September 08, 2019

Kashmir: End the Clampdown

A MONTH has elapsed since the security clampdown on Jammu & Kashmir was imposed on August 5.  For 30 days, the people of Kashmir have been deprived of all basic rights. They have been confined to their houses. There is no communication with mobile phone networks, landlines and internet connection closed down; they have no right of movement with barricades being put up in main roads and highways; there is no public transport. 

Government offices have not been functioning as employees are unable to attend their duties. Newspapers are unable to bring out full-fledged editions due to the communication blockade affecting media persons. 

On top of all these is the continued detention of leaders of the National Conference, PDP, CPI(M), People’s Conference, AIP and People’s Movement.  All the Hurriyat leaders are also in jail. Anyone who has spoken out against the conditions in the valley is being detained. This includes a doctor who raised concerns about the denial of medical facilities to people. There have been 250 cases of people being detained under the draconian Public Safety Act in the past 30 days.

The government claims that some restrictions have been relaxed, but the ground reality is no different.  Though the authorities claim that landline phones have been restored, in fact, a significant number of landline numbers in most areas are not working. Two weeks ago, it was announced that schools have re-opened upto 10th standard, the fact is that attendance of students in schools is almost nil.  Either the parents are unwilling to send their children to school, or, due to the absence of communication, parents are unable to access mobile apps and sms communications from schools.

People are unable to attend hospitals for medical treatment.  The pathetic plight of the people in this regard became clear when a media report stated that cases under Ayushman Bharat national health insurance scheme fell to almost nil in Jammu & Kashmir since the clampdown. According to a report in The Economic Times dated August 29, there are 1.4 million e-cards issued in the state and there were 22,000 cases of people seeking treatment till August 5. However, after the clampdown, in three weeks, the number of patients availing this scheme came down drastically to “almost zero”. 

A new trend has emerged of youth being arrested from their homes and taken away and their families are not given any reason for their arrest or their whereabouts.  This has created panic among their family members.  Wherever there have been protests such as in Soura, after Friday prayers, they have been met with use of force, including pellet guns. Despite official denials, reports have appeared of young men being treated for pellet injuries in hospitals.  The first death due to such injuries was reported by the PTI news agency on September 3.  Asrar Ahmad Khan died in a Srinagar hospital after injuries sustained on August 6 in Soura. 

Every right under Articles 19 and 21 of the constitution has been suppressed as far as citizens in the Kashmir valley are concerned. It is disturbing that the Supreme Court has not thought it fit to intervene to protect the rights of citizens even though it heard petitions regarding this. 

As each day passes, the confinement and repression of the people of Kashmir exposes the hollow basis of Indian democracy. What is happening in Kashmir is a grim warning of what is in store for the rest of India under the rule of Hindutva authoritarianism.

This brutal attack on democracy and democratic rights must end. The clampdown should be lifted immediately; communications restored, public transportation and public services resumed; and all political and civil society leaders and activists released unconditionally. 

(September 4, 2019)