On August 5, the Indian state revoked its constitutional article that gives Kashmir a special status. Communication with the occupied territory have been shut down since then while international solidarity is organizing. Suchitra Vijayan reflects on the situation in this text.
“It Feels like the Night Before the Floods.” ///
The evening of August 4, 2019 was the last time I heard from my friend and the editor of the Polis Project Nawaz Gul Quanungo, based in Srinagar, Indian-occupied Kashmir. I have called his phone and landline every day since. However, all I hear is the same automated voice telling me that the number is unreachable. One of his last messages to me was, “It feels like the night before the floods,” referring to the brutal and unforgiving floods that completely submerged Kashmir in 2014.
On the early hours of August 5, the India State imposed a strict curfew and an unprecedented information blockade on Kashmir. All lines of communication, including landlines, mobile phones, and the internet, were suspended. Many Kashmiris remain cut off from their families, unable to reach them. Days leading up to the blockade 38,000 troops were moved into the Kashmir Valley. A recent report puts the troop count at a million.
The Indian State and many of its embedded journalists have called the situation, “normal” and under “control.” However, there is nothing “normal” about living in the world’s most militarized region, under a violent curfew and an information blockade, while being totally cut off from the world. Since the crackdown, 4,000 people, mostly young men, have been detained. AFP reported that people arrested “were flown out of Kashmir because prisons here have run out of capacity.” Kashmir’s political leadership, both pro-India and pro-independence, remain detained in unknown locations. Lawyers, journalists, local business leaders and human rights activists have also been arrested. Under what law, we don’t know.
After imposing the blockade, India’s ruling right-wing BJP party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modiabrogated Article 370 and Article 35-A of the Constitution that conferred special status to Kashmir and bifurcated the State into two Union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. With the abolition of Article 35-A, India has become a settler-colonialism state in Kashmir. Many Kashmiri fear that India will settle non-Kashmiris, and fundamentally change the demographic makeup of the region. Art 370, is a constitutional agreement that enshrined autonomous status to Kashmir and the conditions of accession to India. Legal expert and author of Article 370: A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir (2011) A.G. Noorani, has called the abrogation of Article 370, “utterly and palpably unconstitutional” and a “deed accomplished by deceitful means.” A decision that adversely affects over eight million Kashmiris was rushed through the Indian Parliament, unilaterally without their consent in less than two hours without any discussion or deliberation. Abrogation of Article 370, terminates the legal basis of Kashmir’s accession to India. Kashmir is no longer Indian administered or occupied Kashmir, it now land that has been forcibly annexed. More importantly, these acts should be seen as a part of the BJP governments calculated strategy of dismantling India as a constitutional republic and it transforming it into an ethnonational settler-colonial state.
the Only Certainty is Death.” ///
Despite the information ban, stories of horror and humiliation have begun arriving through personal messages, social media posts and ground reports from those leaving the valley. Zeba Siddiqui, of Reuters, wrote, “I’ve returned after nine days under the communications blackout in Kashmir, and one word that has stuck with me is ‘zulm’ [tyranny].” From teenagers to the elderly, so many asked: “Kyun kar raha hai India itna zulm hum par?” (“Why is India committing such oppression on us?”).
It has become amply clear that the abrogation of 370, and its accompanying violence will mark a bloodier, more violent, and a barbaric chapter in the history of oppression in the valley. Since August 5, mass detention, torture, and night raids have been reported. On August 7, day two of the siege, Kashmir witnessed its first casualty after Article 370 was abrogated. 17-year-old Osaib Altaf’s drowned as he and his friends tried to escape CRPF personnel from the playground. The Press Trust of India reported that the boys were chased “because of confusion over curfew.” Speaking to HuffPost India, Altaf’s father echoed what I have heard so many times in the valley, “Who’ll give us justice? We are under oppression. There’s no justice in oppression.”
Since the crackdown, protests have broken out frequently, and the Indian State has responded with more night raids by the paramilitary forces. Children have been violently arrested from their homes at night, detained without charges, beaten, wounded, hit by pellets, catapults and shot. Ali Mohammad Rah’s teenage sons, aged 14 and 16, were arrested in a night raid in Srinagar. According to Rah, the soldiers barged in and dragged his sons away.
