On Aug 5, 2019, when the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was unilaterally revoked, New Delhi stated that this “constitutional transformation” was done to pave the way for better administration, good governance, and economic development of the region. The government also said that Article 370 was the root cause of corruption and militancy in the state of J&K. Has there been any change? Almost ten months have passed but the government still seems unsure of its course of action. It looks as if it is caught in a quagmire. There seems to be no end to violence and militancy in the valley, nor any sign of economic development and better governance.
On May 19, an encounter took place in Nawakadal area of Srinagar where two militants were killed, one among them the son of a senior separatist leader. Before this, a major gunfight on May 6 took place in the south Kashmir district of Pulwama, where the Hizbul commander Riyaz Naikoo was killed. Following the Nawa Kadal encounter, the entire valley was plunged into a communication blackout. In Nawa Kadal, 15 houses were damaged during the encounter. It was one of the many such incidents that have occurred in the valley since last August. Militant attacks have increased and so have new groups appearing on the scene. According to official data, Kashmir witnessed 1,999 stone pelting incidents in 2019 as compared to 1,458 in 2018 and 1,412 in 2017.
When the entire world is grappling with Covid-19, the Indian state is using the situation to crush the people of Kashmir into submission. Such is the mistrust and scepticism regarding the administration here that common people believe that the government is exaggerating the figures of corona infected people to divert attention from the main issues and to prevent people from coming onto streets to protest against the brazen misuse of power.
The promise of economic development and easing the unemployment rate, which is above the national average, has fallen flat. The new domicile definition, which was introduced without consulting the stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir, has made migrants, children of central govt employees and Indian armed forces personnel eligible for domicile status. The move will further limit the employment opportunities for the local youth. New Delhi had promised a secure future including more jobs, development, and peace, but what Kashmiris have got is more restrictions, repression, and brute application of unjust laws.
When Union Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the J&K Reorganisation Bill in the Rajya Sabha, he said that the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir was the root cause of corruption, terrorism and alienation of the state from India. However, the fact of the matter is that the alienation stems from New Delhi’s muscular and insensitive policies, rather than Article 370. The policy of unconditional appeasement of regional political leaders by a succession of governments at the centre has protected vested interests, trapping the valley in an unending cycle of bad governance and corruption. In an address to the Lok Sabha, Amit Shah had claimed that only 3 families gained from Article 370, not common Kashmiris. Amit Shah blamed the dynastic politics in J&K for the lack of development in Kashmir. However, it is evident that the BJP portrays a situation very different to what exists on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir.
Last September, newspapers in Kashmir carried full-page government advertisements explaining the advantages of abrogation of Article 370. They said that tourism will increase and benefit the rural economy. They promised increase of private investment in education and healthcare sectors. It is close to one year since those promises but the government is yet to come up with any concrete measures to boost the economy. After abrogation of Article 370, Kashmir economy suffered loss of Rs 17,878 crore. Due to the continuous communication blockade and curfews, the economy has suffered unaccounted for losses in handicraft, tourism, and information technology. The horticulture sector is in distress, tourism is in a shambles, and students are suffering from the ongoing internet blockade. For the first time in the last 70 years, rural Kashmir is facing such a great economic slowdown. The apple industry is the worst hit. The growers last year were hit at multiple fronts. Due to the complete shutdown, the transportation industry and procurement market was closed, making it difficult for growers to harvest and store the fruits on time. The communication links between apple growers, transporters, and traders was snapped, causing a disruption in the demand-supply chain and causing delays and additional costs.
Continued internet blockade continues to affect the education of students. Besides the 2G speed wasting precious time, it has increased the stress levels among students. Educational institutions are shut for nearly six months and this has led to an education paralysis. While students across the world are being offered e-learning, students here are denied access to 4G internet.
The Government of India’s move in August last year to ostensibly pave the way for Kashmiris to join the mainstream and facilitate integration of J&K with India has failed miserably, so far. There is no end to violence and militancy seems to be rising again. The government must take any proactive measures to regain the trust of the people and normalise the situation. The way the union government annulled Article 370 has taken away the credibility of the Indian state in the eyes of Kashmiris, of all persuasions, including the pro-India voices. Such hardline approach is turning every person into a rebel.
The writer is a post graduate from Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi