It is one year since “Jannat e Benazir” (paradise on earth) was cut into two Union territories without asking the people’s representatives who were put under arrest along with anybody who mattered, former chief ministers, their cabinet colleagues, party workers and eminent lawyers. Simultaneously article 370 and 35A, giving a special status to the state, being put to rest.
There was a strong presence of the armed forces. Even teenagers and young children, were not spared. All modes of communications which included, telephone services, internet and publication of newspapers were snapped. The resulting chaos and pain caused to citizens, wherever they were living including overseas, is well known to everybody in the world.
Majority of the people who had reconciled to the fact that their future is better served by living peacefully with India, do not share that view any more. They all feel humiliated, ignored with their wounded souls. There was a spontaneous resistance, protests and show of unity by way of shutdown of all the shops except briefly in the mornings, to sell essential items only. All the public transport went off the roads for several months. These protests however gradually gave way and life started limping back to an uneasy calm. The reasons were mainly economic with all leaders who could have guided them put behind bars. Tourism industry got shut, hotels and house boats were empty. Patients faced enormous difficulty in reaching hospitals even the lifesaving medicines became scarce for some time. The people living in villages and far flung areas were the worst affected. Students lost academic sessions because all educational institutions remained closed effectively till March 2020. The professionals felt totally alienated and outdated without internet.
The repeated reiterations from the centre that all this has been done to bring in prosperity and development of the UT have not at all been convincing. The anniversaries and events linked to Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah the tallest leader of Kashmiris have been scrapped, decision taken to rename Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket stadium as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium does not augur well. The allergy to the name of Jawahar Lal Nehru who along with the Sheikh were two very important personalities in executing the accession signed by the Maharaja is so visible. How does renaming Chenani-Nashiri tunnel as Shyama Prasad Mukherjee tunnel, Public Health engineering as Jal Shakti Department board and scrapping the holiday of Martyr’s day of 13th July, etc, bring in development? The development indices of the erstwhile state had always been higher than the national average. The purpose of these changes is to polarise the country on a religious basis and give a sense of victory by appeasing the majority population across India. This is when on the economic front there has been a dismal failure.
Kashmiri Pundits in general and especially those in Jammu camps initially felt happy because they had hopes of their upliftment. They have yet to see any change in the last 6 years of the present regimen. Their plight on the other hand is being sadly exploited to get votes from various parts of the country by playing on the religious sentiment’s. Unfortunately, they have been fleeced of whatever assets they had brought by Jammu people who hiked the rents and prices of daily use commodities. Finally, now after 30 years they are very sadly in a state of confusion and are becoming irrelevant in the politics of the UT.
The administration and civic amenities in the valley are almost non-existent. All the construction work which was going on till the end of July 2019 has come to a halt. The roads are in a pathetic condition, broken electricity wires are leading to electrocutions. The whole atmosphere is so gloomy and hopeless with a major increase in problems like depression and panic attacks. People have no positive expectations seeing the economic conditions of the country and the laws forced upon them.
Some of the political leaders who have been released seem to be speechless. Newly groomed leaders without any political base are being promoted while their erstwhile party bosses are still in detention. The slow relaxation process after 7 months began in March, 2020 giving a new hope with a new beginning “Wande Challe Sheen Galee Bayi eey Bahar ”. This literally means “After every winter, snow melts and spring comes back with bright life once again”. However, this was the time when COVID 19 stepped in and a lock down with a different purpose started. The Kashmir health department has been working very hard with medical facilities and a 3-tier system in an attempt to contain the infection. The mortality of COVID in the UT is lower than that of the national average. But recently there has been a new upsurge with people succumbing to it in big numbers. This is partly because of people becoming irresponsible and not taking enough preventive measures, the administration inviting tourists while the valley goes into frequent lockdowns and also allowing a large contingent of brick kiln workers coming in with a high positivity for COVID. The frequent travel in and out of the security forces also contributes. While people and local administration are fighting the pandemic, a new set of laws of citizenship for the UT have been announced giving opportunity to several categories of people to be eligible for a domicile certificate. This is another cause of serious concern for the people of the valley. The purpose seems to be bringing in a change of the demography prior to delimitation of the erstwhile state. The entire plan of bringing in prosperity and development is far from clear. We only hope it is not teaching the people living here for centuries, who acceded to a secular India but did not consent to merge with the union, a bitter and painful lesson. That will be a sad attempt to rewrite the recent history of the “Paradise on the earth”.
Author is a Kashmiri cardiologist, recipient of Dr B C Roy award and Padmashiri.