Kashmir is facing the longest curfew so far in the 26 years of ongoing conflict, and that demonstrates how bad the situation in the valley is. Governor Jagmohan’s administration had imposed a 19-day-long curfew in Kashmir in January 1990, but the current curfew has gone on for about 50 days with no breaks. It has been extended to the nights as well, in order to break the writ of separatists as they call for relaxations in the shutdown during the evening hours.
Kashmir has a long history of curfews, much before the armed rebellion broke out in 1989. In 1984, when Farooq Abdullah was dethroned by his brother-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah, the latter resorted to a curfew to contain the people’s agitation that rocked Kashmir in protest against the coup. Today’s curfew is, however, different by all accounts and is apparently aimed at tiring the people out. This is like a capsule strategy that includes forces having been given free hand to beat the people, ransack their houses and curtail their movements as much as possible.
That, however, has not stopped people from taking out huge rallies in different parts of Kashmir, calling for ‘Azadi’. In many areas there are free zones where police and the administration do not intervene in such rallies. The idea is that it would lead to fatigue, which will be followed by a fruit packing season and other harvesting businesses. If the statements of fruit growers are to be believed, they would go with the protest calendars issued by the joint Hurriyat irrespective of the losses incurred. Same is the case with other trade bodies that have vowed to abide by the calendars. Unlike 2010, when murmurs about people’s concern over continuous closure of educational institutions and the businesses were heard only after two weeks, this time Kashmir is silent over the future of students. Has the situation been taken as fate accompli with people repeatedly saying this is a “now or never battle”? The palpable anger that has taken deep roots with the death of nearly 70 people and injuries to over 7,000 is setting a new course that is seemingly out of anybody’s control.
The curfew has gone on for 50 days with no breaks
The government’s “iron-hand method” is demonstrative of how the situation has gone completely out of control. Since there is no political outreach, the army, the para-military CRPF and the police are the only answer to the growing dissatisfaction and unprecedented anger the people, especially the youth, have been harbouring. The state government, which is an alliance of two extreme ideologies represented by the Bhartiya Janata Party and the People’s Democratic Party, has failed to reconnect with the agitating people of Kashmir. The PDP, which swore by the ideology of “Self Rule” with dignity and honour, is finding it extremely difficult to do that, with the BJP government at the centre doing everything to discredit it.
For over 50 days now, the Government of India has only been projecting the outcry in Kashmir as a Pakistan-sponsored “game” but without elaborating what it then meant for India. On August 21, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said at a function in Jammu that it was Pakistan’s fifth war against India, which it had unleashed through stones. He vowed that there would be no compromise with stone pelters whom he called aggressors. Jaitley is considered to be among the core team of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his tone and tenor at the Jammu meeting is a message that will be counter-productive in Kashmir, where people see it as contempt.
While Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh have been maintaining an aggressive posture to convey that there was hardly any space for reconciliation, in a surprise development, Prime Minister Modi spoke a slightly different language. On August 22, Modi told a delegation of opposition parties from Jammu and Kashmir led by former chief minister Omar Abdullah that development alone could not solve every issue. He also talked about the killing of “youth and security personnel” that cause despair, and called them “part of us, our nation”. The words may not be enough, because of the intensity of the situation, but for the first time since July 9, Modi has referred to the youth who were killed in firing by the forces. Modi also called for a lasting solution, within the framework of the Indian constitution.
A civil society delegation from Delhi faced a hostile crowd chanting anti-India slogans
Although it seems that New Delhi has brought a mild change in its approach, largely there is no effort to reach out to the people who have been caged for so long, turning Kashmir virtually into a prison for 50 days. Those who look at Modi’s statement as “huge” have a reason to think so. He had not spoken a word in the last one and a half month. Credit must go to joint opposition of Jammu and Kashmir who knocked at his door, and the president of India, to bring attention to the new and painful reality on the ground in Kashmir. Being part of the coalition government, and taking responsibility as the prime minister of India, Modi could have done this long ago.
Not much may change with this development but time has not been lost if past mistakes have been realized and a forward movement is made without any conditions. The theory that those creating trouble are “a handful” is bound to backfire and would not create any space for dialogue. It is significant that the Indian Supreme Court too called for a political solution while hearing a petition on August 22. “This issue has various dimensions and therefore should be dealt with politically. Everything can’t be managed in judicial parameters,” observed the court thus putting the government – which has been in denial – in a tight spot.
Today, Kashmir is not even ready to tell its stories to journalists from Delhi. A civil society delegation that visited Srinagar last week had to face a hostile crowd at the SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, with anti-India slogans resonating. The members of delegation – which included Mani Shankar Aiyar, Prem Shankar Jha, Kapil Kak and Vinod Sharma – have been more or less sympathetic to the suffering of the people of Kashmir, but the trust deficit between New Delhi and Srinagar has reached a crescendo. Leaders of the joint Hurriyat, such as Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, refused to meet them.
The spaces for dialogue are shrinking because of the attitude with which Delhi has been looking at Kashmir. Making the security apparatus the only visible symbol of the state has further eroded that space.