February 25, 2024

J&K: Muzzling Democratic Voices

Abass Rather

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SINCE the abrogation of Article 370, the BJP government has been continuously employing repressive tactics to stifle democratic dissent in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in the Kashmir  Valley. Peaceful demonstrations against anti-people, anti-farmer, and pro-corporate policies have often been met with lathi charge and detentions.

On February 16, 2024, the countrywide grameen Bharat bandh, called by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha and Central Trade Unions, gathered a huge response from across the country. In response to the call, the Apple Farmers Federation (JKAFF) , Jammu Kashmir Kisan Tehrik, scheme workers, and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) started preparations some days ago to mobilise peasants and workers in both Srinagar and Jammu to campaign for their rights. They held meetings with the farmers and workers and distributed leaflets among the people to mobilise and make the people aware about their demands and burst the false propaganda of  the BJP government vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir development after the abrogation of Article 370.

In Srinagar, the activists of Jammu Kashmir Apple Farmers Federation (JKAFF), scheme workers, and the CITU with affiliated organisations planned to assemble near Press Enclave Srinagar and hold a procession towards Lal Chowk. However, when the activists were assembling near Press Enclave  to peacefully voice their grievances regarding the government's failures to implement a host of long-standing demands such as the non-implementation of Dr Swaminathan Commission's recommendations, the response from the authorities was harsh and unwarranted. Police vehicles with armed policemen were already stationed near the Press Enclave to suppress the democratic peaceful voices. They, without any provocation,  resorted to lathi charges, brutally beat and detained over 50 activists and leaders including  Kulgam District Development Council (DDC) chairman, Mohd Afzal Parrey; Jammu Kashmir Apple Farmers' Federation president, Zahoor Ahmad Rather; Jammu Kashmir Apple Farmers' Federation general secretary, Abdul Rashid Itoo, and CITU leader Abdul  Rashid. Furthermore, activists who tried to capture the protest on their mobile phones were beaten and the visuals recorded by them on their mobile phones were deleted by the police, and media coverage was suppressed.

Despite the crackdown, the resolve of the leaders and workers remained unwavering. ASHA workers, anganwadi workers and helpers, and trade union activists held separate peaceful protests, demanding the implementation of the Minimum Wages Act and the release of unlawfully detained leaders and workers.

BJP's narrative of ushering in a new era of peace and development in Jammu and Kashmir got punctured and had fallen flat. The tall and lofty claims of the government do not match with the ground realities. The demands of the protesters and subsequent action by police were puncturing the BJP government’s false propaganda of peace and development.

The demands were:

1. There is no forecast for horticulture crops, the government must undertake scientific surveys, calculate C2 costs and provide a profitable support price to growers and ensure legally guaranteed procurement and remunerative price for apples.

2. Restore Input Subsidy:  The subsidy being given on fertilizers, planting material, insecticides, fungicides, machinery and other cost items should be restored and the government should provide appropriate quality items to the farmers at affordable rates through the department of horticulture. MRP for pesticides, fungicides and other plant protection chemicals should be regulated. Moreover, there is open sale of spurious fertilisers and pesticides in market and it must be ended.

3. Impose 100 per cent import duty on apples and import only tested variety of apples.

4. Union government should declare comprehensive loan waiver package and waive loans pending against all the small and middle farmers and provide loan at 4 per cent interest to farmer and farm worker households under KCC.

5.  Separate horticulture university should be established in J&K.

6. Implementation of Minimum Wages Act.

7. Restoration of labour laws and old pension scheme.

8. Strengthen of public sector units (PSU) and stop selling of these units to corporates.

9. Remove GST on all products related to apples.

Police crackdown on peaceful protesters vindicated the fact that the current dispensation is afraid of the democratic voices of peasants and working class.

Meanwhile, a similar protest in Jammu unfolded under the joint banner of Jammu Kashmir KisanTehrik, CITU, and scheme workers near Hari Singh Park, Jammu. Hundreds of protesters participated and raised slogans against BJP's anti-farmer, anti-worker, anti- people and pro-corporate policies and demanded legally guaranteed minimum support price on all crops, implementation of Minimum Wages Act, restoration of old pension scheme, and immediate release of the arrested leaders and activists in Srinagar.

While addressing the protesters,  CPI(M) leader and Central Committee member Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami condemned the police lathi charge and detention of workers and leaders in Srinagar, denouncing it as an assault on democracy and a violation of fundamental rights. He further castigated the current regime for creating a martial law kind of situation in Srinagar.

Protesters tried to proceed towards Divisional Commissioner Office, Jammu to submit a memorandum but were forcefully restricted and denied to march. It is pertinent to mention here that in Srinagar, media were restricted to cover the protest.  However, in Jammu, media gave full coverage to it.

Jammu Kashmir KisanTehrik president, Kishore Kumar, while addressing the workers, remarked that the current dispensation is continuously carrying on the onslaughts on the lives and livelihood of the peasants and working class as a whole and pursuing anti-worker, anti-farmer and anti-people measures through various legislations, and executive orders.

The protest demonstration was also addressed by Om Prakash, working president CITU and Jagdish Sharma, state secretary CITU.

The protest call was supported by People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) as well.



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