TALK POINT: STUDENT VOICES, KASHMIR FROM TWO PERSPECTIVES

In this edition’s Talk Point, we present two student perspectives on Kashmir. The first is a letter by Aaliyah, a Kashmiri student studying in India. The second is an essay about the abrogation of Article 370 and its effects, written by Shreya Tiwari, an Indian student.


Aaliyah’s Letter

To you who sees and doesn’t,

Every night fourteen men with thick black boots, made after massacring animals to obtain leather, stomp from my brain and then proceed to do that on it. You have chosen not to see them but they are there, laughing hysterically.

The pierced my chest with their gaze and the bullets they carried. There was no blood that spilled on the floor. I have been dried like my mother’s home-grown tomatoes that are made to sit in the scorching heat until they turn black.

As I open my eyes in the morning, gunshots scream in agony. My mind goes back to the day when men from your army broke down our door into pieces like that of flint, perhaps to set fire to it later. Two of them barged into our house and grabbed the men by their jugular veins. They took them outside and crushed the early buds of our survival under their boots covered with filth.

I wanted to scream but I knew it wouldn’t be of any use. The land was deserted and only dead bodies were permitted to live.

They raided our houses, internal and external. They stripped us naked and piece by piece ripped out our face. Our hands were tied between their boots. Their camouflage sprayed with red.

They took the men for questioning and when my brother gave away the place he studies in, the army men smiled with satisfaction. “That’s the same place I come from in this country.”

As if wanting to say that we are bound to be their case. But it is only after they make us beg for charity. He did not vocalize this.

Sitting naked on the windowsill I was noticing all this and they pointed at my bosoms and asked who I was? My brother replied, “My sister. She studies in India too.” The smirk came back as the army man licked his lips to taste my blood yet again. And when they left, they took with them, the gold the snatched after cutting my grandmothers ears and slit her throat. They took along with it, our faces. Then they hanged them around their necks. They took.

 Then when we were lying above the ruins of our belonging(s), I looked at each member of my family. My mother laid unconscious on the floor and when she opened her eyes, she grabbed her son and hugged him close to her heart. My father stared at nothing and everything. My grandmother’s body had been mutilated. Her skin fell loose on the floor and above her flesh. I stood up with legs shaking and ran. I ran towards the gate and ran away from everything that was forced to exist. I ran till my legs broke into a dozen pieces that carried my being forward. One fell after the other and when I stopped, I landed into the same enclosed twenty-five acres of Indian land that occupies an infinite acre of mine.

I take a deep breath as I sit in my single box of white. The days here are blended into the nights, unlike back home. I get an abundance of food but I do not choose on eating it. I have found escapes in this escape but I have failed to escape altogether. People I would have called my own, aren’t. I take satisfaction in that. Those who aren’t my own, choose not to notice. Each night I hear a thud of sweating bodies under the disco lights. They turn into gunshots that I shoot onto myself. Every knock on my boxed room feels like another flock of dirty men who want to snap my bones to make bullets out of them. Every laugh out of joy reminds me of the triumphant and evil voices that at thrown like shrouds on the voiceless. Every gaze I receive terrors me. Are they thinking of ripping me off my face? How long before they enact it? Every sleepless night makes me dream of a world where I do not exist as myself.

In the end I conclude: You can run from Kashmir, but Kashmir cannot run from you.

With all my love in these bare hands that I carry,

Aayilah.


Abrogation of Article 370- Walking on Thin Ice by Shreya Tiwari

Article 370 provides Jammu and Kashmir a special status within India and grants special powers to it. The article mandates the state’s separate Constitution, Flag, Election Commission, and the head of the state – “Sadr-i-Riasat” instead of a governor. The state also has its own Criminal Code known as the Ranbir Penal Code and gender discriminatory property rights (Medha-2019). It restricts the law-making power of the Parliament by necessitating the consultation of state government even on matters on the Union and Concurrent lists. Further, this article endorses the implementation of only two articles of the Indian Constitution in the state, subject to the clause that the President can at any time through a public notification declare Article 370 to be non-operative. The subjugation of a Muslim-majority state into India had led to distrust and hostility between Hindus and Muslims inhabiting the valley. Further, the state has been evolving in an environment of exclusivity and separation due to special privileges granted to its citizens regarding property, employment, and residence. These provisions might have imparted autonomy to the state but have formed an atmosphere of apprehension and suspicion in the valley due to the deployment of military forces. On 5th August 2019, all these provisions ceased to be operative with the abrogation of Article 370 and a full-fledged inclusion of Jammu and Kashmir into India. Though, the abrogation was not unconstitutional as Article 370 was incorporated as a “temporary provision” since its inception (Sharma-2019). The abrogation has led to alienation of J&K’s mainstream political parties like PDP that sought votes on the demand of self-rule. It has further curbed voices of dissent by placing influential leaders under house arrest justified through the Public Safety Act (PSA). 

COMMUNICATION BLOCKADE AND INTERNET SHUTDOWN

The abrogation of Article 370 was followed by a wave of protests and stone-pelting in the valley, compelling the government to cut down all means of communication. The move was justified by the BJP government on grounds centred around security, prevention of violence, and stopping the circulation of false rumours. Subsequently, the government acquired access to track all kinds of digital transactions to keep an eye on money laundering and terrorist funding creating an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust among the populace. However, the government states that the revocation of Article 370 would integrate Kashmir into India and provide freedom from the existing repressive rights.

