Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal
SCRAPPING of Article 370 and stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status is expected to be the centrepiece of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on the 72nd anniversary of independence day this year.
That probably explains the hasty and abrupt end to the Amarnath Yatra and cancellation of all other seasonal pilgrimages in the state as well as the timing of bringing in the legislation to change the orientation of the most complex and troubled state in the country by stealth in the Parliament.
While this present euphoria over altering the very nature of India’s only Muslim majority state will turn into a grand celebration on a day to commemorate the freedom of the country, attained by the struggles of those stalwarts who had firm faith in liberal values, democracy and secularism, the rights of the people that have been trampled so brutally to make these celebration possible will be beyond the pale of anyone’s view.
The political and geographical fate of the people of Jammu and Kashmir was decided on August 5 by a simple Presidential order and a resolution while they were cocooned in their homes with curfew or restrictions on the streets.
Far from thinking of consulting the people, a majoritarian government arrogated the right of the state legislative assembly to take a decision on changes to the special status on the Parliament where the ruling party enjoys a brute majority.
The logic behind the exercise being peddled is as delusional as the action is deceitful. The slicing of Jammu and Kashmir and reducing it into two separate entities as Union Territories, not even full-fledged states, is that this will be for the good of the citizens as it will end terrorism and bring development.
Has the state turned into some kind of a control freak that believes citizens are incapable of deciding for themselves what is good for them or not? Whether the stipulated goals, as stated by the Union Home Minister, behind taking this drastic action can actually be realised remains to be seen. What is important, first of all, is at what cost it has been achieved and whether all that has gone into achieving this is worth its salt at all.
Jammu and its neighbouring districts of Samba and Kathua, to its South, are under the spell of Section 144, forbidding an assembly of four or more people. In virtual reality, however, in many areas the Section 144 has been bent to convert it into an unannounced curfew.
Within the state, yet to be officially declared as two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir, these areas appear to enjoy the maximum liberty. Phones are working, television channels are on, newspapers are being circulated and the internet is working, even if all these are only partially available.
Further up north from Jammu, along the Jammu-Srinagar highway and Jammu-Poonch highway, (while nothing is known about the vast but sparsely populated and poorly connected Ladakh region) the entire state has been pushed into a freeze under military jackboots and barbed wires. There is not even a trickle of news from the Chenab Valley, which has a fragile demography, or from the sensitive border districts of Rajouri-Poonch.
The only bits and fragments of what is happening is coming from Srinagar, rather the restricted VVIP zone of Srinagar, through television channels whose crews have been huddled in one particular hotel.
From the television studios, the nation is being told that officials have confirmed that things are under control in Kashmir and all the essential stocks and medical facilities are available. The journalists cannot venture beyond the specified ‘lakshman rekha’. Is it to ensure their security? Or to protect the Kashmiris living beyond the specified confines from them?