Journalist and author Anuradha Bhasin has broken the uneasy silence that has prevailed in Jammu and Kashmir for the past three years by publishing the first authentic documentation of the changes since 05 August 2019 and their aftermath in the form of a book titled: A dismantled State, The Untold Story of Kashmir After Article 370.
The 400-page book, published by Harper Collins, contains the first detailed account of Kashmir turned into a jail, refuting all claims by the Indian government that the region is flourishing like never before after the abrogation of limited autonomy guaranteed by the Indian Constitution under Article 370.
As editor of one of the region’s most prestigious English-language dailies The Kashmir Times, Bhasin is carrying on the legacy of her father Ved Bhasin, who is considered the founder of modern journalism in the state. She was the one who raised her voice against the communication blockade and petitioned the Supreme Court of India to create a conducive environment for media professionals across the state.
She attributes her position to the training she received under her father, who is often remembered for his credibility and stand against the powers that be.
“I was trained under my father, who believed that the truth must be told at all costs. And if I can not tell the truth, I’d better do something else,” she told The Friday Times by phone.
“As a journalist, I had only two choices: remain silent or fight the draconian crackdown,” she writes in her book.
At a time when there are hardly any voices from Srinagar speaking out, she is the only one who continues to write critically about the situation in Kashmir on several international platforms.
The book is full of painful stories of the injured, the blind, the missing, false arrests, the dead, and secret graves.
Bhasin’s book is full of numerous incidents that prove that the world’s largest democracy has completely integrated an entire region by turning it into a giant prison, with sophisticated methods to ensure compliance with the new mantra of absolute silence and supreme submission.
“Not even home is safe”
She writes: “Even one’s own home is not the safest place for every
“If you find that this safety valve is violated, if the armed forces have the right to enter your house with impunity, to mistreat you, to beat you, to threaten you, to arrest you, even to simply stand there with full authority, then you have no refuge to which you can go. When the windows of the house are smashed and tear gas shells on the streets suffocate the people in the house even through the closed windows. When personal belongings such as refrigerators and televisions are destroyed and food stored for the winter months is scattered on the ground, with grains and legumes mixed with oil so that they cannot be used or stored. When night raids on civilian homes, resulting in harassment and humiliation, become the norm. When all this is done to spread fear and ensure that not a single sound of the ongoing atrocities gets out.”
While the Hindu districts of Jammu and Buddhist Leh in the Ladakh region initially celebrated their new status as a union territory, they later found they had more to lose than gain. Kashmir resisted, and even before its voice could be heard outside the valley, it was stunned, its people placed under strict lockdown and all channels of communication with the rest of the world cut off. But New Delhi let the world know that Kashmir was now truly a paradise.
India has always been tough on political movements in Kashmir. But that has never stopped political parties, separatist groups or even civil society and ordinary people in Kashmir from taking to the streets and making their protest known. Even journalists in the Valley have been able to report with a certain degree of freedom. But after 2019, this narrative has simply reversed.
“Earlier, the center used to find ways to manipulate and mitigate protests, but now such voices have been completely silenced and cornered, so there is no space at all to speak out. Everyone in Kashmir is being marginalized,” Bhasin told The Friday Times–Naya Daur.
Anger at New Delhi has multiplied since 2019, but only to be supplanted by fear. Raising a voice against the establishment or being seen protesting in Kashmir can now lead to a vicious cycle of summons, beatings, and harassment that one cannot escape.
Reprisals for raising one’s voice are not new in Kashmir, but as Bhasin writes in her book, “After August 5, 2019, the harassment was followed by more torture, even as people were reluctant to lodge complaints against the security forces. The double harassment came just for talking to the media or others, creating a permanent zone of fear that prevented people from speaking out.”
Bhasin quotes American psychiatrist Judith Herman from her book Trauma and Recovery: the Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Violence to Political Terror to explain why Kashmiris have become so fearful in recent years.