Figure 1: The rapidly increasing number of internet shutdowns imposed by government in Jammu and Kashmir since the revocation of Article 370 (Source – The Hindu’s report 2020)

Since then, the inhabitants of the state have been in dark with no means of contact with the outside world. Trade and business took a backseat with lockdowns and no means of communication left to propel the economy. Travel restrictions bought the tourism industry to a dead end with people working in the ancillary industries having neither work nor other means of livelihood. Kashmiri citizens coped with low employment rates and almost negligible monetary aid. The common people struggled to make ends meet with no government empathy towards them.

Figure 2 – Unemployment rates (UR) in Jammu and Kashmir rise consistently with prolonged shutdowns (Source – The Wire’s report 2020)

Educational institutions have been shut down and the suspension of internet has left no doors of knowledge open to students which is in direct violation of the fundamental right to education. Students have been deprived of the opportunities which would have otherwise opened new vistas for them. Students in the valley, particularly girls, had to face social stigma and violence from military personnel as well as terrorists to have access to education. The government has promised opening of eminent institutions of higher education once Article 370 was done away with but these promises have yet to take shape. The crippled education system has pushed Kashmiri students into an abyss of unequal opportunities violating the right to equality.

The communication blockade has left Kashmiris in a complete blackout with no relations with the outside world. Kashmiris have been unable to contact their relatives for the past year and remain on tenterhooks about their well-being. Uneasiness and anxiety regarding the situation has increased and is often reflected in violent clashes with the military. These unrests have been tackled by prohibitions on public gatherings and mass arrests of people termed as “miscreants” under the draconian PSA. The implementation of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in J&K after the abrogation has led to further detention of 255 non-violent protestors (Duschinski, Bhanb-2017). Kashmiris continue to toil through these communication hardships despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Faheema Shirin RK vs State of Kerala[1] stating the right to internet as a fundamental right.

WOMEN RIGHTS- AUTONOMY OR RESTRICTIONS- THE PATH AHEAD

The abrogation of Article 370 has impacted every Kashmiri citizen, especially the Kashmiri women, and suppressed lower classes. The terrorism and military subjugation of the area has already led to gross human rights violations which are also mirrored in discriminatory laws. The uniformity and equality in women’s rights was one of the structural pillars for justification of the abrogation by the Central government. The Centre explains that the revocation will empower women with the right to buy real estate and transfer property even while being married to a non-resident of Jammu and Kashmir (Lalwani, Gayner-2020). The same can now also be inherited by their children and bring them on an equal footing with men in terms of property rights, which was hitherto not possible.

The abrogation was welcomed by activists, woman sarpanch’s and Kashmiri Pandit women married in other parts of the country as they had profitable stakes in the valley. However, the status of Kashmiri women living in the valley has not improved and they continue to face repressive brutality. The political attitude and administration have always tried to curb the proactive participation of women in society.  Women in the valley have been further repressed by military personnel deployed and are subject to regular physical and sexual violence. Women are now empowered with the freedom of expression but need to live in constant fear of arbitrary state action and being treated as second-class citizens.

Draconian military acts as AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Protection Act) have not only crushed the voices of women but has also made them a victim of sexual assault and violence. Under the cover of these acts, military personnel commit heinous crimes under blanket impunity. These women describe the whole horrific process as being “widowed by conflict, isolated by arrest” (Zahra, Muzamil-2020).

Other minority groups such as the Valmikis and the Gorkhas too face discrimination within Kashmiri society as well as harassment from the administrative officials. The centre has doled out a carrot in the guise of increased women and lower-class representation in public spheres promising a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Yet, the exclusion of women from the decision-making process is a colonial and top-down approach without any benefits. The Hindu extremist BJP government has positioned itself as a patriarch by enforcing decisions on them and assuming to know the best of their interests.

SHIFT IN DEMOGRAPHIC PARADIGM AND AUTHORITY OF THE GOVERNMENT

The opening up of the valley coupled with the anticipated influx of Hindu populace stirs up fear of being repressed and subjugated in the minds of the Muslim majority population. The general populace considers the revocation a complete takeover of Kashmir through legal framework and military control. Kashmiris find it contradictory to being called legal citizens of India yet not being asked for their consent as subjects of governance.

The inhabitants also fear that in the long run the results of any referendum or plebiscite if implemented would vary drastically due to the settlement of “outsiders”. Human rights activists predict a state of absolute lawlessness by the military due to the center’s over-reaching support (Hussain, 2009). Pro-Pakistan Kashmiri activists foresee the abrogation as a ploy of the Indian government to further tighten the noose over Kashmir and disruptive violence to be the new normal in the valley.

Human rights activists too are apprehensive of the outcomes with the coupled use of AFSPA and nationwide UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act). Youth politicians are uneasy about raising their voices for the fear of being booked and detained. The harsh treatment of political leaders like Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah under the pretext of house arrest has silenced many voices of dissent in the valley.

CONCLUSION

The state now has seen internet shutdown for over a year and isolation from the outside world with no means of communication. The heavily armed military has effectively enforced law and order but they have made Kashmiris feel alienated and second-class citizens in India.

Jammu and Kashmir still awaits to be lifted out of the communication outage and emerge without the tag of a “disturbed area”. The citizens hope to raise their voices as free citizens of India and not be labelled as “terrorists”. The majority Muslim populace is anxious to see the outcomes of being a minority in J&K. Albeit belated, Jammu and Kashmir will embark on a new journey of evolution without its special status and the question of Kashmiri identity will witness paramount changes in the near future.

[1] Faheema Shirin R.K. v State of Kerala & Ors WP(C). No.19716 OF 2019(L).