The popular response in Kashmir to the recent change in its constitutional status has taken two forms. One of these dates back a decade—large groups of people taking to the streets, shouting slogans of azadi, and pelting stones at security forces. The second type of response has had people refrain from stepping outside their homes even as prohibitory orders issued in early August—to close down educational institutions and offices, blackout telecommunication and impose Section 144, preventing the assembly of five or more people in public—are gradually relaxed. On 5 August, a few days after these restrictions were imposed, the government read down Article 370 of the Constitution to remove Kashmir’s special status, abrogated Article 35A—which allowed only Kashmiris the right to own land in the state—and bifurcated the state into two union territories, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
The Kashmiris’ decision to stay inside their homes has given a desolate, lamentable appearance to Kashmir, whether in print or TV visuals. Media reports have quoted Kashmiris describing their decision as a “civil curfew,” the very nomenclature conveying retaliation against the official lockdown of the valley. It is hard to tell whether the motivation behind the self-imposed civil curfew is fear, resentment, or both; or even whether it has been planned and can be sustained beyond a week or two.
But the response is significant, not least because of the consequences it could have for the Indian state’s claims. Since its announcement on 5 August, the Indian government has repeatedly claimed that the situation in Kashmir is “normal.” The civil curfew poses a firm challenge to the narrative of normalcy, or a return to the life to which people were habituated before it was disrupted by an extraordinary event.
In Kashmir, “normalcy” implied an all-too-familiar thrum of life—residents flocked to markets, attended schools, colleges and offices—interspersed with high military presence, firefights between militants and the security forces, boys pelting stones at men in uniform, or funeral processions of militants reverberating with the slogans of azadi.