4 years of annexation: impacts on socio-economic & political rights of Kashmiris

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Altaf Hussain Wani

Four years have passed since India stripped Kashmir of its special status, but the territory presents a picture of a dismantled state without a functional government and rule of law. The region is still being remotely controlled by New Delhi. Governor’s rule, imposed in the state in 2018, has been in place for the past five years.

The Indigenous population has no say whatsoever in government policies. There has been a complete ban on political and religious gatherings. Deepening turmoil has rattled the region’s economy. Businesses have suffered immense losses, while on the other hand, sharp spikes of poverty, hunger, joblessness, and growing unemployment lay bare Modi’s mantra of so-called development in the region.

Every single step India took in Kashmir, ever since the abrogation of Article 370, has pushed hapless Kashmiris to a chasm. There has been no let-up in the apartheid regime’s repugnance for the rights of the Kashmiri people.

Despite the lofty claims of “normalcy”, a highly fluid situation fraught with uncertainty continues to mar the region’s socio-political and economic development. India has miserably failed in its attempts to resume a political process in the region. The disintegration of the state under the controversial “Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act” and subsequent developments such as disempowerment, disenfranchisement and systematic marginalization of the indigenous population, have not only dealt a severe psychological blow to Kashmiris but also created a sense of fear and insecurity that looms large over the region.

A deep sense of alienation and anger in Kashmir against India is clearly evident but it is only by the power of the gun by which the RSS-influenced regime is hell-bent on to control Kashmir and the Kashmiris.

A startling reign of lawlessness in the region has reached its climax. Human rights abuses ranging from mass killings, forced disappearances, torture, rape, and sexual abuse to suppression of freedom of speech and bans on religious gatherings are still an ongoing issue in the region. Targeted killings of youth by the Indian armed forces in fake encounters have become a new norm. It is quite upsetting that thousands of Kashmiri women have gone missing in Kashmir since 2019. Surprisingly, the startling revelation of the mysterious disappearance of Kashmiri women and girls was made by the government in response to a question in parliament. There are apprehensions that the missing women may have been trafficked by the Indian “security” forces who routinely commit enforced disappearances and have the worst track record of sexual exploitation, but the ruling party-the BJP-has ignored calls by the UN experts, human rights organizations, and civil society to address the culture of impunity.

The horrible story of the disappearance of women in Kashmir speaks volumes about the state of lawlessness and growing anarchy in the region. On the other hand, the incidents of violence and bloodshed as human rights violations continue unabated while the socioeconomic and political rights of the people, including their right to freedom of speech, expression, and opinion, the right to protest and peaceful assembly remain largely suspended.

Four years down the lane, Kashmir remains cut off from the world, the region has been virtually turned into a hellhole and what’s really happening there is anybody’s guess.

Forced silence, a neglected dimension of the post-August 2019 developments, is the biggest danger Kashmiris have been facing right now. While the indigenous population continues to live under heavy surveillance, phone-cracking tools and techniques used by India’s law enforcers are increasingly raising privacy concerns. Cell phones are being taped by the agencies and every individual’s actions and activities are being monitored. The majority of Kashmiris are smeared and censored as “rabid fanatics” by the Hindu supremacist regime that takes pride and derives pleasure in caging, humiliating and torturing Kashmiris.

People are not allowed to express themselves. Journalists, civil society activists, and even ordinary netizens are arrested for merely expressing their opinions on social media. The mainstream media that has been denied editorial voices is not allowed to report facts on the ground. A fake narrative is being promoted under the supervision of government vigilantes who continue to monitor the media.

Under this censorship regime, ordinary citizens’ Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts are being persistently censored by the government since August 2019 to ensure that there is no voice contrary to its claims.

This censorship regime, meant to bring Kashmiris to their knees and make them acquiesce to Indian policies, has led to a sharp decline in civil liberties in the region. Legitimate political voices have been silenced under the guise of “national security”.

The arbitrary arrest regime, which led to the wholesale imprisonment of high-profile political leaders in the aftermath of August 2019, has erased Kashmiri voices from civil society. Thousands of Kashmiris, including political activists, rights defenders, civil society activists, academics, and intellectuals, who were roughed up before and after 2019, have been left to rot in far-off jails to enable complete silence in Kashmir.

