After spending a night being wholly disconnected from his kin, 26-year-old Tabish Rafiq Mir, made it to his workplace in Bangalore on the morning of August 5, 2019. Communication lines and all forms of internet connectivity had been suspended in Kashmir the previous evening, following the deployment of 38,000 additional troops in the region already dense by the presence of seven lakh armed forces.
Amid scary speculations and rumours of an impending ‘genocide’, the only thing he had wanted was to ask his family in Srinagar if they were doing fine. But owing to severed connectivity as per the dictate of the central government, many Kashmiris like him could not connect home.
Even Samia, a public policy and governance fellow, who was working in New Delhi at the time, recounted not having slept or eaten for the two days that preceded the revocation of Article 370. She remembered laughing at her cousin, who had narrated to her rumours about the threat to Kashmir’s autonomous status.
“My cousin had called me to tell me that Article 370 was going to be abrogated and they were going to divide the state, etc. But I laughed those off at that time. I had spoken to many people about this matter in detail, and it was obvious that removing Article 370 and 35A would be completely illegal and unconstitutional. It was not until the very last moment - when Amit Shah announced it, I realised that they had the audacity to remove it,” she said while speaking to Sakal Times.
Mir Suhail, an artist and political cartoonist, called it an important ‘agreement’ between India and Kashmir, albeit it had already been ‘hollowed out by the Indian National Congress’. According to him, Article 370 was a contract that had helped to protect Kashmir as its removal has consequently seen the manifestation of ‘development’ in the form of new anti-environment and domicile laws.
He married on July 28 last year, just a few days before the announcement of August 5. Soon after their wedding, contrary to what a newly-wedded couple is expected to do, Suhail and his wife were glued to the television, trying to make sense of the legal jargons that were being discussed on news channels. “We were watching TV with visions blurred by tears. Just in front of our eyes, our human rights were snatched, our identity was gone. My wife cried, and we all cried with her,” he remembered.
Even Samia was thrown back to the time when Amit Shah’s ‘complex Hindi words’ in the Indian Parliament had rendered her completely traumatised. She confessed to only understanding the word ‘teen-sau-sattar’ (370) and was imploring her Hindi-speaking friends to translate what was being said. “It is very traumatising when big decisions are being declared for you, without your consent or basic understanding,” she said.
Looking back at the exact moment of the abrogation, Samia recollected how she had completely lost sense of where she was. She had never felt so far away from Kashmir, and in the bitter stroke of emotions, she had dropped her phone and begun to cry bitterly.
Arsh Wani, the owner of a small-scale garment store, told us that on the morning of August 5, all the elders of his family had shed heavy tears laced with the feeling of betrayal. “They were so angry. They were so sad. We remain angry and sad. The Indian government kept us in the dark and cheated us in broad daylight with the consent and will of millions of their country’s people,” he stated darkly.
Significance of Article 370
“Article 370 was a bridge that connected India to Kashmir. Now that they have burnt the bridge, there is no connection anymore, just naked occupation,” the New York-based cartoonist said while speaking to Sakal Times.
The provisions of the act were the very basis on which the people of Kashmir agreed to integrate with India in 1947. N Gopalaswamy Ayyangar, one of the representatives involved in drafting the Constitution had said, “The effect of this Article is that the Jammu and Kashmir State which is now a part of India will continue to be a part of India, will be a unit of the future Federal Republic of India and the Union Legislature will get jurisdiction to enact laws on matters specified either in the Instrument of Accession or by later addition with the concurrence of the Government of the State. And steps have to be taken for the purpose of convening a constituent Assembly in due course which will go into the matters I have already referred to. When it has come to a decision on the different matters it will make a recommendation to the President who will either abrogate article 306A [now Article 370] or direct that it shall apply with such modifications and exceptions as the constituent assembly may recommend. That, sir, is briefly a description of the effect of this article, and I hope the House will carry it.”
However, on the morning of August 5, when there had been no constituent assembly in Jammu and Kashmir for over a year, the entire identity of the Valley was scratched off using a ‘recommendation’ from the centrally appointed governor.
“All of this was done through sheets of paper, on television, through one speech, and they did not even need to fight. It was so easy for them,” she added, “and this was not the first time because before Kashmir was made a part of colonial India, Kashmiris were sold to the Dogras for that purpose. It hurts that we have never got to decide the fate of our nation.”
Speaking on the same lines, Arsh Wani highlighted that the situation in the Valley particularly has gone from “bad to worse.”
Widespread unemployment, mental trauma attached with the feeling of being ‘cheated’, shut shops, dead family members, and missing children have all punctured the souls of the indigenous people of the land.
As per an official report by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), “the year of 2019 witnessed extrajudicial executions of at least 80 civilians in J&K, besides the killings of 159 militants and 129 armed forces. Among 80 civilians killed in 2019, 12 were women. Four people died due to pellet injuries, and three died due to inhalation of excessive tear and pepper gas. Eight children were also killed in various incidents of conflict-related violence.”
Their next report on the first half of 2020 in the Kashmir valley stated that there had been 229 killings, 107 CASO’s, 55 internet shutdowns, 48 properties destroyed - in the first six months alone.
