[dropcap]K[/dropcap]ASHMIR is under siege where at least one soldier is watching over ten persons. All means of communication are blocked and curfew imposed. A group of eminent rights activists who returned from the besieged Kashmir valley told media persons at the Press Club of India in New Delhi on Wednesday.
The group comprising Kavita Krishnan from the CPI (ML), economist Jean Dreze and Maimoona Mollah of All India Democratic Women’s Association and Vimal Bhai of National Alliance of People’s Movement, which spent five days in Kashmir, shared its fact-finding report with the media.
The report demolishes the official narrative and “government-sponsored” media reports that there is absolute normalcy in Kashmir. It alleges excesses by the security forces. “In every village, we visited, as well as in downtown Srinagar, people told us how school kids and teenagers were randomly picked up by police or army and paramilitary personnel and held in illegal detention,” the rights activists said.
“We met an 11-year-old boy in Pampore who had been held in a police station between 5 August and 11 August and beaten up. He said there were boys even younger than him in custody, from nearby villages,” the report said.
Security forces were also using pellet guns against people, the report alleged. Citing an instance, it stated, “On August 6, a graphic designer for the Rising Kashmir newspaper, Samir Ahmad (in his early 20s) had remonstrated with a CRPF man near his home in the Manderbag area of Srinagar, asking him to allow an old man to pass. Later the same day, when Samir opened the door to his house, CRPF fired at him with a pellet gun, unprovoked. He got 172 pellets in his arm and face close to the eyes which, fortunately, escaped injuries.”
“It is clear that the pellet guns are deliberately aimed at the face and eyes, and unarmed, peaceful civilians standing at their own front doors are the targets,” the report stressed.
The group, however, was denied permission to broadcast a video showing interviews of the Kashmir residents, at the Press Club.
“If they don’t let us show audio-video testimonies of the people of Kashmir here at Press Club, where else can we go?” Dreze asked. He said he would circulate the 10-minute film later.
“The Indian media’s claims of a rapid return to normalcy in Kashmir are grossly misleading. They are based on selective reports from a small enclave in the centre of Srinagar. As things stand, there is no space in Kashmir for any sort of protest, however peaceful,” the report said, warning that “mass protests are likely to erupt sooner or later.”
“If people of Andhra Pradesh were consulted multiple times and the state’s assembly was consulted before its bifurcation why Kashmiri were kept in dark,” asked Maimoona Mollah, pointing out how in contrast the mainstream political leaders were being treated in Kashmir Valley.
“After Farooq Abduallah somehow managed to speak to the media, all the cops providing security to the former Chief Minister of the state and Union Minister were put under suspension (for dereliction of duty) she said. “We were not allowed to meet CPI (M) MLA MY Tarigami. He has also been put under house arrest and is not keeping well.”
Asserting that the government was working towards building a Hindu Rashtra, she further said, “What began with Tipple Talaq, has reached Article 370. Ayodhya would be their next milestone after which Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes would be their next target.”
“We have to stand up and be counted. It is a now or never situation. Kashmir is looking up to us for support. We need to amplify their voices. Kashmir should be demilitarised, communication blockade lifted and Article 370 and 35 A be restored without any delay,” she asserted. “There are no signs of communal polarization in Kashmir Valley as of now. But after having discredited the mainstream leaders, it is scary to imagine where the government is headed for in Kashmir. They are going to create another Palestine in the country,” she added.
Slamming a leading national daily for publishing an editorial that claimed “people of Jammu and Kashmir were 200 years behind rest of the country”, Jean remarked, “rural population in Jammu and Kashmir is far better than in states like Bihar and Chhattisgarh which have been struggling with catastrophic poverty.”
“Amid massive military presence, the only person who did not oppose the abrogation of state’s special status and its bifurcation was a BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) spokesperson,” he added.
Kavita Krishnan, meanwhile, urged media to visit Kashmir to see and report the reality on the ground.
“Amid communication blackout, government and some media outlets passed off pictures showing people offering prayers in Jammu mosques as pictures taken in Kashmir Valley on the eve of Eid,” Vimal Bhai said, adding that “Currently, Kashmir has been put behind iron walls. It has been blindfolded and handcuffed. Kashmir’s identity is under attack. The prison must break and restrictions be lifted sooner than later.”
“Let people of Kashmir speak, let us listen to them,” he said.