But, India’s fascist regime that left no stone unturned in choking every dissenting voice in Kashmir has been remorselessly selling this deadly silence in Kashmir as “normalcy”.

The loss of autonomy and subsequent legislation continue to pose a threat to the disputed region’s demographics. In particular, the redefinition of the state’s age-old domicile law and other related laws have lent an additional impetus to BJP’s settler colonialism campaign to completely erase Kashmir’s distinct identity.

The new domicile policy, introduced by New Delhi soon after the abrogation of articles 370 and 35 A, has led to diminishing job avenues for locals.

Under the guise of newly introduced laws, the Indian occupation authorities have forcibly evicted and dislodged the civilian populations from agricultural and non-agricultural properties that they have occupied for generations. According to a report, land measuring 178005.213 acres in the Kashmir region — and 25,159.56 acres in Jammu — has been identified by the authorities as state property people have “occupied illegally”. Thousands of people have been rendered homeless as bulldozers were let loose to demolish structures and homes across the Kashmir valley and Jammu region. Similarly, the state’s prime land was sold to outsiders at nominal prices. As per reports, 185 people from outside Kashmir have purchased land in the state in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

The move has adversely impacted the lives of people, besides leading to economic disempowerment and geographical displacement of the indigenous population.

Since 2019, Kashmir has witnessed wholesale exploitation of its resources at an unprecedented scale. Outsiders (Non-Kashmiri) were given a free hand to loot and plunder the state resources while local investors were left high and dry. For instance, mining, stone quarry, and material contracts were awarded to non-locals while natives suffered for want of materials in Kashmir.

According to reports, seventy percent (70%) of the mineral extraction contracts in Kashmir were granted to non-Kashmiris during these years. Handing over Kashmir’s mineral contracts to non-locals has led to a surge in the cost of materials, forcing local residents to suspend construction work. The mining contracts to outsiders have also robbed locals of job opportunities.

Growing unemployment is one of the burning issues that has been ailing Kashmiri society today. The unemployment rate in Kashmir has swelled to 23.1% in 2023.

The gravity of educated unemployment in the held region could be gauged by the fact that around 600,000 educated youth including Phd. Scholars, MPhil and postgraduate students applied for 10,000 class IV jobs last year. The rising unemployment rate is the result of low economic development and lack of investment opportunities in the region.

Kashmir’s economy has been in the doldrums for the past several years. However, the fruit industry that provides a livelihood for around 60-70 percent of the local population has been at the brink of collapse due to apathy and inept authorities. Farmers and fruit growers have been left at the mercy of the fake pesticide and fertiliser mafia as there is no single fertilizer or pesticide manufacturing unit in Kashmir or Jammu. Experts believe the authorities’ inaction to rein in the mafia and presence of substandard and low-quality fertilizers and pesticides in markets, coming from outside, is a threat to the apple industry.

The lack of infrastructure and hurdles being deliberately created in the way of hustle-free movement and transportation of fruit-laden trucks to the markets outside the Kashmir valley have inflicted heavy losses to merchants and fruit growers in the valley during the recent years.

Suppressing the local business community and allowing outsiders (non-state subjects) to take full advantage of the massive investment opportunities have pushed the region’s economy to the edge.

According to a report released by a New Delhi-based rights group last year, Kashmir region continues to exhibit a strong economic downward spiral and there are fears that the middle and the lower classes are rapidly losing their purchasing capacity. The perpetual chaos is certainly one of the major causes of the economic melt-down. However, the government’s hostile attitude towards the majority community has also impacted the region’s fragile economy.

Sadly, New Delhi, which has blatantly ignored these pressing issues being confronted by the Kashmiris, appears to be more concerned with projecting an image of normalcy than ensuring rights and accountability in the region.

Tailpiece: Modi-government is trying to deflect world attention away from the real issue and hide these shocking ground realities by peddling lies and projecting its concocted normalcy narrative on Kashmir but the fact remains that during the past four years the region has witnessed new heights of assimilation and the erasure of its socio-political, religious and cultural identity

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