Kashmir: The normalcy farce

Kashmir: The normalcy farce

Life in Kashmir is far from normal.

Five months after the scrapping of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the state into two union territories, Kashmir remains a communications and information blackhole. Some small steps were taken recently, showcased as relaxation of the curbs that had affected the life of the people in every aspect. These included restoration of internet services for the major hospitals in the Valley and partial resumption of SMS services in Kashmir and some parts of Jammu. Mobile internet connectivity was restored in Kargil last week. But these relaxations are mere exceptions that only prove the rule – that of the prolonged denial of basic freedoms that Kashmiris are forced to live with. Life in Kashmir is far from normal. None of the institutions, like schools, which have on record reopened, are functioning normally.

Access to internet has been accepted as a basic right of citizens and its denial, along with other curbs, is wrong and illegal. It has gone on for too long and may be the longest ever cyber shutdown in any democratic country. It has badly hit life and business. Agriculture, trade and tourism have suffered in the last five months with no hopes of early recovery. The blockade and the clampdown have crippled the media as news lines have been choked and there are restrictions on its working. Most local dailies have slashed the number of pages and copies and some do not publish editorials and opinions. Journalists are being intimidated. This has created a situation in which Kashmiris are cut off from each other and from the country and the world, though the government’s avowed intention was to integrate Kashmir with India. The entire social media network is blocked. There is also enhanced surveillance of the people. 

Most of the important leaders from the Valley, including three former chief ministers, are in jail. Some lesser politicians have been released from custody but that was because they agreed not to oppose the government. There is no free and legitimate politics in Kashmir. The lockdown was initially justified as a temporary measure which was necessary to maintain security. But in the name of security, the democratic rights, freedoms and civil liberties of the people are being curtailed and denied. The peace that is claimed to have been achieved in Kashmir is false. Real normalcy can be achieved only when the people can freely enjoy their democratic rights and liberties. There is no sign of that happening any time soon in Kashmir. To invite and take foreign delegations to witness the ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir in these circumstances, while depriving our own MPs and opposition leaders a chance to visit the Valley, is a farce. 

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