Report from Kashmir by a team from the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) and the Free Speech Collective (FSC) .
A month after the 5 August abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, the continuing shutdown of communication in the Kashmir valley has resulted in the throttling of independent media. As journalists continue to face severe restrictions in all the processes of news-gathering, verification and dissemination, the free flow of information has been blocked, leaving in its wake a troubled silence that bodes ill for freedom of expression and media freedom.
In this, the latest and most intense phase in the ongoing conflict on Kashmir, the government of India has pulled out all the stops – political, legislative, militaristic and punitive. It has detained and arrested scores of people, including leaders of mainstream political parties. No other democratic government has attempted a communication blockade of this scale in Kashmir.
In an effort to determine the impact of the severe crackdown on communication on the media in Kashmir, a two-member team from the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) and the Free Speech Collective (FSC) spent five days in the Valley between 30 August and 3 September. The team spoke* to more than 70 journalists, correspondents and editors of newspapers and news-sites in Srinagar and South Kashmir, members of the local administration and citizens.
Key findings : Curbs on the media and its implications
The Final NRC published today has excluded a whopping 19.06 lakh persons in Assam. The NRC process had shifted the burden of proof of citizenship on to the entire population of Assam, with people undergoing deep travails over the past four years to get their names included. In a poor country like ours and in a state which witnesses frequent floods, it is not unnatural that lakhs of people were unable to produce documents to prove that they or their ancestors were inhabitants of Assam before 24th March 1971. To rob people of their citizenship and rendering them stateless on the basis of this flawed process would be a gross violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
“The number you are calling is currently switched off. Please try again later.” This has been the stock computerized response I have heard on calling a friend in Jammu and Kashmir over the last twenty odd days, and still counting. The chirpy, happily surprised voice I heard across our mobiles when I informed my young friend about my sudden arrival in Srinagar last January is too stark a contrast to register today. ‘Lockdown’ is the new buzzword for Kashmir these days.
All links of communication with the rest of the country having been snapped in one fell swoop, it doesn’t quite require much of an effort for any sensitive human being to imagine how life must be for all the folk out there. Nor should it take much of an imagination for such a human being to think of the plight of Kashmiris in the rest of the country dying to hear the voices of near and dear ones separated thus.
I write this open letter to you as a well wisher, and someone who has been seriously supportive of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) through all the ups and downs in the years since its formation. Perhaps like many others, I too have high expectations of the experiment that AAP is and the new ground it has tried to break in terms of providing a government that has steadfastly kept the interests of the common person in mind while taking decisions.
But I also write this letter because I, like many others, have been perturbed by some developments which do not augur well for the future either of your party or of the country. The latter in any case, is set on a disastrous course, thanks to the current dispensation at the Centre. Let me also make it clear right away that I am not one of those who criticize AAP for ‘lacking a clear ideology’ and I in fact value the fact that on many critical issues, AAP has been able to resist the pressure to step into well trodden, familiar responses to specific situations and issues – especially well trodden among Leftists. But I do think that AAP needs to think a bit more seriously about politics – which is not the same thing as ideology.
Economist Jean Dreze, Kavita Krishnan of the CPI(ML) and the All India Progressive Women’s Association, Maimoona Mollah of the All India Democratic Women’s Association and Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People’s Movements released the following report to the press today, 14 August 2019, after spending five days in Kashmir, meeting and talking to people.
We spent five days (9-13 August 2019) traveling extensively in Kashmir. Our visit began on 9 August 2019 – four days after the Indian government abrogated Articles 370 and 35A, dissolved the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated it into two Union Territories.
When we arrived in Srinagar on 9 August, we found the city silenced and desolated by curfew, and bristling with Indian military and paramilitary presence. The curfew was total, as it had been since 5th August. The streets of Srinagar were empty and all institutions and establishments were closed (shops, schools, libraries, petrol pumps, government offices, banks). Only some ATMs and chemists’ shops – and all police stations – were open. People were moving about in ones and twos here and there, but not in groups.
Determined, defiant – not the Kashmiri women of Sanghi fantasies
Protest in Srinagar against the abrogation of Article 370 on August 11, 2019, despite the clampdown by the Indian government. Image courtesy The Wall Street Journal.
When trolls on social media started circulating photographs of young Kashmiri girls, gloating, “now we can marry them”, it was only the overt manifestation by Sanghis of the real spirit behind abrogating Article 370. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi held forth at length on development, rights to education, rights for women and for Dalits, all of which the people of J&K were deprived of because of Article 370, the truth of course, is that J&K stands in the top 10 to 15 states on different indicators ranging from life expectancy, people served per government doctor, poverty rate and infant mortality rate, to human development index.
Or as Haseeb Drabu puts it:
The level of economic empowerment is evident from the fact that more than 25% of the household earnings in J&K are from own cultivation. In “prosperous” Punjab, it is only 18%, in “vibrant” Gujarat, it is less than 16% and in “terrific” Tamil Nadu, it is only 3%. And yet, J&K is being portrayed as a “sick” state.
The German acceptance for stolpersteine plaques helps them honour victims of Nazism. One wonders if it will ever be possible to take up similar projects in this part of South Asia.
Hier Wohnte Bernhard Marx
‘Here lived Bernhard Marx
Year of Birth 1897
It was while walking past a desolate street in Bonn that we stumbled upon some brass plates on which the names of the members of a family were engraved. The name Bernhard, supposedly the head of this family, was engraved on the first plate, followed by three to his right: Erna Marx Geb Hartman, (born 1899), Helena (1929) and Julie (1938).
This was an ill-fated Jewish family from Bonn, deported to the dreaded Minsk concentration—rather extermination—camp that was brutally murdered just four days after they got there. The youngest, Julie was barely four when she died.
Estimates of how many died in this camp over a period of two years vary but at least 65000, mainly Jews, perished there until it was liberated by the Soviet forces.
The young researcher who was our host and guide to the city said that the brass plaques, raised on stone, are called stolpersteine. Stolper means to stumble in German and steine means stone. The idea behind erecting stolpersteine is to raise awareness about events that took place in the late thirties and early forties in this region, when millions of innocent people—Jews, Romas, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and political dissidents—were sent to the gas chambers or brutally killed by the Nazi regime.