This Fact-finding was undertaken by Group of Intellectuals and Academicians (GIA). Founded in 2015, GIA is a group of professional women and entrepreneurs, media persons and academicians committed to social-justice and nation-building.
Fact-Finding – Kashmir Members (In Alphabetical Order)
1. Advocate Monika Arora, Advocate (Supreme Court of India)
2. Ms Renuka Dhar, Associate Professor, Department of English, PGDAV (Eve) College (Delhi University)
3. Ms Sonali Chitalkar, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Miranda House (Delhi University)
THE FACT FINDING REPORT ON KASHMIR
Wrapped up in Yourself, You hid from me.
All-day I looked for You
and when I found You hiding inside me,
I ran wild, playing now me, now You.
Lalleshwari (Kashmiri Mystic Saint)
We were leaving for Srinagar with a wonderful team but with hearts full of apprehension. Kashmir, we were told, was an island where there would be no contact with the outside world. There had been no mobile or internet connectivity in the Valley since August 5, 2019.
The districts we visited in Kashmir are:
1. Srinagar – Downtown as well as other areas
The suburban regions we visited in Srinagar are:
4. Lal Chowk
5. Press Enclave
6. Polo View
7. Residency Road
8. Dal Gate
10. Indra Nagar
11. Karan Nagar
12. Jawahar Nagar
14. Ram Munshi Bagh
Ground Report from major sites of Visit
The flight to Kashmir was full of locals, men, women, and children. Kashmiris, Sikhs and even a few foreign tourists were on their way to Srinagar. There was a lot of hustle and bustle, people were talking, chatting and seemed to be looking forward to going home.
In a little over an hour, we had landed at the busy and swanky Sheikh-ul-Alam International Airport.
On our way to the city, we saw a lot of traffic on the streets and noticed that people were walking around. There were many cars, two-wheelers and autos on the roads. On the airport road, we saw several boys and girls walking with books and bags, apparently, there are a number of Tuition/ Coaching Centres in this area. Further on, we saw a bustling road-side bazaar milling with people. On enquiring, we were told that this used to be the site for a Sunday Market which has now been turned into a regular marketplace. There was a mindboggling variety of goods on sale, families were out purchasing items of need like clothes, snacks, household items.
There was no sign of barricades and very few troops or armed personnel on the roads.
We noticed that the banks were open, govt. offices and the High Court were operational, ATMs, some food shops, all Chemists were open. The shops opened during the morning hours and downed shutters till the evening when they remained open for a couple of hours. We were given different reasons for these peculiar working hours. Some said it was an expression of resentment over the setting aside of Article 370 and Article 35A, while others attributed it to a fear of stone-pelters and terrorists who might end up harming them and their personal property.
Interaction with Residents of Dal Lake.
We went on a Shikara ride on The Dal Lake to find out how these boatmen were faring in the midst of the present situation. The area was mostly deserted but we did spot a few tourists.
There is a small yet dedicated group of Kashmiris (including Muslims) who are unambiguously against the Pakistan-backed militancy and they speak and write about the human rights violations committed by the militants
The Shikara-wallas said that boatmen, hoteliers, and transporters are suffering due to the conditions in the region. They said that the “Hartal‟ has been declared by anti-social elements and this is affecting mainly the poor and the people who depend upon tourist influx. With respect to Article 370 and Article 35A, the main fear that they have is that Kashmiris will lose their land to outsiders who will buy at high prices and make land prices shoot up.
The Shikara-wallas are also fed up of the uncertain circumstances. They mention threats from ‟city-people‟ who are forcing them to shut shop. They have a short earning season and resent this disruption.
The Shikara-wallas we spoke to were also very bitter towards mainstream political leaders like Farooq Abdullah and the Muftis. They resent the corruption that these parties have indulged in at the cost of the common man. They feel that now that these leaders have been imprisoned they must not be allowed to go scot-free, they must be made to pay for their corrupt practices. The general feeling is that the leaders of all these mainstream political parties have not suffered in the conflict which has been created by them over the past 70 years. They engineered the conflict and sent their own families abroad while the man on the street suffered.
Interaction with Civil Society in Srinagar
We met Civil Society members, businessmen, academicians, and journalists. Regarding the “lockdown‟ and “clampdown‟, they informed us that there was no directive from the government to shut shops, no curfew, no blanket restrictions imposed under Section-144. The people, traders and businessmen close shops during the day. They are aggrieved as to why they were not consulted before taking such a drastic decision. We were also informed that one shopkeeper was gunned down by terrorists because he dared to keep his shop open. They now down their shutters voluntarily to avoid any such eventuality. Extreme voices in the form of pamphlets, posters and wall writings asking them to shut shop have been creating a sense of fear.
On being asked whether closing shops for two months has hit their profits badly, the answer was that the shopkeepers open their shops from 7 to 9 in the morning and in some areas from 4 to 7 in the evening. The local people know about it and hence they shop during this period. On being asked about scarcity of foodstuff including rice, grains etc the respondents informed us that Kashmiris are used to storing essentials for the winter months so every household is well-stocked.
Regarding the setting aside of Article 370 and 35A, most of them expressed a desire for peace in the Kashmir region and feel that the amendment may delay the peace process. Many respondents stated that Article 370 was an important link that bound Kashmir to India, altering or abolishing it might endanger that link.
However, many of the focus group participants also felt that once the decision has been taken it cannot be overturned or rather there is no use discussing the past. They felt that this was an ideal opportunity for the Government of India to make things work. If there cannot be a better life for Kashmiris under the Union Territory then this decision would backfire.
There is a small yet dedicated group of Kashmiris (including Muslims) who are unambiguously against the Pakistan-backed militancy and they speak and write about the human rights violations committed by the militants. Our field studies also show that there is what has been termed as a “silent constituency of wisdom” – those who don’t consider Separatists to be “sacrosanct‟ and beyond accountability.
The respondents feel that there is no ready-made or immediate tool to calm the raging tempers in Kashmir, but that the steps suggested above can initiate a positive the atmosphere which will surely lay the foundation for reaching out to the Kashmiri masses. Hysteria and provocative statements in the rest of the country create a negative stereotype of Kashmiris and trigger a negative response in the Valley.
The Government needs to focus on cases of youth especially students who have been detained/jailed on various charges. GOI also needs to reach out to the families of those who died in 2010, 2016 street violence. Measures need to be taken to rehabilitate those injured, and affected families must be approached to provide them with all kinds of possible help in the education and employment of their children.
Overnight posters and warnings by terrorists and the OSUT (Overground Supporters of Underground Terrorists) are a daily affair in rural Kashmir. People feel threatened and terrorised by these posters and prefer to stay home.
They feel that mainland India has always misunderstood them and they feel threatened by the prevailing atmosphere in Kashmir. The society has become sceptical and distrustful, people cannot discuss political issues openly. As we drove down the roads in Srinagar, we spotted some wall writings. This is Graffiti done in black spray paint, mostly during the night. One such wall writing said
I am so sorry… We are Really Special…
We felt in our conversations with people that this feeling of being “special‟ has received a jolt after August 5, 2019. The predominant feeling is that Kashmiriyat made the people of Kashmir special. Surprisingly no one amongst the Civil Society members felt that jobs will be threatened or that their land will be taken away. They, however, did have a detailed discussion on “Kashmiri Identity‟, which they feel received a shock due to the setting aside of Article 370 and Art 35A.
Main Issues Identified by respondents in our interaction with Civil Society in Kashmir:
1. Now that the region is a UT, this is a golden opportunity that the GOI can utilize for the betterment of Kashmir.
2. There is no sympathy for the Abdullahs and the Muftis or the Mirwaiz and SAS Geelani. The main task to be done is to punish them under corruption charges.
3. There is no lockdown but the lack of mobile connectivity causes a loss of business and affects daily life.
4. There are threats from terrorists and their supporters and these groups are enforcing bazaar shutdowns.
5. Transport is shut due to fear of stone-pelting, as consequence schools have thin attendance.
6. GOI must not engage with the Separatists or their support group in New Delhi. A fresh new group of nation builders who are emerging in small numbers in Kashmir must be supported and encouraged. These are the key to the future.
Report from Suburban and Rural Kashmir
While travelling out of Srinagar, we saw the areas around the city were fully open. Shops in Batmaloo and Bemina were operating throughout the day and there was dense traffic. Women were out driving their cars and Scooties, ambulances and commercial vehicles were also plying. Residents told us that there had been no shutdown in that area. We visited the historic Tehsil of Shalteng, children were going to study-centres, The Noora Hospital was open. At Singhpora, shops were closed but the Health Care Centre was open, men, women and children were moving about freely, some security forces personnel were around. At Arampora, shops were closed, women especially young ladies could be seen around. Some were in Abayas, people were milling around and the presence of security forces was seen. At Kanispora we saw similar conditions. Shops were totally closed, women and children were out in large numbers, the CRPF and JK Police could be seen. Similar conditions could be seen at Chak Charat Ram. At Waripora a small medicine shop was open. Women in large numbers were out on the roads. Similar conditions were witnessed at Sangrama and Rawatpora.
At Palhalan, which is a larger village, we were told that it is a model village in official records. However, the sad conditions of development in this village belied the title. The condition of roads is bad, potholes welcome one into the village, making pedestrians and commuters equally miserable. The entire road connecting over a dozen villages is in a dilapidated condition. We were told that during the peak season when apples are transported out from the area truckers as well as the fruit growers face severe hardships. Residents say despite a significant increase in the population of the area and demands for electricity authorities have not upgraded the electricity supply system. There is a dilapidated healthcare sub-centre which was open.
All along the way, we saw that apple farming and daily activities were being conducted.
At Inder, Romu and Kani in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, we noticed very poor roads. Villagers told us that a link road is slated for construction under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY). Shops were closed because it was day time, schools seemed deserted but people were out on the roads.
In none of the villages that we visited did the women complain of being harassed by the security forces. People said that they ventured out of their houses on an average 5 to 7 times a day, there were no restrictions on praying and conduct of daily activities.
On being asked for the reason that shops were shut, they conveyed their insecurity due to the doing away of their special status. They felt that now persons from outside will swamp their daily lives. They also added that the shutdown was because of fear and uncertainty. They had been warned not to open shops.
Main issues identified in rural and suburban Kashmir:
1. Rural Kashmir is experiencing the closure of shops and schools due to pressure from non-state actors.
2. Overnight posters and warnings by terrorists and the OSUT (Overground Supporters of Underground Terrorists) are a daily affair in rural Kashmir. People feel threatened and terrorised by these posters and prefer to stay home.
3. A counter poster campaign to allay the fears and put forward facts is being conducted by the security forces.
4. Women are roaming freely and did not report any sexual or religious harassment by security forces.
To be continued…