar.Tosa Maidan meadow in Budgam was leased to Indian army for an artillery firing range but it remained a death trap for children and visitors. In Baramulla, the army had taken over huge stretches of land near the district hospital since 1960 and local people conveyed to WSS team that they had to take long route in order to avoid multiple checkpoints.

Right wingers in India claimed that abrogation of article 35A would protect the rights of women. But local people whom WSS team spoke to vehemently protested. They asserted that abrogation of Article 35A was not for that purpose. J&K High Court’s judgment in 2000 stated that a woman did not lose her right to own land when she married a non-state subject.

Since July 17, 2019 the J&K Forest Advisory Committee had diverted more than 663 hectares of forest land for 198 projects in the course of only five meetings. This book ZULM ZAKHM AZADI brings to the fore an interesting fact that an Environmental Impact Assessment Authority was set up on august 4 to facilitate the clearance to the projects. Government refused to divulge the details of the projects. Since 2017 CRPF had taken over the lower section of Dachigram National Park. As a result the habitats of critically endangered deer species were displaced. In September 2019, the Indian National Board for Wildlife gave sanction for destruction of 13.53 hectares of forest land including portion of Gulmarg Wildlife Sanctuary for air- defence project. People ridiculed the concept of development when prime minister talked about the construction of toilets in his speech in UN Assembly on September 27, 2019. Common people found it hilarious that he had to bring up the topic in an international forum and on the other hand he claimed that abrogation of article 370 would hasten development in Kashmir.

After the abrogation the livelihoods of people also suffered severely. WSS team spoke to Haenz community who solely depended upon the water. They had to shift their bases to Bemina because their income from houseboats declined drastically. They now earned their livelihoods as scrap dealers. Some of them lived near Habba Kadal. They told the WSS team members that they missed their Pandit brothers who now migrated to Jammu. From this book one comes to know that Sikh minority groups which remained in Kashmir did not face religious persecution.

This book carefully documented instances of torture and sexual violence and their consequences for men and women. Perpetual anxiety, torture, arrests left deep psychological scars. In Baramulla a woman spoke to the team members how difficult it was to go outside because of constant presence of security forces. They came across a woman whose friend’s father disappeared when she was still in the mother’s womb. She was now 26 years old and they still did not have any information about him. The team also documented specific instances of violence in Anchar and Saura area.

In Srinagar the team documented the horrible death of Fahmeeda Shagoo, a 34-year-old woman. She breathed her last due to the tear gas suffocation in her own house. In case of Osaib Altaf, who was just 17- year-old even a death certificate was not issued. He was probably the first victim after the abrogation.

 In Kashmir through the process of militarisation men were removed from their houses. So the burden and panic women lived with multiplied manifold. Amidst violence and insecurity they had to rear their children up. Despite that they fought for their near and dear ones in courts and police stations.

By documenting the instances of repression and its aftereffects ZULM ZAKHM AZADI presents an honest and truthful picture of Kashmir to the nation.


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Vol 55, No. 40, April 2 - 8, 2023