Paradise in Trouble
By Dr Humaira Sade Butt
Like out of a fairytale, Kashmir is blessed with surreally abundant beauty. The gushing. shining waterfalls and picturesque hills with lush green forests had rightfully earned the South Asian region the title “Paradise on Earth” by 13th Century philosopher and poet Amir Khusrow. A land of many legends and historic diversity, its hills have many stories to tell, more recently, horrific ones. It was August 5th last year and this story continues to date. Jammu and Kashmir was placed under the world’s longest lockdown, following the revocation of its special autonomous status through the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution. After over three decades of oppressive measures and grave human rights violations, the events of the last 365 days exacerbated the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Kashmir. Closure of workplaces, schools, and the stripping of freedom of movement and press have turned what was once heaven on Earth into an open-air jail.
According to India Today an addition of 38,000 military troops were deployed to join the force of 90,000 in the region, last summer, resulting in violent clashes. Asraar Ahmed Khan was only sixteen, playing cricket in the neighbourhood, when a buckshot to his face resulted in his death, after security forces opened fire to a crowd, reports the New York Times.
Masrat Zahra, Srinagar-based photojournalist, was charged on April 18 under an anti-terrorism law for ‘uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention’ on social media;
“They charged me to send a stern message to the whole journalist fraternity in Kashmir, if they could book a female journalist, imagine what they could do to male journalists.” She told Time Magazine that there were only a few female journalists in the region, “They intimidate and harass us.”
Most recently, in July 2020, pictures of a three year old lying on the dead body of his grandfather, Bashir Khan, triggered a massive outrage in India-controlled Kashmir. “Locals said that Khan was brought out of his car and shot dead by the forces,” Farooq, Khan’s nephew, told the AFP News Agency. Iram, the child’s mother, who works with the J&K Police, told Deutsche Welle that the incident has traumatized her son. “The picture will haunt him for the rest of his life. He gets scared now when he hears the word ‘police’ or when he sees a policeman.”
Back in August 2019, stories of patients confronted by checkpoints on route to access medical care came out from Kashmir. “It took me two full days to convince security personnel to let my uncle be transported to the hospital for his dialysis. He was in bad shape,” said Rasheed Ahmad, a shopkeeper. Even doctors and paramedical personnel are facing such obstacles while trying to ensure public health.
To add fuel to the fire, the pandemic of COVID-19 hit the region in March, placing the region in ‘double lockdown.’ The numbers remain relatively low, at 15,258 cases to date in the population of over 13 million. However keeping the population healthy requires faster and freer spread of news, which Delhi’s authoritarian measures cannot allow under the guise of counter-terrorism. While the second lockdown may seem to be in favor of the people’s safety, it comes with a continuation of control. This pandemic has been an extension of the same lockdowns; nothing has changed on the ground. People are still being harassed and journalists are being muzzled.” an unnamed humanitarian worker told Time.
The streets in Srinagar had been empty long before COVID-19 hit the region. Lined solely with barbed wire, steel barricades and rogue stones, the signs of violence silently mark the once scenic capital, and an unsettling air of unknowing prevails: “What are we to presume? said pharmacist Bukhari Manzar, “Obviously, there must have been a confrontation, but we know nothing about it,’’ as strict censorship prevails.
There are many more stories, and so far, none with a happy end. And, with lack of press freedom, many stories may remain untold, leaving those within this defacto-prison and those on the outside in a depressing state of uncertainty. If only those hills could speak…