Two months on, Kashmir situation remains unchanged, future looks uncertain

A security personnel stands guard on a street in Srinagar on August 28, 2019. - The Himalayan valley is under a strict lockdown -- with movement restricted and phone and internet services cut since August 5 -- imposed hours before India's decision to bring Kashmir under its direct rule. (Photo by Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP)

Around two months after the unilateral revocation of the Article 370 which granted J&K its special status within Indian Union, the union territory (UT) shows little signs of returning to normal. The security lockdown and communication blockade continues to be in force. There is some movement of private transport but the shops and business establishments remain closed. There are reports and rumours of protests in parts of the union territory with injuries to the people and some killings but it is often difficult to confirm due to the curbs in place. Government remains the only source of information for a majority of the people. And their only medium to access it is the television channels. Local papers publish fewer copies and they too regurgitate more or less the official version of the events. What is more, newspapers largely stay clear of writing editorials on current affairs. Most of their content is based on the agency reports which they download on their pen drives at the Government run Media Facilitation Centre.

Though the government has restored landlines, their penetration remains abysmally low. Kashmir thus continues to be cut off from the world and inside the Valley too, the people remain largely uninformed about what is happening in their immediate surroundings, let alone the distant places within the UT.

There isn’t thus much that has changed in terms of the improvement in the situation. Reports of the protests continue to pour in. So far, the government has acknowledged around 200 instances of law and order incidents in the Valley.

The Government narrative so far has been that the situation is gradually heading towards normalcy.  But it has baulked at lifting the security lockdown.  And communication blackout too remains very much in place. A month ago, home minister Amit Shah had talked about restoring communication facilities within 15-20 days, but the promise wasn’t kept.

The top UT functionaries say the tough measures are needed to prevent the loss of lives. This reasoning presupposes that the phones and internet facilitate some groups to organize protests which then lead to killings. Even the Governor Satya Pal Malik has justified the continuation of the lockdown to save lives.

But this logic behind the communication blockade flies in the face of the reports of disruption in the functioning of hospitals, shortage of medicines and other essentials in many parts of Valley, which too are leading to people losing their lives. And over and above this all, people have no way to contact their loved ones in hospitals. Kashmiris living outside have similarly no way to connect with their families, nor the people in Valley itself have any means to enquire about the well-being of their kin in different parts of the UT.

Nobody knows what will happen once the curbs are removed or loosened. There is every possibility of an outbreak of protests, which could spread through the Valley. Two months on from the revocation of the Article 370, the anger on the street hasn’t diminished. So, it is unlikely that the people will easily reconcile to the new status quo.

There are three forms that the situation can take: one, a possibility of a public uprising along the lines of the extended 2016 unrest. Second, intensification of the ongoing militancy in the UT. There could be a renewed resort to armed movement in the UT. More local youth could be drawn to picking up arms. Kashmir has already been groaning under a three decade long militancy.

And third is the external fallout in the form of the escalation of tension between India and Pakistan. This could take two forms: a direct confrontation between the neighbours as was the case early this year. Or there could be increased influx of militants in J&K from across the border.  This could raise the level of violence in the UT, escalating the tension between the two countries.

Now, which form the situation takes will become clear only in the near and medium term. One important imponderable will be the response to the situation by the incarcerated mainstream political leadership. They had already closed ranks in the run up to centre’s move on Article 370. Withdrawal of J&K’s special status and its bifurcation on August 5 was unimaginable even for them as the tweets on the day by the former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti made clear. Mehbooba termed the revocation “catastrophic”.

It will thus be interesting to see what the mainstream politicians will do once they are released. There is every likelihood they will launch a political resistance against the centre’s move. Should this happen, Kashmir will witness twin political struggles; one, the longstanding movement for Azadi and another, the fight for restoration of special rights.  For once, both separatists and unionists may define their politics in adversarial terms to New Delhi, if not sharing the same platform. And this can pose New Delhi its, so far, biggest challenge in Kashmir.

 

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Riyaz Wani

Author: Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is a freelance journalist based out of Srinagar. He earlier worked for the Indian Express and Tehelka. He has been awarded with Goenka award twice for excellence in journalism.
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