Scrolling through my social media feeds and the many national news apps installed on my mobile, I couldn’t but notice the absence of any form of media coverage lately on the developments in Kashmir after the government of India abrogated its special status under Article 370 on 5 August.
Following the decision, news had been abound about indefinite curfews, restrictions, media suppression, detainment of local leaders, communication breakdown, ban on travels, unprecedented deployment of paramilitary forces, and a slew of don’ts in the new union territory.
BJP leaders, including the PM, the home minister, Security Advisor Ajit Doval, J&K Governor Satyapal Malik and External Affairs Minister Jaya Shankar had taken the mantle to assure all the denizens of this ‘vibrant democracy’ that the said restrictions were merely preventive measures to avert any kind of bloodshed, loss of human lives and security threats following the tectonic change in the valley. It all seemed a very little cost to pay. I really believed that the moves would change Kashmir for the best.
To be absolutely honest and blunt, like many, I too always saw Kashmir as this ever-burning place of conflict that needed someone to put off the fire. I have never been to Kashmir, nor known someone actually from Kashmir, but this image of ‘strife and suffering’ was embossed on my mind whenever someone mentioned Kashmir.
The Pulwama attack, the thousands of militant encounters, the stone-pelting, the endless curfews, the Indo-Pak wars, the draconian AFSPA, the international scrutiny, the numerous cases of police brutality and the disappearances of the detained – all brewed a picture of a place in perpetual conundrum; a picture that was so different from the beautiful valleys, lakes, apple orchards and the snow that the state was associated with otherwise.
Given this, I was among the proponents of the government’s decision to strip the state of its special status. Maybe, I reasoned, all Article 370 and Article 35 (A) did was alienate J&K from the rest of the nation and gave way to extremist propaganda from Pakistan to creep into the psyche of the only Muslim-majority state in free India. So, I was, for this one time, on the same side of the Modi-led regime, harping about ‘the greater good’.
So, the initial assurances about easing restrictions hit a halt and it was extended indefinitely, citing security reasons. BJP leaders did not, however, shy away from gloating over the meagre landline connections, sparse Muharram gatherings, the Hollywood CDs made available to the detained leaders, the official reopening of schools and government offices, incoming call facilities, and the fact that ‘not a single pellet bullet injury was reported’ in the entire state.
The original 10-15 days of curfews before the restrictions would be eased ‘step by step’ as promised soon turned into a month of blackout. No communication, no media coverage, travel ban, and detainment of local leaders soon entered into a phase where even sensible netizens, which I like to see myself as, started shelving the whole issue. It is dangerous what indifference in a democracy can entail!
As the people of Jammu & Kashmir enter the 51st day of blackout, the atmosphere in the remaining country is an alarmingly subdued nonchalance about the ordeals that the people of J&K are facing right now. Even the media has, it seems, deemed the entire issue an ‘extinct trend’, unworthy of their time! Even the Supreme Court’s observations in the matter have been a meek attempt to uphold the ‘indestructible ideas’ ingrained in the constitution.
The Supreme Court has accepted too readily the government’s narrative of security threats and promises of easing the restrictions soon, all the while ignoring the blatant suppression of liberty engraved in the preamble to the constitution. The Supreme Court is faced with the same stern test of its character as during the 1975 emergency judgment, wherein it, to mass disappointment, upheld the undue leverage by thje government, citing ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
However, this I have written not to disparage the established institutions of justice or administration but to arouse the conscience of the rest of the country to raise their voices against this curbing of liberty and rights due to us through the holy grail of a modern India: the constitution.
Can you imagine 51 days of curfew for your own family due to a change in circumstances that they never had a say on? The government decided that J&K needed to be stripped of its special status, its promised protection, and then went ahead to decide that it was only safe for the people of Kashmir to remain in their homes as the government parleyed on their fates!
The entire essence of our constitution has been to thwart any attempt to dilute or curb basic rights on the pretext of the ‘greater good’, more so when this does not include the participation of the very ones that have been granted, without any choice in this case, the ‘greater good’.
The BJP has shown an urge for haste in almost every monumental decision, to the detriment of the common public, from demonetization to the GST, the adverse effects of which are still affecting the national economy. The BJP’s failures at executing ambitious ideas have been curtained by its followers with the supposed intent behind them, but the common people still remain uncertain. In its long-espoused aim of national integration of J&K, there is a fear that the BJP has unsettled the hornet’s nest to further turmoil and uncertainty.
By keeping the people and the legislative assembly (which according to the IOA was to be consulted before any such attempt) of the erstwhile J&K in the dark in abrogating Articles 370 and 35 (A), the BJP continues to show a trepid sense of totalitarianism. The unending curfew, contrary to the plan of integration, is only fuelling an increasing sense of injustice and alienation among the people of J&K who have already been through everything.
The BJP needs to dial down and accept that it has once again taken the wrong path to executing an actually noble aspiration envisaged by various leaders of the past!
Democracy-deliberation-debate is the way forward and the BJP-led government has to bow down to the spirit of the constitution and remedy its folly immediately!