Kashmir has been off limits with a complete communication blackout for over 60 hours as world waits to hear about the Valley’s well-being.
The unprecedented is becoming more and more unfathomable. The unrelenting communication blackout in the valley has entered day 3 after the clampdown of the Indian government to prevent destabilization in the aftermath of the passage of the bills and statutory resolution to integrate the region with the Indian state. The clampdown saw prominent political leaders from the valley, former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah and People’s Conference leader Sajad Lone placed under arrest.
There is a deep intrigue around the cumulative response of the residents of Jammu and Kashmir to the government’s move stripping them off the special status.
All means of communication: internet, mobile, landlines, television services and even radio have been cut off in the region. Meanwhile the Indian Parliament passed the Jammu & Kashmir (Reorganisation) Bill in both the houses to set about the process of bifurcating the region into two Union Territories. Alongside were introduced a statutory resolution to repeal Article 370 and a Constitution Order to nullify Article 35A which endowed ‘special status’ on the erstwhile state.
How sad that nearly 24 hours after India made a monumental decision about Kashmir, the voices of those most affected by that decision-Kashmiris-haven’t been heard, because so many of them are under a communication blackout imposed by the ongoing security lockdown. #Article370— Michael Kugelman (@MichaelKugelman) August 6, 2019
But the lockdown has stretched to over 48 hours now and with hardly any reports coming out of the valley, many in India and internationally have raised concerns about the well-being of the residents in the region. There is also a deep intrigue around the cumulative response of the residents of Jammu and Kashmir to the government’s move stripping them off the special status. Mainstream media in India has been unable to provide any concrete ground reports from the region.
News from the Valley
There have been broken reports from the valley. But the real scenario remains confusing with inadequate information. While local media sites and portals like Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Reader and Kashmir Observer remain outdated due to the ban, reports in Indian and international media are scarce.
Landlines in J&K also down. So now, ordinary people have no way to communicate. Imagine what this means for sick people, those families with emergencies. Such inhumanity with your own people— Nidhi Razdan (@Nidhi) August 5, 2019
As per The BBC which has Aamir Peerzada in Srinagar reports there is “palpable sense of anger and betrayal among people he has spoken to.” It also reported instances of protest and stone-throwing.” An anonymous man from Baramulla said, “felt that Kashmir had lost its freedom and had been enslaved by India. This is actually the prevailing sentiment. All the decisions were made in Delhi.”
The BBC’s Aamir Peerzada in Srinagar reports there is “palpable sense of anger and betrayal among people he has spoken to.”
Shah Faesal, founder of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement told Reuters that backlash against the government move was imminent as many saw the decision as “a breach of trust”. He said, “We might see an eruption when the guard is down. People are taking it as an act of humiliation.”
Unprecedented horror in Kashmir.— Shah Faesal (@shahfaesal) August 6, 2019
Everyone is heartbroken. A sense of defeat written on every face. Fall.
From citizens to subjects.
History has taken a catastrophic turn for all of us.
People are numb.
A people whose land, identity, history, was stolen, in broad day light.
On Wednesday, a Jammu and Kashmir administration official said that security agencies have already arrested over 100 people including political leaders and activists who were considered a threat to peace and tranquillity in the valley, “Over 100 political leaders and activists have been arrested in the valley so far.” The official did not comment on the details of the arrested.
Reports from capital Srinagar
Business Standard reports that the security forces fired tear gas and pellets in response to sporadic protests in Srinagar on Monday, quoting a policeman, “There was stone pelting in some parts of the city.” Ali Mohammad, a houseboat owner in Srinagar said that the blackout was unprecedented in comparison to past experiences, “I have never seen such a situation in my life when tourists are asked to pack their bags and go. This was not the case even in the height of militancy.”
Business Standard reports that the security forces fired tear gas and pellets in response to sporadic protests in Srinagar on Monday
Armed police are stationed at every few hundred metres in Srinagar. Gatherings of more than four people in public places is banned, while educational institutions and most shops in residential neighbourhoods remained shut. Reports from the capital claim that shopkeepers are running out of supplies after days of panic buying.
An unidentified Kashmiri woman from Srinagar said, “The security situation is very tense. No one is leaving their homes. Our Kashmir is burning. But, no one can see or get to know as lines of communications have been cut. Our Valley is burning beneath a cover.”
Reports from people coming out of the Valley: Situation akin to the Stone Age
Tourists and Kashmiris coming out of the region expressed angst at the uncertainty sweeping the Valley. Zehra Bashir, who is pursuing an MBA reached Delhi but was unable to inform her parents back in Kashmir, “The decision and its after effects have made everything stand still in the Valley. Forget about Internet, even the phone lines are dead.
Another Khursheed Ahmed who reached Delhi on his way to Mecca for Hajj pilgrimage said, “I can’t explain how I managed to reach the (Srinagar) airport, may be because I was going to Hajj that they allowed me. But the situation is bad, pretty bad.”
“We felt like we were caged, or being jailed in our own home, our own city,” a Kashmiri resident who flew into Delhi.
Farooq Sheikh works in the corporate sector and travels frequently out of J&K, he said, “We felt like we were caged, or being jailed in our own home, our own city.” Imtiyaz Ahmad Khan, a Srinagar-based state government employee who arrived in Delhi as one of the 40 odd Hajj-bound travellers said, “We are deeply apprehensive about what is happening, so we all came a day earlier. Kashmir is burning. We are going to Hajj, but with no peace in mind.”
