India turns Kashmir into a giant prison

Joint protest for Kashmir organised by the Indian left in Delhi on August 7. Photo: CPI(M).

The left in India and Pakistan is united in opposing the decision by Narendra Modi’s BJP government on August 5 to unilaterally revoke Kashmir’s autonomy, send in troops, impose a curfew and shut down all communications.

Pakistan’s Awami Workers’ Party spokesperson Farooq Tariq told Green Left Weekly on August 6 that it was “the darkest day in Kashmir’s history”.

“The bifurcation of Kashmir was a constitutional step made by the Modi government without any basis, just to promote Hindu chauvinism,” said Tariq.

“This is an act against the Muslim minority … done without any consultation.

“The Modi government has done this to promote its own racist agenda.

“This will not go very far. There will be resistance. There will be a lot of resistance in Kashmir.

“In Pakistan there are a lot of voices being raised. Within India, all the left parties are raising their voices and so there is giant struggle happening.

“The Pakistan left and Indian left are united in condemning this bill.”

Dipankar Battacharya, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) Liberation (CPI(ML)) called it “nothing short of a coup against the Indian Constitution”.

“The Modi Government, in its usual secretive, conspiratorial, and illegal manner, is burning the constitutional and historical bridge that connected Kashmir to the rest of India.”

Protests were held across India on August 7, jointly organised by five Indian left parties: the Communist Party of India (Marxist); the Communist Party of India; the CPI(ML); All India Forward Bloc; and the Revolutionary Socialist Party.

An Indian fact-finding team, which travelled to Kashmir between August 9–13, could not find anyone who supported the Indian government’s actions.

People live in fear

The fact-finding mission, which comprised Belgian-born Indian economist and activist Jean Drèze, CPI(ML) leader Kavita Krishnan, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AlDWA) representative Maimoona Mollah and National Alliance of People’s Movements representative Vimal Bhai, reported:

“We spent five days moving around and talking to hundreds of ordinary people in Srinagar city, as well as villages and small towns of Kashmir.

“We spoke to women, school and college students, shopkeepers, journalists, people who run small businesses, daily wage labourers, workers and migrants from UP [Uttar Pradesh], West Bengal and other states.

“Except for the BJP [ruling party] spokesperson on Kashmir Affairs, we did not meet a single person who supported the Indian government’s decision to abrogate Article 370. On the contrary, most people were extremely angry, both at the abrogation of Article 370 (and 35A) and at the manner in which it had been done. Anger and fear were the dominant emotions we encountered everywhere.

“People expressed their anger freely in informal conversation, but noone was willing to speak on camera. Anyone who speaks up is at risk of persecution from the government.

“To control this anger, the government has imposed curfew-like conditions in Kashmir. Except for some ATMs, chemist shops and police stations, most establishments are closed for now.

“The clampdown on public life and effective imposition of curfew have also crippled economic life in Kashmir, that too at a time of the Bakr Eid festival that is meant for abundance and celebration.

“People live in fear of harassment from the government, army or police

“The Indian media’s claims of a rapid return to normalcy in Kashmir are grossly misleading. They are based on selective reports from a small enclave in the centre of Srinagar.

“As things stand, there is no space in Kashmir for any sort of protest, however peaceful. However, mass protests are likely to erupt sooner or later.”

The team also reported that 10,000 people were attacked by security forces at a protest in Soura (Srinagar) on August 9.

“The forces responded with pellet gun fire, injuring several. We attempted to go to Soura on August 10, but were stopped by a CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] barricade. We did see young protesters on the road that day as well, blockading the road.”

The team met two victims of pellet gun injuries in hospital in Srinagar.

Arrests

“The two young men … had faces, arms and torso full of pellets. Their eyes were bloodshot and blinded … Their family members, weeping with grief and rage, told us that the two men had not been pelting stones. They had been peacefully protesting.

“At least 600 political leaders and civil society activists are under arrest. There is no clear information on what laws are invoked to arrest them, or where they are being held.

“A very large number of political leaders are under house arrest — it is impossible to ascertain how many. We tried to meet CPI(M) Member of the Legislative Assembly Mohd Yusuf Tarigami — but were refused entry into his home in Srinagar, where he is under house arrest.

“In every village we visited, as well as in downtown Srinagar, there were very young schoolboys and teenagers who had been arbitrarily picked up by police or army/paramilitary and held in illegal detention.

“Hundreds of boys and teens are being picked up from their beds in midnight raids. The only purpose of these raids is to create fear.

“As one neighbour of an arrested boy said: ‘There is no record of these arrests. It is illegal detention. So if the boy ‘disappears’ — killed in custody — the police/army can just say they never had him in custody in the first place.’

“But the protests are not likely to stop. A young man at Sopore said: ‘Jitna zulm karenge, utna ham ubharenge’ (The more you oppress us, the more we will rise up).

“A familiar refrain we heard at many places was: ‘Never mind if leaders are arrested. We don’t need leaders. As long as even a single Kashmiri baby is alive, we will struggle.’

“The whole of Kashmir is, at the moment, a prison under military control.

“The decisions taken by the Modi government on J&K [Jammu and Kashmir] are immoral, unconstitutional and illegal. The means being adopted by the Modi government to hold Kashmiris captive and suppress potential protests are also immoral, unconstitutional and illegal.”

The fact-finding team presented demands including: calling for the immediate restoration of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution; that communications be restored with immediate effect; that the gags on journalists, freedom of speech, expression and protest be lifted; and that no decision about the status or future of Jammu and Kashmir be taken without consulting its people.

 

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