Srinagar: Curfew, news and communications blackout, transportation shut-down… News reports from Kashmir are worrying. So are the views relayed through the media, especially television. Old-fashioned repression seems to be consorting comfortably with expressions of concern “for our Kashmiri brethren”. We are looking at Orwell’s 1984 in the making.
In medical emergencies hospitals are practically out of reach. Vehicles ferrying patients can’t easily get past militarised check-points. A human rights issue is looming. Journalists are under tight monitoring. Controlled news is the order of the day.
A burst of gunfire can be clearly heard in a recent BBC television report. The police have not fired a single shot (since Kashmir’s special status became extinct earlier this month), says the government. Then, did BBC doctor the video, or did another uniformed force let go a volley on protesters? Or, was it the other way round- armed militants concealing among protesters shooting at the security forces? There are no details forthcoming, or even an accusation against BBC. Just blanket denial.
In the fog of one-sided propaganda, facts are a casualty. Political sources no longer exist when communications are down. Shah Faesal, a young bureaucrat-turned politician trying to leave the country, was arrested at Delhi airport and taken back to Srinagar. Senior opposition leaders on fact-finding missions were refused entry and made to turn back from Srinagar airport.
In under four days of the commencement of the state of disquiet on August 5, more than 400 Kashmiri politicians were thrown behind bars, including the hapless Sajjad Lone, who had cozied up to BJP. Ali Mohammed Sagar, the National Conference general secretary who has not lost a state legislator’s election from Khanyar in Srinagar since 1983, has been despatched to a jail in Bareilly in faraway UP.
In Srinagar, on the day of Eid-ul-Azha, one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar, the largest mosques and Islamic sites of prayer of Muslim Kashmir, were out of bounds for the faithful. This has to be a low point for religious freedoms.
This writer can recall visits to the valley in the militancy years of the early ‘90s when the Indian state had to shoot its way out of the corner. The clampdown did not seem so severe then, though there were many serious problems.
In political terms, what the regime may have succeeded in doing — for the first time — is to unite all the political and social tendencies in a straight line against the Indian state. In conditions of extreme repression, this should ordinarily mean the deepening of repression.
In such a situation, there is real danger that the day of the mainstream politician — especially of a party like the National Conference (NC) — may be over for the foreseeable future. Consider the enormity and the tragedy. But for the NC and its stalwart founder-leader Sheikh Abdullah in 1947, when Jinnah pleaded with Kashmir to join Muslim Pakistan, Kashmir had chosen “secular” India.
All this is forgotten. There is hypocrisy, doublespeak. If a concerned citizen wonders whether the BBC report about firing on protesters is accurate after all, ‘Pas-Darshan’ — as distinct from the government television Door-Darshan which, now doesn’t seem so outrageous — knocks her on the head and questions her “nationalism”. How dare you swallow a foreign lie and ignore home-cooked official facts? That’s the new trend in our journalism.
If another citizen says that in a zealot Hindu dispensation very unusual goings-on are occurring in Kashmir perhaps because the valley is mainly Muslim, he is clobbered and warned not to be “communal”. In New India, inversions of the truth are welcome.
Undiluted propaganda and the falsification of history about Article 370 are peddled. ‘Pas-Darshan’ beams the catechism with gusto. The provision was “temporary” and had to go to bring the whole country under one law, says the government. Many have fallen for this, but not the Supreme Court.
Post-1947, even people of Jammu, who could have legitimately settled in the Valley, chose not to do so in any significant way
In 1968, in Sampat Prakah vs the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and then again in as recently as 2016 in SBI vs Santosh Gupta, the top court made it clear that Article 370 was by no means “temporary”. This means that Union home minister Amit Shah, in the Rajya Sabha on August 5, built his case on a dubious premise. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the strongman in the forefront of integrating the princely states in 1947, is falsely invoked to justify ending J&K’s special status when the Sardar was central to the discussions and negotiations that produced Article 370 and related provisions.
Another element of propaganda is that 370 came in the way of Kashmir’s development. This has to be a wilful departure from facts because the facts are laid out in the official statistics. On social and infrastructural indices like education, health, nutrition, roads and housing, J&K- especially Kashmir valley- surely ranks among the best places in India.
In his recent address to the nation on Kashmir, wittingly or unwittingly, the PM too has seriously erred. He said Kashmir “had been deprived of the Right to Education (RTE)” because J&K’s special status under Article 370 prevented the application of Indian laws to Kashmir. This is monumentally at variance with the reality.
The facts are that there is perhaps not a single law passed by Parliament that did not apply in J&K if New Delhi wished it to, and this was made possible by the much reviled Article 370. As for the RTE, Kashmir — unlike the rest of India — does not need it.
Since as far back as 1950, education was made wholly free in government schools and colleges right up to the most advanced level in Kashmir. It is probable that young Kashmiris may be among the best educated people anywhere in South Asia.
In the Kashmir context, there appears to be well-crafted propaganda at work. The agenda is to misrepresent and misinterpret the known facts in deference to BJP’s ideological imperatives, and to falsely suggest that the special status for J&K, arising from Article 370, has paved the ground for terrorism in the Valley.
Ergo, remove the special status, and permit people from other states to buy property in Kashmir. When that happens, and Hindus settle in the Valley, separatism or terrorism would vanish, runs the unstated logic.
Apart from the presumption that Muslims are terrorists by temperament, there are two problems with this Israel-like settlement plan (operational in Palestinian territories). The first is that the Israeli settlements have failed to bring peace and have indeed made matters worse, just like the Chinese plan for Xinjiang or Tibet. These do not constitute a solution.
Two, in the post-1947 period, even the people of Jammu, who could have legitimately settled in the Valley, chose not to do so in any significant way.
There is some anxiety even in BJP-held Jammu now about being flooded by property-seekers from outside.
We are summoning a disturbing, uncertain, future.
By Anand K Sahay
The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.
A version of this article first appeared in The Asian Age. The views are personal.
First published on Counterview.