J&K: highway to further alienation

Army convoy stand guard on the Jammu-Srinagar-Baramulla national highway, on the outskirts of Srinagar, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. PTI

The closure of the Jammu-Srinagar highway for two days of the week for civilian traffic till May 31 is unnecessary and illogical and has again sent out a hostile message to the people of the state. Only military vehicles will be allowed to move on the highway on two days, and it is claimed that this is to facilitate movement of security forces to the state for the safe conduct of elections. The reason has been contested on many grounds. Only Lok Sabha elections for three seats are being held in the Valley and that does not require movement of forces for such an extended period. Polling in one of them is already over. The highway has never been closed in the past for electoral reasons even when the security situation was very bad. If there is a security threat, why is traffic allowed on other days? There are also options like airlifting the troops to Srinagar. 

The highway is the lifeline of Kashmir and blocking it amounts to severing the country’s link with the state, especially when it is done on unconvincing grounds. The closure has disrupted life in the state and over the next few weeks, the disruptions and inconvenience will play out badly, further increasing the discontent and alienation of the people. Supplies to the state and businesses are impacted, and education and health needs and social activities are affected. There are restrictions on Kashmiris’ lives even in their home environment, and this adds to them. The highway has been militarised now, and people feel repressed and humiliated. Maintaining and sustaining the closure is itself a difficult exercise, as personnel have to be posed all along the highway to ensure compliance and to allow exemptions like movement of VIPs and government employees. The action has been taken in the Valley as persecution and punishment, in line with the Centre’s strong-arm policy on Kashmir.

There is opposition to and protests against the decision in Kashmir. The restrictions are being compared to those imposed by occupational forces in territories under their control. It is similar to Israeli actions in occupied Palestinian lands. It is ironic that such a draconian and undemocratic action has been taken in the name of making the democratic exercise of vote safe and smooth. The blockade violates basic rights, including freedom of movement, granted to citizens by the Constitution. It also interferes with the electoral process as it disrupts campaigning by parties and candidates and is therefore a fit case for the Election Commission to take note of. People have to be assured of free and normal life if elections have to be free and fair. 

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J&K: highway to further alienation

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