The 370 aftermath: Beneath the calm in Kashmir

A security person stands guard at Dal Lake in Srinagar. PTI

The August 5 decision of the Union government to abrogate special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 has pushed the region to yet another phase of uncertainty. 

After the announcement, the whole of Kashmir was put under a military and communication clampdown to prevent any protests. New Delhi’s momentous decision also included bifurcating J&K into two Union Territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.



In Kashmir, a sense of doom has been settling in since then with people expressing apprehensions about a new cycle of violence. Many say that scrapping of special status to J&K could lead to change in its identity as now people from anywhere in the country will be able to buy property and permanently settle in the erstwhile state. The restrictions, spontaneous shutdown and communication blockade after August 5 dealt a severe blow to Kashmir’s economy with more than one lakh people working in the private sector losing their jobs. According to the 2011 census, Kashmir has a population of seven million people. Official figures reveal that close to two million people earn their livelihood from secondary and tertiary economic sectors.

“As per our estimates, more than one lakh job losses have been reported in this period,” Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries president, Sheikh Ashiq told DH.

The tourism sector, which employs close to five lakh people, has been the worst affected. “Over 50,000 job cuts have been reported so far. The number may go up if the situation doesn’t improve,” he said.

Similarly, Ashiq says, weavers and artisans have been badly hit due to internet gag as there is a 50% decline in export orders in the last four months. “Carpets and shawls produced here are largely exported and most of the orders were being placed online. There has been a huge decline in export orders for Christmas and New Year this time affecting the livelihood of thousands of artisans and weavers,” he said.

Manzoor Ahmad, a boatman in Srinagar’s iconic Dal Lake, says it has been a season of gloom and despair for the Valley. “Kashmir lost its special status, we lost our business as well,” he said. “The revival will take ages it seems.”

Nearly 3,000 boys working in different courier services are also sitting idle as their outlets have not functioned since August 5. Due to the snapping of internet services, all the e-commerce companies have stopped delivering products to the valley.

Read: Impact on collective psyche

Rais Ahmad, who lost his job post-August 5, says, “The courier company where I was working had to shut its operations. Being the eldest of the four siblings, the responsibility of running the household lies on me as my father is too old to work now. This is the fourth month now and I am jobless.”

The education sector seems to be the worst hit. Even though educational institutions are open after a brief closure post-August 5, students are not attending classes.

Samreen Khan, a Class XII student, who is currently appearing for her annual exams, says the percentage she scores will determine her future prospects. “But I am not prepared to write the exams as I have no source to get a better understanding of the concepts in the absence of private tuitions, schools and internet,” she says.

“I plan to appear for the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET), but I do not feel I have prepared myself. I would have been in a better position had there been internet access,” she adds. A resident of the volatile Nowhatta locality, Khan, attended her classes for less than 90 days this year. She could cover only 50% of the syllabus at her school before the abrogation of Article-370 brought education to a standstill, affecting the studies of over a million students in the Valley.

Also Read: ‘Move will herald an era of development and democracy’

The tense situation in Kashmir has made it difficult for students like Khan to study and the absence of internet facility has compounded their problems. “When everything is dependent on the internet, we have been deprived of the facility. I missed a chance to apply for the Graduate Aptitude Test Exam (GATE), as I could not fill the form,” said Nayeem Ahmad, an engineering graduate.

“Right now there is no hope and I am worried about my future. We lost even the limited opportunities that were available to us,” he adds.

As internet services continue to remain snapped, scores of researchers, including doctors, had to move out of Kashmir to complete their assignments. The researches pursuing their MPhil and PhD programmes at various universities in Kashmir too have been handicapped due to the information blockade.

 

Longest-ever

According to official data, the ongoing internet gag, which crossed 2,600 hours on November 20, in Kashmir is the longest ever witnessed in the region. The previous longest was 240 hours blockade witnessed during the 2016 summer unrest, it reveals.

A senior professor at Kashmir University said that several researchers from the university were moving outside Kashmir.

Teachers working in private schools are a worried lot, too. They fear that they may be fired if the situation remains the same. Shaista, who works in a private school in Srinagar, says she has not been paid the salary for the last three months.

“As the schools were shut for months, we were not paid our salaries. There is no word from the school management over the issue,” Shaista, who has a master’s degree in social sciences, said.

Read: In Leh, anxiety replaces excitement

However, she says, the bigger loss was happening to the student community due to the prevailing uncertainty. “After some time when schools will reopen, teachers may be paid their dues. However, the precious time which students lost can never be recovered. Since 2010, it is for the fourth time that students up to middle level have been promoted to the next class without holding exams. This is bound to have severe repercussions in future,” she opined.

The media in Kashmir has been facing major issues due to the communication blockade. The journalists have to visit a government-run, scantily equipped media centre in Srinagar to use the desktops in order to work. The communication blackout imposed means there are few ways to verify what is actually happening on the ground, especially amidst reports of increased military deployment, checking and detention.

Despite Parliament’s changes to J&K’s status receiving support beyond the ruling BJP and its allies as it was passed by a two-thirds majority, in Kashmir it is widely seen as another muscular move by the Narendra Modi government to consolidate its vote bank in rest of the country. Across the valley, every single day since August, shops have been opening for a few hours in the morning and then shutting down for the rest of the day.

There is widespread fear among people. The local residents speak of night raids, arrests, torture and regular beatings by the armed forces stationed in the villages, especially in southern Kashmir, the hub of new-age militancy in the valley. It’s all meant to instil more fear, they allege, in order to prevent protests. According to a fact-finding report by a team of five women activists who visited Kashmir, last month authorities have arrested an estimated 13,000 people in the erstwhile state since August 5. However, J&K Director General Police Dilbagh Singh says, “If we detain five, we keep only one in custody and the rest are released under community bonds. We have just a few hundred with us. It’s not a very high figure.”

Grenade attacks in Srinagar have occurred whenever the markets witnessed a rise in the movement of the people. Over a hundred people have been injured in recent grenade attacks in the valley as militants are trying to enforce the shutdown.

Will the current uncertainty pave way for a new political movement that encompasses the aspirations of various sections of the population, only time will tell?

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