November 01, 2020

Grim Reality of the J &K Situation

Subhashini Ali

ON August 5, 2019, the Government of India abrogated Article 370, divided the state of J&K into two union territories, depriving its people of their democratic and citizenship rights in the most draconian manner. The government claimed that this was necessary to end militancy and terrorism and to bring development, jobs and prosperity.  The reality of the past one year has given the lie to these claims.

Nothing illustrates the grim reality of the situation better than the recent hounding of two intrepid women belonging to Jammu which, because of its Hindu majority, has been spared the daily visitations of violent State repression that the people of the Valley experience.

Anuradha Bhasin, owner-editor of the Kashmir Times, the most respected daily of the area, inherited the paper along with his commitment to secular values from her father, Pran Bhasin.

On October 4, she was ordered to vacate her government-allotted residence without any notice.  The new ‘tenants’, a political couple allied to the BJP, manhandled her, looted valuables and ransacked her home. 15 days later, her newspaper office was sealed, again without any notice. Anuradha Bhasin has stated that “This is an attempt to silence me because I have been criticising the government and its decision(s).” She had been vocal in her criticism of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and also of a June 2020 New Media Policy with vague, undefined threats against fake news, reportage against ‘India’s integrity’ and ‘public decency’ and security checks for reporters. In addition, along with Ghulam Nabi Azad, she had challenged the legality of the J&K communications shutdown in the Supreme Court in August, 2019 itself.  After this, her paper had stopped receiving any government advertisements.

The Bhasin family and the paper have faced attacks both from fundamentalist militants and supporters of the Hindu Right but the present regime’s crackdown is the most vicious.  Anuradha remains determined to persevere.  She says “I grew up with ideas of secularism and democracy and, as a journalist, it becomes my duty to highlight disempowerment, justice, peace, and human rights. The basic principle of journalism is to speak truth to power, to make powerful stakeholders and governments accountable, to critique them in the event of wrongdoing, to become the voice of oppressed people.”

Many people have rallied in solidarity with her and Kashmiri journalists in India and abroad have offered to work free of charge for the Kashmir Times.

Advocate Deepika Rajawat who practices in the High Court of Jammu won the admiration and ire of many when she took up the horrific rape and murder case of the eight-year old Bakarwal child, Arifa, who had been abducted, starved, tortured, repeatedly gang-raped and finally killed in acts of unspeakable brutality by a priest, a constable and others owing allegiance to the BJP.  At the time, large mobs of people, led by BJP cabinet ministers, were mobilised to support the accused and it was Deepika who displayed great courage in taking up the case.  She was mercilessly attacked and trolled for this and faced tremendous threats to her life. 

Recently, Deepika shared a cartoon depicting the hypocrisy of those who molest women throughout the year and then make a pretense of worshipping them during Navratri.  In response, a huge mob collected outside her house threatening rape and murder, shouting that her grave would soon be dug.  Deepika was able to inform friends of her plight and the authorities were forced to send the police to remove the mob.  Within a few days, however, an FIR was registered against her for ‘hurting the religious feelings of Hindus’.  Ironically this was done on a day that she herself was observing a fast during Navratri. Deepika is uncompromising and determined to fight back.

Both Anuradha and Deepika have been extremely supportive of AIDWA.  Deepika addressed the huge AIDWA rally of September 2018 in Delhi and Anuradha recently spoke about the situation in Kashmir on the UP AIDWA Facebook page.  AIDWA has expressed solidarity with both these courageous women and has demanded that the government of J&K guarantee their security and also undo the injustice done to them.  CPI(M) leader, Yusuf Tarigami, has also been vocal in their support.