Kashmiris in other parts of the country
Fear, anger and scepticism – that’s the mood among Kashmiri students etc. in other parts of the country. Several expressed fear and concern about inability to know about the well-being of their families back home in Kashmir. Hadif Nissar, a native from Anantnag and president of J&K Students’ Association in the University of Hyderabad said, “We really do not know what is happening over there. We are panicking. I know how the situation has been in Kashmir over the years and I think the situation will turn from bad to worse. The government cannot confine the people to their homes and rule. They are feeling not only insecure but also intimidated.”
Kashmiris in other parts of the country expressed fear and concern about inability to know about the well-being of their families back home.
Falak Manzoor from Baramulla who studies in Kota, Rajasthan had last heard from her parents on Sunday night, “It is a tough time in the Valley, so we are also fretful about the safety of the families back home.” Tawqeer Hussain, a Delhi-based journalist has never faced ‘this kind of anxiety’ about his family in the Valley, “It’s unfortunate the voices of those most affected by that decision haven’t been heard, because they are under a communication blackout.”
Kashmiris are sceptical, inhibitive and fear the worst. Many of them are trying to go back to their families in the valley. One Javed Bhat said, “We don’t know what will happen after going back, and how long this clampdown will remain, but we want to be with our loved ones where we’ll feel safe.”
But one Media outlet reports celebrations in the Valley
In stark contrast to the rest of the tension in news from rest of the media outlets in India and Internationally, state-owned Doordarshan or DD news reports a totally different atmosphere from the valley. As per a DD news article: As far as the people of the now almost erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir are concerned, they have been rejoicing since Monday. Be it the Kashmir valley, on the two regions of Jammu and Ladakh, the joy is palpable at the govt’s move to do away with the special status which was more a millstone round the neck of the people of the state..than a garland.”
As per a DD news article: As far as the people of the now almost erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir are concerned, they have been rejoicing since Monday.
The DD news article says that celebrations marked the morning after the bill was passed in the Upper house of Parliament as “activists of the Dogra Front led by President Ashok Gupta distributed sweets to people” in Jammu as “people took to the streets to celebrate the historic decision of the revocation of Art 370”.
The article also reported people in “large numbers” involved in “spontaneous celebrations” in Udhampur. The piece concluded with the line, “All in all, the positive mood of change is sweeping across Jammu and Kashmir, with the barriers to development, disguised as safeguards, Art 370 and 35A, being removed.”
Media Watchdog urges government to open Kashmir
Voices in India and internationally are urging the Indian government to raise the blackout on communications. US Media Watchdog Committee for Protection of Journalists opined that the “large-scale communication disruption at such a crucial time” was an “egregious violation of citizens’ rights to information from a free press”.
US Media Watchdog CPJ said that the “large-scale communication disruption at such a crucial time” was an “egregious violation of citizens’ rights to information from a free press”.
Aliya Iftikhar, senior researcher for CPJ’s Asia programme said, “We call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration to guarantee that all communication blocks in Kashmir are lifted and that journalists are able to report freely. Communication blocks have no place in a democracy.”
As The Indian Express reports from the Valley, “The press isn’t welcome. Most of the TV crew that have flown in are parked in a 1-sq-km area of Zero Bridge in the city. There is some easing of security here, on the road to the airport and the Rajbagh-Jawaharnagar stretch — this is the one that visiting TV cameras film.”
The Indian Express report said that elsewhere roads are barricaded with “spools of concertina wire” and “regular checkpoints” of armed paramilitary personnel on patrol. Most police personnel are equipped with lathis, not guns. It also reported that a police officer “roughed up” a journalist trying to film the curfew across the river at Jehangir Chowk in Srinagar.
Blackouts in J&K are not new
As reported by The Next Web in reference to data from the Software Freedom Law Centre, India which tracks civil liberty disruptions and internet blackouts across the country, Jammu & Kashmir has seen 176 instances of government-mandated internet blackouts since 2012.
Usual situation prevails in Kashmir. All internet services, both mobile and landline services snapped in Kashmir Valley.Curfew imposed in some areas under Section 144 amid heavy deployment of security forces and house arrest of political leaders. @NetShutdowns #Internetshutdowns— sflc.in (@SFLCin) August 5, 2019
During blackouts, Internet has been banned several times in the past along with broadband and landline networks that deprive the millions of Kashmiris from any connectivity. As per Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) data, Jammu and Kashmir circle encompasses 1,01,465 wireline subscribers and 1,13,39,647 wireless subscribers. Tracker website internetshutdown.in notes this as the 51st internet shutdown in J&K in 2019.
Stakeholders clueless about the policy change
There is a deep dissent forming across the country and internationally around the clampdown. The blackout has effectively alienated Kashmiris whose voices have not been heard for over a day. Indeed, the people of Kashmir have been denied the right to self-determination as their ‘last vestige of rights’ was repealed without the consent of the state legislature.
As per a Forbes article, “why meticulously plan a clampdown and suspend all modes of communication while contravening the constitution and the rights of Kashmiris?
Even after the order has been passed, everyone outside the valley remains in the dark about the conditions and response of the citizens of Kashmir. Kashmiris in other parts of India are unable to ascertain the well-being of their families.
The very fact that a day after the “historic” move to scrap #Article370 in #Kashmir we don’t know how Kashmiris in blackout are doing, thinking or feeling, is enough proof of how repressive this act is.— Rohini Mohan (@rohini_mohan) August 6, 2019
As per a Forbes article, “why meticulously plan a clampdown and suspend all modes of communication while contravening the constitution and the rights of Kashmiris? If it’s not deceitful, why not allow a debate or consult the principal party?”
By: Chitresh Sehgal, Senior Editor, Dkoding Media