It has been a hundred days since Kashmir was put on lockdown.
A hundred days since the Union government decided to unilaterally alter the relationship between the state of Jammu and Kashmir and India, without letting the people of the state or their representatives voice their opinion about this matter. A hundred days since the government banned political assembly in the Kashmir Valley, turned off the internet and stifled the freedom of residents to express political views. A hundred days since nearly all the state’s political leaders were put under house arrest.
Yet, where has Kashmir gone in the national imagination? Where are the media organisations documenting the difficulties faced by the people of the Valley while their civil liberties are curtailed? Where are the civil society organisations focused on defending the rights of those being oppressed? Where are the Opposition politicians willing to speak up on behalf of their compatriots who have been silenced?
Of course, it is not as if no one has raised questions or concerns. There have been reports, both from journalists and civil society organisations, giving us some sense of what things are like in the valley. Yet their reach has been limited, in part because the mainstream – in the news media and among the wider public – has simply chosen to ignore the matter. Opposition political leaders, the ones who might be able to refocus attention on the draconian trampling of civil rights in Kashmir, have chosen instead to move on to other things.
The fault, first and foremost, lies naturally with the Bharatiya Janata Party-run Union government, which has made it amply clear that it does not care for the opinions or rights of the people of Kashmir. Why else would it choose to partition and downgrade a state into a Union Territory, giving Delhi even more powers than it had before?
But beyond that, as we move beyond a hundred days of lockdown, where is the outrage at the trampling of civil rights, the demotion of the state’s polity, the house arrest of democratically elected political representatives? In some ways the plight of the Kashmiris has always been somewhat peripheral to Indian concerns, even as the “Kashmir problem” as regards Pakistan has been front and centre. The fact that this situation has gone on for more than a hundred days without any significant challenge to the government’s actions – which are blatantly self-serving from the political standpoint, under the guise of security concerns – only reiterates this.
Imagine, for a moment, if this were true of any other state in the country (though many in the North East or portions of Naxal-affected areas might argue the same). The simple fact is that, even as the Union government has gone about doing as it wishes while trampling civil rights, the rest of us have allowed this to happen. We may not be responsible, but we are complicit.
As winter sets in, mobilisation in Kashmir itself will become hard – but it will also bring with it a session of the Indian Parliament, and an opportunity for individuals and organisations from across the board to make up for not drawing attention to the actions of the Indian state. Lives and liberties are at stake. What are we going to do about it?