“There has been a 25% drop in Kashmir’s GDP, and 5 lakh jobs have been lost since August,” Sheikh Ashiq the President of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry informed. “In my view, the abrogation has achieved nothing.”
Build up to Kashmir’s besiegement
For Tabish, the advisory that had ordered tourists and Amarnath yatris to leave the Kashmir valley was enough to know that something huge was going to happen. “Most of us had guessed that it was Article 35A,” he said.
“Growing up in Kashmir, one develops a political sixth sense. When the Indian authorities said that there was a threat to the yatris, which was unbelievable in the first place, I knew that the special status was at threat and the ‘Amarnath Yatra threat’ was hogwash,” he added.
Mir Suhail listed the activities of the governmental authorities that led to the final blow. “They scared away tourists, brought in additional armed forces, blocked communication, caged the whole region, detained every politician, locked up minors, and got the governor to make the recommendation in the end,” he detailed.
There was palpable fear psychosis amongst the people in the Valley during the week before the abrogation of Article 370, Arsh Wani said while he reminded us that the then-governor Satya Pal Malik kept saying everything was all right. “The Deputy Commissioner, Shahid Choudhary, said the same thing too. There were rumours upon rumours, but the officials rubbished them all and kept telling us that everything was hunky-dory. However, the people were going mad, and there was panic buying everywhere,” he added.
He additionally mentioned that ‘pro-Indian politicians’ who, after making a note of the people’s reactions to the confusing build-up, met their higher-ups at New Delhi and were assured that the autonomy would not be touched.
“But with Farooq and Omar Abdullah, the government headquartered at New Delhi sent over 38,000 additional forces. It was treacherous,” he remarked.
He also recounted the morning of August 5, 2019. From his collection of poignant memories, he clearly remembered that people who were leaving their homes for work and personal reasons that day were pushed back by the strangers in camo. “On news channels, Indians were being told that Section 144 had been imposed in the Valley, whereas the military had imposed a deadly curfew on the ground.”
Epiphanies and intangible repercussions
“I have never seen such promptness to execute any plan by the Indian government. Amidst the pandemic, they are focussed on implementing their new laws with complete force. Even for the sake of the current health crisis, they have not acted so proactively,” Mir Suhail sighed as he expressed his resentment over the devastating impact last August’s move has had on the economy, happiness index, and social fabric of Kashmir.
Commenting on the status of his own mental health, he admitted to knowing that his personal condition is far from ‘being normal’. “How can it be normal?” he asked “kya humne kabhi koi achchi cheez dekhi hai?” (have we ever seen anything good?)
Even Tabish said that the abrogation affected him on a very deep level. He disclosed that he had never felt such trauma, in spite of being through several scarring experiences. “I remember the nightmares I used to get post the abrogation of 35A and the operationalisation of it. The nightmares used to be so jarring that I would wake up in sweats as I would see drone attacks, pools of blood, people turning against each other, and so on.”
He would go to work extremely exhausted and drained from those dreams. It was hard for him to explain to his colleagues and managers what was the ‘thing’ that was affecting his work and his mood. He told us that his inboxes on different social media platforms would get full with voice notes of different people (Kashmiris) crying over how heartbroken they were and how hopeless they felt.
“I began to suffer from sensory overload. As I would try to assemble information and reach out to friends and family, I became a victim of minimum sensory overload. Seeing political social media stories would make me want to immediately mute my phone and put it away, as it is a residual effect of what happened on August 5 last year,” he shared.
Calling India a ‘bewafa mehboob’ (unfaithful lover), Arsh Wani stated that over the years, Kashmiris had become used to Delhi’s ‘exploitation’ of its relationship with Kashmir. He cited the case of Dinesh Sharma, a former Intelligence Bureau director, who had been appointed as the interlocutor between Jammu & Kashmir and New Delhi. According to him, Dinesh Sharma was hailed amongst the commoners for trying to understand their problems. The officer had compiled an intimidating size of reports for New Delhi, but his bosses “threw that paperwork containing Kashmiris’ problems and suggestions into their dustbins.”
“Therefore, it is no brainer to state that Kashmir is a tool to enhance an Indian politician’s career. They call Kashmir a development issue, but had it been just that then the declared financial packages should have solved everything a long time ago,” he asserted.
During the weeks that followed the dreaded event, several social media platforms were overwhelmed with songs and music videos celebrating the same thing that had caused millions of Kashmiris their misery. “I saw how much Indians have hated Kashmiri Muslims all along. Social media was filled with celebrations and hatred for us. Some people who had these feelings buried inside them poured it out last year after Modi himself made the declaration. It now makes sense why people like ‘Modi or Shah’ are voted into power,” said Samia.
In the next two to three months, she debated and discussed the impact of the abrogation with many people in New Delhi, but it culminated with her coming to terms with the fact that ‘Kashmiri lives do not matter’. However, she has vowed to never give up on hope.
“Our resistance is based on the hope that one day our motherland will be peaceful, pluralist, and secular. That is what keeps us going. Our resistance will survive and continue until the last Kashmiri is standing in Kashmir,” she said, letting out a sigh solid with aspirations.