Jammu and Kashmir is observing the three-year anniversary of abrogation of its special constitutional status via Article 370, and the bifurcation and downgrading of the state into two union territories.
During the last three years, one thing that stands out is the handling, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, of the curse of stone-pelting and frequent shutdowns in Kashmir.
It’s after almost three decades that schools are functioning without being forced to shut due to hartal calls by separatist groups. Schools in Kashmir have opened since March this year after remaining shut for nearly three years due to long curfews, the security situation and Covid-19 restrictions.
You can move around the town and countryside in Kashmir without fear of being caught in stone-pelting. The mob violence had made every place unsafe. Even mosques were not spared. Srinagar’s historic Jamia Masjid was turned into a weekly theatre of stone-pelting. So much so a police officer was lynched to death in the mosque premises on a sacred night of the Islamic calendar.
It seems that era is over. Now, even a mere slogan is landing people in jail under the stringent Public Safety Act and the anti-terrorist law UAPA.
Separatist leaders, whose entire political capital was based on a number of shutdown calls and protests, have been pushed into oblivion.
But this is one side of a very complex problem. The fear of the gun has become more profound and militancy has gone underground like never before. No one knows who is a militant and who next will surface with a pistol or AK-47 rifle.
Since May 12, when Rahul Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit employee, was killed while at work at a government office in Budgam, over 5,000 Kashmiri Pandit government employees are not showing up at work due to fear. These Pandits had returned to the Valley as part of the Prime Minister’s employment package since 2010. Most of them have returned to Hindu-majority Jammu, where they had migrated in 1990 after being driven out of the Valley.
The targeted killings of Hindus – at least six in the last six months – has forced government employees from the Scheduled Cast community as well to abandon their offices and shift back to Jammu. The Kashmir Valley has no SC population but as part of a law passed by the erstwhile J&K assembly, Scheduled Caste candidates are entitled to 8% of jobs even in districts which have zero population of Dalits.
After the series of targeted killings in May and June, both Pandit and Dalit employees are protesting, demanding their relocation, with government jobs, to Jammu. None of them feel safe in the Valley.
This deep sense of insecurity prevails despite the Valley being saturated with security forces. The number of forces deployed in Kashmir has increased manifold since 2019.
The additional forces brought in for the security of the Amarnath Yatra shows how serious the things are – several dozen troops are deployed for the security of each yatri. It’s now inarguably the world’s most protected and guarded pilgrimage.
Such is the security paranoia that no local resident is even allowed to walk or drive when Yatra convoys move under a tight security. This militarization has serious drawbacks. Even the number of pilgrims visiting the holy cave has drastically come down this year: just three lakh against the projected eight lakh yatris.
Since the whole focus is on security, governance has taken a back seat. The claims of development and investment do not match the reality on ground.
The disconnect between the people and the union territory’s administration is only widening by the day. Lt Governor Manoj Sinha’s monthly radio talk “Awaam Ki Awaaz” seems to be the only medium of reach-out.
The revocation of J&K’s constitutional position and statehood was celebrated by BJP to end corruption, misgovernance and family rule. The recent expose and cancellation of recruitment lists after protests over massive corruption in exams is just a pointer how corruption is alive and kicking.
Ironically, it is thousands of job-seekers in Jammu and Kashmir who had to pay a price, after the entire recruitment process was cancelled, and not the officials involved in the scams.
Days after the revocation of 370, the government promised to fill 50,000 vacancies in various government departments within three months; three years on, the job promise has proved to be just that – a promise.
Without an elected government, democracy appears to be in suspended animation. Kashmir has lost all its social spaces. Trade unions, rights bodies and civil society groups have vanished. There is no indication if and when assembly elections will be held, even after the controversial delimitation exercise was completed in May to reconfigure constituencies.
Considerations other than population have been taken into account while allotting assembly seats. This is bound to have serious repercussions on public representation and the fairness of the democratic process.
The last three years have also seen the marginalization of mainstream politics in Jammu and Kashmir. Like other sections of society, mainstream political parties who were face of pro-India politics in the region, are now accused of being part of the separatist or terror eco-system.
While people in the Kashmir Valley appear frozen in fear, Jammu is witnessing large protests on governance problems, employment and corruption. Even the areas in Jammu and Ladakh, where people had celebrated the revocation of 370 three years ago are feeling the heat. Ladakhis are unhappy with the union territory since bureaucracy from outside is ruling them instead of their own representatives. They demand a separate state. Jammu feels neglected, forgotten and paying a price for having been a part of Kashmir.
(Nazir Masoodi is NDTV’s Srinagar Bureau Chief.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.