THE CURRENT GOVERNMENT IN JAMMU AND KASHMIR opened the erstwhile state to tourism on 14 July this year, allowing people to visit its lush parks, gardens and its renowned Mughal gardens. Six days later, it also gave an indication that it would open up the annual Hindu pilgrimage to Amarnath, although it eventually decided against it. Countrywide, cases had risen to over 15 lakh by then, where Jammu and Kashmir had recorded about seventeen thousand cases and over three hundred deaths. The government’s decision to open tourism and consider opening the Amarnath Yatra, if arguably premature, seemed still in line with the phased easing of the nationwide lockdown that is ongoing across India. Nothing unusual there—but only if we overlook a small, upcoming detail in this chronology.
On 3 August, the government issued an order imposing a curfew in the Kashmir valley, until the next day. The curfew marked a year since the Indian government read down the Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution; introduced the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act to reconstitute it; and imposed a brutal, militarised lockdown and communications blockade. In one fell swoop, India stripped its only Muslim-majority state of its autonomy as part of an Indian-integration project. In defiance of constitutional legitimacy and by stealth, it broke down the article that bound Jammu and Kashmir to India, and India to its obligations to the Kashmiri peoples. The gerrymandering of its boundaries, which divided and downgraded it from a state into two union territories, put Jammu and Kashmir under the absolute control of New Delhi.
When this new chapter in the political and geographical mapping of Jammu and Kashmir began, Kashmiris were trapped inside their homes like mice. Spools of razor wires and barricades had appeared, and soldiers stationed outside buildings multiplied, turning homes into prison cells. Pin-drop silence, imposed by stonewalling all communication channels including internet, mobile phones and even landline phones, resonated eerily. In the dead of night, thousands of people were taken into police custody or put under house arrest, including three former chief ministers. If the strongest votaries of pro-India sentiment in Kashmir could meet such fate, what hope did the others have? Millions of people, already accustomed to the mighty Indian state’s engagement with them through bullets, shot-gun pellets, tear gas and pepper sprays, were also made invisible and rendered voiceless for months.
The method in this madness defines the way India sees and governs Kashmir—the territory it owns, the inhabitants it discards. The communications blockade and the heavy militarisation, which were only an escalation of frequent internet shutdowns and decades-long presence of Indian security forces, has continued over the past year. In March, when the rest of India went into a complete lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus, Kashmir transitioned seamlessly from one lockdown to another.