Kashmir a prison under military control, say activists back from Valley

FILE PHOTO: Paramilitary personnel stand guard during restrictions in Jammu
Four prominent activists, who returned after spending five days travelling across the Kashmir Valley, have said the Centre and the state government have turned the region into “a prison under military control”.

In a report released on Wednesday, the activists said Indian media’s claims of Kashmir being peaceful were “grossly misleading”. They said common people were seething, distrust against New Delhi had increased, which has marginalized “pro-India parties” and strengthened the hands of separatists.

The activists said the Valley was on the edge and could erupt in protests as and when the authorities lift the curfew. They said the Valley has witnessed protests, which the forces have suppressed with use of force.

However, the J&K administration said it has lifted all restrictions in Jammu but these will continue in Kashmir. Principal secretary of J&K administration Rohit Kansal said general view is that the situation has been calm.

In another development, authorities sent back former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Shah Faesal to Srinagar from the Delhi airport on Wednesday. Faesal was not allowed to fly to Istanbul. Faesal, 36, the first Kashmiri to top the IAS examination had quit his job in January to protest killings in his homeland and entered politics.

In their report, the four activists said they went far beyond the small enclave in the centre of Srinagar. They said this enclave “where the Indian media operates and where a semblance of normalcy returns from time to time” has enabled the Indian media to claim, rather erroneously, that life in Kashmir is back to normal. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” they said.

The activists – economist Jean Drèze, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)’s Kavita Krishnan, All India Democratic Women’s Association’s Maimoona Mollah and Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) – were in Kashmir from August 9 to 13, travelling widely inside and outside Srinagar.

They addressed the media at the Press Club of India in the national capital to share their experiences from their visit to Kashmir after Parliament scrapped the provisions of Article 370 and 35A and passed a law to bifurcate the state into two union territories of J&K and Ladakh. They were not allowed to show video clips they had recorded during the visit, which they released later on social media.

“Many told us that they expected massive protests to erupt sooner or later, and anticipated violent repression even if the protests were peaceful,” they said. They said people were afraid of coming on camera for fear of persecution. Off-camera, the people accused the government of zulm, or oppression, zyadti, or excesses, and dhokha, or betrayal.

The activists said most people they met said doing away with Article 370 has ended the “contract” between Kashmir’s leadership and India’s. “With Article 370 gone, India no longer has any basis for its claim over Kashmir,” the activists quoted people as having told them, with one of their respondents describing Article 370 as the mangalsutra between Kashmir and India.

A common feedback was the Centre’s move has discredited “pro-India parties” and vindicated those who argued for Kashmir’s “azaadi", or independence from India. “Many people are happy about the treatment the mainstream parties are getting. These parties batted for the Indian State and are being humiliated now,” the activists were told. People expressed fear of a demographic change in the Valley, and corporate groups taking over their lands.

The activists claimed the Valley, including Srinagar have witnessed several protests. They said nearly 10,000 people protested in Soura in Srinagar on August 9 and forces responded with pellets, injuring several. They met two victims of pellet injuries in a hospital.

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The activists said forces have been “arbitrarily” picking up hundreds of schoolboys and teenagers, who are being illegally detained and women and girls complained that they were being molested during raids by forces.

There is a clampdown on the local media, Kashmiri television channels are not telecasting, and newspapers functioning under tremendous restrictions, they said.