One step forward, ten steps backward

Views from Srinagar

Akmal Hanan

ONE of the relatives of a villager just outside Srinagar was arrested in early days of the 2016 unrest and booked under Public Safety Act (PSA). The villager narrated that before police arrested the youth in connection with causing “public disorder by stone pelting” his illiterate father had to present himself in the police station every day. The pressure tactic did not work on the youth, and police eventually arrested him in a night raid. The story did not end with his arrest. Within days of slapping PSA on the arrested youth, the villager said he was shifted to a jail in Jammu province. Father of the youth who was yet to recover from the humiliation and disgrace of showing himself at the police station every day for reasons not in his control, the villager said, the poor man had to gather all his resources to visit his son in Jammu. Four of the family members finally left the valley for the first time to visit the youth in prison in Jammu. The villager said that after bearing all inconveniences during the travel that also cost them twenty five thousand rupees, they were granted ten minutes of meeting with the prisoner in the jail. The villager whispered at the end, “the father had perhaps also voted for Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last Assembly polls”. This story might not be an all-exclusive, there may be many such stories that would remain buried in the hearts and would never reach the ears except of few.
The 2014 Assembly polls in J&K threw a surprise for many in Kashmir. People here perhaps did not imagine such a large participation of people in the elections. Besides other variables that could have brought about the change, PDP had also managed to – one, convince people of better internal governance and development, and two, persuaded them to vote PDP to power to relieve them of forces’ excesses, killings, arrests and upholding of human rights, that had ceased to exist in previous government’s tenure. PDP then led by Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had infact pitched for talks between India and Pakistan on the vexed Kashmir issue. Fact of the matter is people had realized that government would be formed irrespective of how many people voted in the polls, and due to the reasons mentioned above people saw voting for PDP as the ‘lesser evil’.
During the Assembly elections in 2014, many voters who talked to press had mentioned security and miserable conditions of their lives post devastating floods as the reason for participating in the polls. People by and large refrained from mixing the Kashmir issue with Assembly polls. Various forces had made life miserable for people and PDP then in opposition had kindled a ray of hope among people by raising voice against the State supported “brutalities” and human rights violations. As one of the voters in rural Kashmir had put it – that one has to live in these conditions to know why people were voting. What he meant was more than mere upholding of some human rights of people in far-flung areas; they also needed development, roads, water, electricity and employment.
What did people get in return? On political front, situation has gone from bad to worse. In Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s previous tenure as CM (November 2002 – November 2005), several confidence building measures were called forth which could have been taken forward to find an amicable solution to the Kashmir dispute. The bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, and opening of trade routes with Pakistan’s side of Kashmir across the LoC and allowing people in the State to travel to Pakistan administered Kashmir and vice-versa without visa and too much paper work were being seen by many as a forward movement on Kashmir issue. Though the final settlement was still far away, the small steps and tiny moves like facilitating people-to-people contact were testing the status quo on Kashmir dispute. And leadership in New Delhi and Islamabad at that time also seemed more inclined towards resolving the issue through dialogue. With the change of players both at New Delhi and Islamabad as well as at Srinagar, these small efforts seem to have been washed down the drain. And for over two years in power now, PDP led government report card can best be described in terms of going a step forward and then retreating with ten steps backward.
On governance and development front, there has been no noticeable change from the previous government. Roads, electricity and water that the rural population had thought voting will bring didn’t happen. The employment scene in valley is no better. The only noticeable achievement in recent times is Scooties for girl students and All Terrain Bikes for boy students on subsidies. One really struggles to think of more while listing the achievements of the government in the past two years. On the other hand if one looks at security and safety of the common people, especially the youth, the facts and figures put all the previous records to shame.
Even by official and police statements, the number of PSAs slapped on youth and overall arrests during the last four months is unprecedented. Police as per its own statements has arrested 7056 persons and PSA has been slapped on 540 of them. Police is also “looking for around 2000 more people who are involved in different cases including arson, stone pelting and other law and order cases, committed during the last four months” and police has registered cases against them.
As per official figures, at least 92 people have been killed and over 13000 injured during the ongoing uprising in Valley. Some newspaper reports put the number of arrested persons in different cases at over 12000. As per reports most of these arrests have been carried out in south Kashmir, followed by north Kashmir and then central Kashmir.
In four months hospital records put the number of people with eye injuries due to pellets at around 1200. The total number of pellet-hit cases runs in thousands. The scene is very scary and no one would have imagined this picture at the time of 2014 Assembly polls.
Many of the people whom the PDP went consoling before 2014 Assembly polls are visiting police stations because police want their sons to surrender. Many of the youth who had seen a ray of hope in PDP might not see the world as they saw it before due to pellet injuries in their eyes. Many would still be spending all of their savings to visit their sons in outside prisons.
It seems PDP was serving people better in opposition before 2014 Assembly polls. At least it then staged protests against what it then saw as State brutalities on common hapless people. In power, the roles seem to have changed.
The curtailing of Internet services and previously mobile services already seem to be luxuries one should not indulge in, in Kashmir. The priority for people, especially the youth, right now is to evade arrests and then PSAs

—Courtesy: RK
[Feedback at akmalhanan07@gmail.com]

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