What are conditions in Kashmir like?
Kashmir is a prison with a total blockade on communications— landline phones, mobile phones and internet—mass arrests of political leaders, civil society activists, as well as young children and men. There are barbed wire blockades on every other street, and intense paramilitary deployment.
Kashmir was already one of the most militarised regions in the world. Now, paramilitary and military forces have replaced even the state police, and control the whole of Kashmir.
People face severe hardships, including a shortage of food and milk. A partial easing of the curfew for short periods allows households to stock up on some things they need. But daily wage workers are unable to earn, and their situation is the worst.
The Muslim Eid festival, known as a time of abundance and festivity, was observed in an atmosphere of shortages, as well as of mourning, anger, and deep anxiety.
As a result of the blockade, people were unable to check on their loved ones in other villages, towns, and cities in Kashmir. Many were unable to care for family members who were in hospital.
While hospitals said they had stocks of medicines, chemists’ shops were running out.
How is state brutality impacting?
Protest is outlawed in Kashmir. In spite of this, thousands held street protests in Soura, an area downtown in the capital Srinagar.
Paramilitaries deployed pellet guns. These are a particularly brutal weapon, meant to be used against wild animals, but which Indian forces use in Kashmir for crowd control.
We met young men blinded by pellets and such injuries are extremely common.
The armed forces have been illegally arresting kids. We met an 11 year old boy who told us that he and boys younger than him had been held in a police station for six days earlier this month.
We met parents whose children had been picked up from their beds at night by Indian forces and remained in illegal custody. The parents were fearful that since there was no record of the arrests, these boys may be “disappeared”.
Kashmir has had a grim history of such disappearances.
Is there a mood of resistance?
All Kashmiris are angry with the government. They feel that the repeal of the articles of India’s constitution which offered Kashmir some symbolic—if not substantial—autonomy means that India has lost every shred of legitimacy.
What is left is military control without any fig leaf.
There is anger over the decision itself, and over the fact that it was taken without consulting Kashmiri people. There is also anger over the curfew, and over the timing of it—coinciding with Eid—which they felt was particularly cruel and Islamophobic.
The anger is compounded by the coverage they’ve seen in Indian media, which is proclaiming on behalf of the silenced Kashmiris that all is well in Kashmir!
But it is difficult to tell what form protests will take. We are hearing of street demonstrations. But even peaceful demonstrations aren’t allowed, and crowd control measures in Kashmir are the most brutal imaginable.
But people told us, “The more you suppress us the more we will rise” and, “While there is even a single Kashmiri kid alive, we will resist!”
Has India’s move pushed working class Kashmiris toward Pakistan?
Kashmiris have consistently demanded the right to determine their own future—that has not changed. The Indian government’s decision to cancel Article 370 of the Indian constitution and end Kashmir’s autonomy has, however, wiped out the so-called “middle ground”.
Even leaders of parties which invested most in Article 370, participated in the Indian elections, and were “pro-India” instead of “pro-Independence”, have been arrested.
Kashmiris told us, “Those who sang India’s songs are today imprisoned by India.”
So prime minister Narendra Modi has certainly further alienated Kashmiris. The Hinduisation of the oppression of Kashmiris has led them to feel, quite naturally, that they are being persecuted not just as Kashmiris, but as Muslims.
We asked one young Kashmiri man why young Kashmiris raise slogans in support of Pakistan.
He grinned and told us, “We know the state of democracy in Pakistan, we are not that eager to be citizens of Pakistan.
“But we know that it is pro-Pakistan slogans that get a rise out of the Indian forces and Indian media the most.”
What impact is Hindu chauvinism having on India?
The Modi regime is unleashing organised violence against Muslims in India.
This includes lynching by Hindu-supremacist mobs as well as custodial killings of Muslims by the police. Several activists have also been assassinated by Hindu-supremacist terrorists. Such terrorists have also been implicated in bomb blasts targeting Muslims.
Among the MPs of the ruling hard right BJP party is Pragya Thakur—a woman who even today faces charges of far-right terrorism. She openly declares that she reveres Nathuram Godse—the assassin of Gandhi.
The independence of India’s investigative agencies is severely compromised, which means that the far right terrorists are confident not only that they will be acquitted, but that their crimes will qualify them to rise in BJP ranks.
Meanwhile, every expression of protest is branded as “anti-national”. Draconian laws have been enacted, allowing individuals to be branded “terrorist” and arrested and held without bail.
Any dissent against Hindu-supremacist politics or against the Modi government is branded as “terrorism.” Modi has said, for instance, that those opposing his Kashmir policy are “people whose hearts beat for terrorists”.
His sinister lieutenant—India’s Home Minister Amit Shah—faced allegations of illegal surveillance, custodial killings, and outright murders when he was home minister of Gujarat.
Many human rights activists have already been arrested and jailed under draconian laws.
The left in India faces its most challenging times right now.