Kashmir: Can democracy be conditional?

Last Updated: Mon, Aug 12, 2019 13:51 hrs
jammu

It has been a week since Article 370 was revoked. It has been more than a week since curfew was imposed, communication channels were cut off, and armed forces flooded into Kashmir.

When I reached out to a friend in Srinagar, I received a reply after several days, and was told that they could only access essential services for about ten minutes a day. If this is the situation in the capital, one can only imagine the plight of the residents of the state’s rural areas.

The government tells us that “normalcy” has been restored, and shows us pictures of open markets.

But the video evidence tells a different story.

The severance of communication services means no one can get out a live report from Kashmir. And that makes it easy for the Centre’s devotees to claim that the media is bought, and that the images are left-liberal propaganda.

A ground report was published in The New York Times – which it is safe to assume is not owned by the Vatican – along with photographs.

The Wire published a video story, where one sees people blinded by pellets in the last few days.

The government claimed its measures – the lockdown on telephone and internet connections, the imposition of curfew, the erection of road blockades – were pre-emptive; but it has been a week.

People say they have been shot while going to buy vegetables and while making rotis in their shops. Some even say they were shot while trying to get their wounded friends and relatives medical aid.

Individual narratives cannot be verified, but the wounds are real; the videos of security forces stopping wounded people on the way to hospital are real; the sounds of gunfire in amateur videos from the Valley are real. When it is so difficult for victims to reach the hospital, can doctors and other staff get to work?

So much for the freedom of movement guaranteed to all citizens of India; so much for the right to eat.

The reading down of Article 370 was meant to emphasise that Kashmir is part of India. But the measures that have been taken in the Valley are more in keeping with a conquest than with governance.

In a democracy, one wins the trust of the people; in a dictatorship, one tramples them into submission.

If Kashmir is part of India, are the people in the Valley not entitled to democracy?

It is not just the revocation of Article 370, but the manner of its execution that has convinced Kashmiris that the Centre – and with that, all of “India” – is the enemy.

With Pakistan and China constantly making inroads into the territory claimed by India, the last thing the Centre needs to do is compound the anger and disillusionment of young men who are most likely to join the insurgency.

Kashmiris often raise the slogan for freedom. But since the turn of the century, the tensions have abated. It appeared that Kashmiris were willing to negotiate with the Indian government. Most understood it was an impractical ambition to become “independent”. But surely they could expect to retain their autonomy in the departments they were promised?

To claim that the government’s actions would end terrorism is starkly reminiscent of another declaration made in 2016 – that demonetisation would end the circulation of black money.

In under three years since the promise printed on every bank-issued note was broken, the Centre has broken a far more serious promise, in a move that raises questions against the very foundations of democracy.

The self-proclaimed guardians of Indian culture claim great pride in the martial history recounted in the scriptures; they speak of a “culture” drawn from epics written at a time of ritual conquest and the inevitable annihilation of the conquered.

If one must draw lessons from the scriptures, how about this one – that no war ever left anyone happy? That no war ended without immense suffering on both sides?

Decisions are made in the corridors of power; but, unlike in the times the epics recount, the powers that be don’t lead their forces into the battlefield. They’re free to feature in adventure shows while security forces are sent to conflict zones, to face the rage of people who feel colonised, the rancour of people who have been separated from their parents and children and siblings by the machinations of a distant government.

Perhaps “normalcy” is relative.

But democracy cannot be conditional.