Kashmiris are not new to curfews, internet bans, or the indiscriminate violence. The summer of 2016 saw over a hundred days of the curfew imposed by the Indian State to quell widespread protests. During the 100 days of curfew, the Indian forces used rubber bullets, pellet guns, and assault rifles, resulting in the deaths of more than 90 civilians, with over 8,000 civilians injured. That bloody summer also left hundreds blinded, making it as one of the first instances of mass blindings by a state. While 2016 curfew is the longest imposed in the valley, it is just one of many that the valley has experienced since 1984. In Kashmir, curfew has always been a tool of repression used to crush spontaneous protest by the people.
Since Osaib Altaf, there have other casualties. Kashmiri families have claimed two other deaths: Fehmeeda Shagu and Mohammad Ayub Khan. However, the Indian State continues to deny these deaths, and have repeatedly stated that “there is no credible proof that anyone has died in Kashmir as a result of the lockdown, and only that eight people have been injured.”
According to AFP, doctors have been instructed by the police not to issue the death certificate. It is as if proof and facts no longer matter, even if the evidence is a dead body. Similarly, the violence in Kashmir is not an aberration; instead, it has always been “widespread, systematic, and systemic,” with the armed forces enjoying absolute impugnity to kill, torture and maime. These include extra-judicial executions, serious human rights violations, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, detention, and torture; and all these acts meet the legal threshold of crimes against humanity.
“… Attempt to Break us, that’s All.” ///
On August 9, Srinagar based journalist Parvaiz Bhukari sent this brief email. “Srinagar is a maze of razor wire, almost like a pinball table, a tapestry of razor wire so to speak! You have to forget the city map to be able to move around.” Not since the brutal years of the 1990s have civilians seen army tanks roll into the city. The city has been divided into small units. Each unit is then physically remade into mazes connected by razer wires, and steel barricades, guarded by men in riot gears. The Associated Press reported that these “elaborate maze of razor wire that changes configuration several times a day.” Similar to the strategies employed by the Israeli state in Palestine, entrances, exits, gates, checkpoints and diversion are changed multiple times throughout the day. Another resident quoted in the Associated Press report said, “They’ve changed the road map of our city, trying to make us like strangers in our own neighborhoods.”
The methods of control employed by the Indian State in Kashmir are infinite and ever-proliferating. Radically remaking an occupied city, is not only aimed at limiting protests, but it’s also aimed at creating chaos, and confusion. It is as much about control as it is about disciplining and punishing Kashmiris, breaking them in every way possible. The encircling and entombment the local population with concertina wire cuts them off, quarantines communities and makes life socially, politically, economically unbearable. Now Srinagar is not only remapped, unrecognizable to its inhabitants, but it also has several buzzing drones flying over it.
Ontological feature of colonial occupation is its ability to affect and control everything. Kashmiris have experienced India state’s colonial presence in their memories, histories, bodies, in their homes, streets and cities. Since 1947, the Indian state has responded to the political aspirations and the social and the legal demands in Kashmir through militarization, repression, and indiscriminate violence, including, at various times, the denial of democratic rights, the manipulation of elections, and the murder and
imprisonment of its political leaders. With the abrogation of 370, there is anger and pain. But also a genuine fear of being annihilated as a social group and dispossessed from their land.
Many Kashmiri now believe that they have no option but to “fight till the end” and resist. In Soura, Srinagar, young men from the community have built a makeshift barricade around various entry and exit points to their neighborhood. So far they have successfully kept the Indian forces out. Something else has also changed, while Kashmiris have endured immense violence for over 30 years, the issue has always been defined as a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. This narrative has started shifting. There is increasing knowledge and acknowledgement of the Kashmiri demand for self-determination, and growing global solidarity with their struggle for freedom. As a Kashmiri friend recently said, “When they have promised to take everything from us, what is left to do, but fight. So we will fight until our freedom comes. Zindabad.” ■