Eight years have passed since the Karvaan-e-Aman (Trans LoC bus) was launched; the divided families of the state remain disconnected. Although the bus takes a few passengers across the LoC every month, the `important confidence building measure’ (CBM) has almost succumbed to the cumbersome process prescribed for getting a berth in the special bus’. People who have been denied a berth on the bus believe it will serve no purpose if the process is not smoothened. The cynicism is not totally unfounded. There have been times when the bus has traveled to Muzaffarabad without having any passenger on board. Very few people have boarded the bus since it was launched. People find it easy to reach Muzaffarabad via Wagah rather than traveling in the bus. The intelligence sleuths of Srinagar and Muzaffarabad look into the credentials of a person and when both the agencies give their nod, the person gets a permit to board the bus.
The Jammu Kashmir government and its agencies seem more concerned about upholding the unity and integrity of India than New Delhi. A person is refrained from going outside India if he happens to be a distant relative of a former militant or a political activist. Such persons have been debarred from performing the Hajj. Chief Minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s assurance to smoothen the process has not helped and people continue to suffer. The denial of travel documents has adversely affected all the spheres of civil society with consequences on education, trade, religion, employment and human rights. The intelligence sleuths, it has been reliably learnt, have prepared a blacklist which the establishment calls a “security Index”. The list has as many as 80,000 families from Kashmir Valley alone. Judicial recourse has helped but not in all the cases.
The intelligence sleuths have been observing court orders in breach with impunity. It is the sleuths who decide whether a court order is to be implemented or not. The High Court has directed that travel documents cannot be denied to the relative of a former militant. Similarly, the Court has held that a person acquitted of criminal charges cannot be denied a passport. But, these rulings have not made any difference.
Right to travel is guaranteed under international law. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966), which has been signed and ratified by India reads: “Everyone has a right to leave the country including his own and this right should not be restricted to any restrictions.” All over the world, travel documents are issued to citizens including dissidents, the only exception being Jammu Kashmir in Asia where the government uses the travel documents as an instrument of controlling and collectively punishing a defiant people. The government and the intelligence agencies must bear in mind that in the modern age, a person need not physically go out of the country to do an act which they consider a threat to the security of the state. Anybody who has access to internet has the world at his fingertips and can address international conferences and participate in debates from his drawing room. The restriction on travel, therefore, makes no sense. Apart from causing psychological trauma to a person living in a remote village, the detested practice does not in any way help in upholding the security of the state.
The divided families can benefit a lot by restoration of tele-ties across the LoC. While Pakistan administered Kashmir did not snap the ties, the Indian Kashmir seems in no mood to revive the ties that were snapped in early phases of militancy. Even incoming calls from Pakistan administered Kashmir subject people to inconvenience. The Intelligence sleuths call the person to the police station and question him thoroughly. Restoration of tele -links can be the best and forceful CBM, political experts believe. The snapping of ties also makes no sense in the internet age when you have the world at your finger tips, said a Jammu Kashmir Bank employee whose father was externed from the state for political reasons way back in 1958. “I want to see my father’s grave who died in Muzaffarabad two years ago. I have been denied permission of boarding the bus. However, I chat with my relatives through the internet”, he said.
The phone on the other had is used mostly by people who have no access to internet and the other modern equipment. Snapping the ties, therefore, deprives makes no sense. Communication as they say has reduced the world to a global village and when the communication links are snapped, people cannot come closer.
During the past twenty-five years the Valley has witnessed migration and massive internal displacement. People got disconnected. Connecting the people should be a top of a dispensation that has come up with the healing touch slogan.