Review Article

Kashmir After 370

Joydip Ghosal

A dismantled State, The Untold Story of Kashmir After Article 370’ (Harpar Collins India) by prominent journalist Anuradha Bhasin searches the answer of a question throughout the book. How would the political and geographical alterations interact with daily lives of ordinary folks of Kashmir and what did the future hold up for this truncated region? This beautifully crafted book brought to the fore multilayer facts that remained obfuscated due to the lack of will to probe fairly and diligently. Anuradha aptly describes the book as a journey. It tried to discover how the reading down of article 370 and resultant legal actions and their ramifications altered the entire landscape in unprecedented manner changing the identity, economics, politics. The abrogation of already hollowed- out article would usher in a new dawn– government proclaimed. But the populace of the region would find out in utter astonishment that their universe was turned upside down. Information system was in disarray. As a permanent resident of Jammu Kashmir, she witnessed many turbulent upheavals post 5thAugust, 2019. She found herself after the abrogation at crossroads where her existence lay in tatters. She felt a sense of disempowerment. In order to express her predicament, she took resort to the poem of Indu Killam. ‘Building bridges for years/tired and hopeless now, for the river changed its course and the bridge leads nowhere…’Beneath the official narrative of Kashmir, post abrogation of article 370 lay buried deafening silence. It was like a cloak that muzzled unheard sounds that were reflective of myriad dimensions of political and social structures. A population with their aspirations remained numbed.

Unable to put her mind in order she sought the company of living legend Krishan Dev Sethi, a veteran crusader of ‘Quit Kashmir Movement. ‘On 5th August 2019 he was the only surviving member of JK constituent assembly. He was grief stricken. He had drafted the constitution of the state but it had lost its meaning and essence. He felt that the outcome of J&K’s land reforms would render meaningless. Anuradha Bhasin asked him whether the ‘land reforms could have been possible without J&K’s special status, and he replied in negative.’ It was no doubt that the conditions mentioned in the Instrument of Accession were recognised by article 370. Author presented a curious fact that in the Constituent Assembly debate on Article 370 dissenting vote was cast by Maulana Hasrat Mohani, one of the founders of Communist Party of India. He was not against granting the special status to Kashmir. He was in favour of similar structure of autonomy for all other states. That befitted his idea of federalism.

A C Michael, former member of Delhi Minorities Commission remarked “A very dangerous precedence set by the present government for future governments. This is an emergency of another kind.” On 22 March 2021 Modi Government tabled GNCT (Amendment Bill). In the words of Mrs Bhasin, he ‘did a Kashmir on Delhi.’ Now the lieutenant governor would have powers to bypass any law. Elective representative would be reduced to mere heads.

She elaborately discussed the process of filing the petitions in Supreme Court challenging the scrapping of the article. She posed a pertinent question. Could the resultant delay in adjudicating a matter related to fundamental rights is truly deemed as justice?’On3 February, 2021 cyber-bullying reached another level. The law enforcing agencies started registration of citizen as volunteers. They would monitor the activities on internet and conduct surveillance. ‘Unlawful content flaggers’ would identify online illegal content. It was blatant violation of rights where mechanism of verification and authentication was absent. After 5 August, 2019 the valley itself metamorphosed into a prison. A PUCL report ‘Imprisoned Resistance’ documented the accounts of sleeplessness and panic of common people due to night raids.

The ban on communication and stringent curbs triggered a sense of insecurity among the working journalists. The author literally dismantled the centre’s normalcy narrative by presenting the cases of journalists Qazi Shibli, Peerzada Ashiq and Naseer Ahmad Ganai. The muscle-flexing methods of subduing the journalists transitioned from one lockdown to another due to Corona lockdown. Stringent UAPA was slapped upon photo journalist Masrat Zahra. Auqib Javeed had to face horrific ordeal for the title of his article. Fahad Shah, editor of Kashmir Walla had to face criminal charges. Two more journalists Manan Dar and Sajad Gul were arrested on terror charges. On the last day of August 2019 senior journalist Gowhar Geelani stood at the immigration centre of Delhi’s International Airport. Deutsche Welle offered him a job. But he was disallowed to travel. In June 2022 photo journalist SannaIrs had Matto was disallowed to travel Kashmir for a prestigious photo exhibition. An independent journalist Aakash Hassan was debarred from boarding a plane for a reporting assignment to Sri Lanka. On 17th April 2021, Saima Akthgtar, a special police officer was grilled and faced the dreadful UAPA because she questioned frequent army raids at her village Frisal in Kulgam. Press Club’s building was forcibly shut down. To make the matter worse Kashmiri journalist Qurat-ul-Ain’s photo was uploaded on Bulli Bai App to tarnish her image by wrong-doers. Kashmir’s media policy the fifty- page document which the author castigated as reflecting Orwellian policy judged journalist on ‘barometer of unwavering loyalty to the government’. The situation resembled ‘panoptic control’ where those who raised their voices were likely to be prosecuted. This book also minutely discussed every aspect of new land laws and property rights and how they dispossessed local people.

Even political leaders were not allowed to speak up. The author with her poignant writing style brought to the fore how Congress Spokesperson Ravinder Sharma was taken away from the party office at Shaheedi Chowk in Jammu. After 5 August the valley remained insulated for several months. Rahul Gandhi was detained at the airport. Sandeep Pandey, prominent Magsaysay awardee was barred entry.

According to author today Kashmir finds itself drained of hope and it stands at the critical juncture of impending doom. The author raised the question with accuracy. Lack of clarity coupled with deafening silence deepened the all-pervasive fear. Was a new definition of democracy being thrashed upon J&K where military lockdown silenced the common people? She began each chapter of the book with pertinent quote. This quote by eminent poet Yevegny Yevtushenko ‘when truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie” brought to the fore and encapsulated the true essence of the book by tearing apart the official narrative of normalcy.

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Vol 55, No. 46, May 14 - 20, 2023