Over 250 academics, journalists and political leaders have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling the ongoing restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir unacceptable. They urged the Centre to withdraw the lockdown in place since August 5, and hold Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir. “Let the people decide on Article 370 and statehood,” read their letter sent on October 6.

The signatories criticised the way the decision to scrap the state’s special status and bifurcate it into Union Territories was implemented. They said the Centre’s decision was taken without consulting the people of the state or the elected leaders. “We still do not know how the people of Jammu and Kashmir feel,” they said.

Severe restrictions, including a communication blockade, were put in place in the state since August 5. Many mainstream political leaders such as former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, and bureaucrat-turned-politician Shah Faesal were taken into custody or put under house arrest after the clampdown. Jammu and Kashmir National Conference President Farooq Abdullah was booked under the “public order” section of the Public Safety Act, which allows one to be detained for six months without trial.

The signatories also urged the prime minister to restore mobile and internet services in the Valley on humanitarian grounds. The signatories cited a Kerala High Court verdict to say that the right to internet was a fundamental right.

Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear Prime Minister Modi, 

The people of the Kashmir valley and parts of Jammu have been under a security, political and communications lockdown since August 5, 2019. Thousands of troops man the entrances and exits to their homes, schools and universities. Hundreds of political leaders, including former Chief Ministers and legislators are under ‘preventive detention’. Mobile phones are blocked and internet snapped. Businesses have lost thousands of crores.

At the same time, our government has removed Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and divided the state into two Union Territories. Both steps were taken without consultation with the people of the former state or their elected leaders. It has been [62]* days since the lockdown and we still do not know how the people of Jammu and Kashmir feel. We are unable even to speak to our friends and relatives in the valley.

On humanitarian grounds, we find this situation unacceptable. The government should restore mobile and internet connections, which were declared a fundamental right just recently by the Tamil Nadu High Court. 

On democratic grounds, too, we find this situation unacceptable. If the government can take away freedom of expression and the right to debate legislation that affects their lives in Jammu and Kashmir, what prevents them from doing so across the country? 

It is not too late to roll-back the lockdown, hold legislative assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir and let the people decide on Article 370 and statehood. We appeal to the government to do so. 

*When the petition was first started the count was 52 days. This figure has been updated to the date of sending the petition.

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