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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - DELHI: Four months after the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked, civil society activists from different parts of India called on Thursday for the “restoration of democracy” and an end to “human rights violations” in the territory.
In a special press conference in New Delhi, the activists narrated their recent experiences in Jammu and Kashmir and how their pro-democracy march from Jammu to Srinagar was foiled by authorities.
“More than 50 activists started the ‘restoration of democracy’ march from Jammu to Srinagar on Nov. 26, but police did not allow us to go beyond Jammu and created lots of hurdles,” said Sandeep Pandey, a prominent social activist, internationally recognized for his work for the empowerment of marginalized communities.
“There were people from all walks of life in the march and they really wanted to see the situation in the valley. But only five managed to reach Srinagar,” he said.
“What we saw in Srinagar was only suffering and silence by force. Contrary to the claims by the government in Delhi, there is no normalcy in the valley. Shops open only for a few hours, only teachers are attending school, children on the streets feel suffocated in the heavy presence of security forces and internet lockdown,” Pandey told Arab News.
Four months have passed since Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir, was repealed.
On Aug. 5, in a sudden move, the Indian government annulled the special status of India’s only Muslim-dominated state and bifurcated the region into two centrally administered union territories (UT): Buddhist-dominated Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. A UT is a half-baked state where the elected government has limited authority and a New Delhi-appointed lieutenant governor enjoys overriding power.
The Indian government maintains the situation is normal.
On Nov. 20, Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament “there is no curfew in the valley and the situation in the region is normal.” Internet networks would be restored when the local authorities decide to so keeping security in mind as “there are activities by Pakistan in Kashmir region,” Shah said.
On Nov. 30, the minister told a group of businessmen in Mumbai that “the situation in the valley is normal and industrialists should visit the state to see the real situation there.”
Activists from Kashmir and Delhi, however, have not witnessed normalcy in the region.
Bilal Khan, the president of Jammu and Kashmir-based Haq Insaf Party, came all the way from Jammu to speak to the media in Delhi.
“There is no outlet to express oneself in Srinagar and Jammu. Kashmir has become a graveyard of democracy,” he said.
“The press is not allowed freedom and politicians are not given liberty to interact with the people and media,” Khan told the Delhi press conference and added that the situation in Jammu is as bad as in Srinagar.
“We cannot practice politics there also. This part of Kashmir has never seen such a huge presence of security forces as it is witnessing now.”
Jammu-based activist and president of Jammu and Kashmir Forum for Peace and Territorial Integrity of the State, I.D. Khajuria, said that contrary to popular perception, people in Jammu were very unhappy about the abrogation of Article 370.
“They have lost 70 to 80 percent of their businesses because of the clampdown in the valley for the last four months. Jammu has been heavily dependent on the valley for its business.”
He said that in Jammu, just like in the Kashmir Valley, people feared the entry of outsiders into their land as the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been stripped of its special status. “I don’t see the situation improving soon.”
Rajendran Narayanan, a Delhi-based activist who marched up to Srinagar, said: “the situation is so bad that people are being stopped by the security forces from interacting with activists like us.
“I was almost arrested when I was interacting with an old man near Srinagar. The old man was so angry with the situation that he vented his anger, but the police came and stopped me and wanted to take my recorder. I somehow managed to sneak out.”
According to Narayanan, at least 40,000 people have been detained in what has been announced as “preventive measures,” and only those get released who get a bond signed by their local community expressing approval of the revocation of Article 370.
Arun Srivastva of the Loktantrik Janata Dal party, who participated in the march, said that what he witnessed “was a deep sense of fear and uncertainty among people.”
He said it was tragic that New Delhi had abolished the special status in its majoritarian politics.
“The failure of the Supreme Court to facilitate political discourse is also disturbing,” he said.
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