In her book, Herman speaks of the ultimate effect of psychological restraint, which is to convince the victim that the perpetrator is omnipresent, that resistance is futile, and that life depends on winning the perpetrator’s indulgence through absolute compliance.
This is what Kashmir looks like today, the omnipresent Indian machinery ruling over every nook and cranny of Kashmiris.
Bhasin recalls one of the biggest challenges while working on the book, saying that her sources used to call her with information. “All I had to do was confirm the information and check facts and figures, but with this new kind of fear setting in, my sources have distanced themselves. Everyone is afraid to say anything now,” she adds. As Bhasin’s book neared completion, many who had agreed to be quoted in the book requested anonymity.
Internet blockades and lockdowns are nothing new in Kashmir. But in August 2019, Kashmir witnessed an internet blockade that lasted 133 days. Initially, not only cell phones but also landlines stopped working. The blockade was so severe that even the smallest information about celebrations and mourning for loved ones could not find its way. It was impossible to call an ambulance, get a doctor’s appointment or withdraw money from ATM in Kashmir.
Not only were dissidents shut out, but journalists in Kashmir working for national and international news organizations also had difficulty getting their reports across. Bhasin writes, “In a turbulent place like Kashmir, silence is news. But when silence fell on August 5, 2019, journalists had no story to tell.”
The abolition of Article 370 also opened the doors to non-residents of the state, allowing outsiders to apply for residency in Kashmir. Bureaucrats and armed forces personnel who have spent 15 years in Kashmir can now apply for a domicile in Kashmir under this new criterion, which allows them to purchase land and apply for government posts.
In Jammu, this discontent is linked to the loss of jobs, land, monopoly on trade, and higher education, but in Kashmir, the dilution of Article 370 and the Residency Act takes on a whole new meaning on top of all that – their fear of bringing about a demographic shift in Kashmir seems to be coming true.
Unlawful arrests, restrictions, raids, barbed wire entanglements, and cordons even in non-conflict areas and forests are like writing on the wall in Kashmir.
“Now that several gates have been opened for a demographic influx, there is a serious fear in the Valley that India’s Kashmir project will in a few years resemble Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians have been dispossessed in clear violation of international law. Given Kashmir’s Muslim-majority status and an ongoing historical conflict – pending before the United Nations for several decades – Kashmiri Muslims see a similarity in design,” Bhasin writes.
Setback to journalism
Journalism in Kashmir suffered a severe setback after the abolition of Article 370. The administration’s anxiety is such that even the smallest protest in Kashmir, which could worry Delhi the least, does not find its way into the local newspapers. The front-page columns of newspapers published in Kashmir are filled with government press statements, while livelihood and human rights issues find no space.
Summoning journalists to police stations for a tweet, knocking on their doors in the middle of the night, calling ailing and aging parents for questioning, or having their cell phones and laptops confiscated is routine for journalists in the Valley, forcing them to defer to the authorities, which Bhasin discusses in detail in her book.
And in times like these, Bhasin’s book is an exception. Bhasin has somehow managed to muddle through. “I can not say I have remained untouched, and I am not as vocal as I used to be. But since I am non-Muslim and have the choice of settling either in Jammu or Kashmir, my position is a little better than that of my Kashmiri Muslim colleagues,” she says.
But like the other newspapers in Kashmir, Bhasin’s Kashmir Times has to contend not only with good stories but also with summonses from courts or the labor and tax departments. “These are all ways to distract journalists from what they should be doing,” she says.
But despite all sorts of difficulties and the fact that Kashmiris are living on the edge, Bhasin is optimistic that Kashmir will not die and that its history and present cannot simply be wiped away forever.
“The BJP has learned that the surest way to completely disenfranchise Jammu and Kashmir is to continue to maintain a facade of electoral democracy, albeit in a much watered-down and tattered form,” she writes.
So there will be elections, and there will be political mobilization. The centre can continue to remotely control the government in Kashmir even after the elections. But Kashmir and Kashmiriyat will not be forgotten.