By Hilal Mir
SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir (AA) – A group of prominent Indians concluded from a recent visit to Indian-administered Kashmir that an apparent sheen of normalcy hides a deep sense of hurt and despair, according to a report released on Friday.
It was the third visit by the Concerned Citizens Group to Kashmir since Aug. 5, 2019, when the Hindu government scrapped autonomy of the region and its eighth trip since 2016 when a mass anti-India uprising was triggered by the killing of iconic militant commander Burhan Wani.
The group said although they found few signs of normalcy compared to previous visits, like tourists and fewer road checks by Indian forces, residents were “quick to point out this should not be taken as acceptance of Aug.5, 2019 decisions by the Narendra Modi government.”
“It seemed that the anger, despair and alienation of Kashmiris we had witnessed first hand during our six previous visits persisted,” it said.
But India’s “virtual obliteration of the political mainstream,” scrapping autonomy, bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two centrally ruled territories and new citizenship laws “seemed to have increased the all pervasive sense of fear, humiliation and hopelessness among the Kashmiri population,” according to the report.
“People were still in shock and seemed psychologically disturbed showing heightened anxiety and paranoia about the future,” it said.
Reports published after previous visits by the group have been critical of government actions and recommended dialogue to resolve the issues.
The latest report said there is “no space for any dissent or criticism of government policies and police action on any platform.”
“Journalism has been virtually criminalized. No protests by civil society are allowed, nor are rallies by political parties permitted. The police do not hesitate to summon journalists and ordinary citizens and even lock them up under Public Safety Act (a much used preventive detention law criticized by world rights bodies). We had never heard so many people expressing hatred of Delhi and the Indian state as openly as during this visit to Kashmir,” the report said.
The group said people told them they no longer looked to Pakistan as a country that “would do something for them in their moment of crisis,” neither could they depend on “liberal India and mainstream Indian national political parties to agitate on their behalf.”
“They feel they are alone in their struggle and they have to take charge of their own fate,” said the report.
Concluding that the local political leadership is “either silent or being forced into silence for fear of the Indian state” and that “Kashmiris bemoan the fact that they have been left alone by the rest of India,” the group asked the Indian government to restore statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and start a dialogue for a “fresh distribution of powers between the centre and the state.”
“However, it is not easy to see this process starting under the present regime in Delhi,” it said.
They also asked the government to not blow up homes of “hapless villagers, which are occupied forcibly by militants for shelter,” not criminalize journalism or “impose artificial political processes which seem democratic outwardly but are bereft of any democratic muscle.”
The group includes Yashwant Sinha, India’s former external affairs minister; Kapil Kak, former Indian air vice marshal; Wajahat Habib Ullah, former minorities commission chairman; journalist Bharat Bhushan, and Sushobha Barve, executive director Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation.
– Disputed territory
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, New Delhi and Islamabad have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965, and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.
Also, in the Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989.