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Illustration by Mahgul Farooqui

Chaos and Despair: The Situation in Indian-Administered Kashmir

The Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir has been in turmoil for decades, but plunged into a total communications blackout this summer, following tensions from both sides of the border.

On Aug. 5, 2019, the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir plunged into a total communications and media blackout, as the Indian government imposed Section 144 CrPC of the Indian Penal Code on the valley, leading to a shutdown of educational institutions and a ban on gatherings of five or more people. From whatever little information trickles out, the number of young people detained in Kashmir ranges from 4,000 to the most recent figure of 13,000. While Kashmir has been in unrest for decades, this sudden restriction comes after the Indian government unilaterally revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, a watered down version of the article that once granted autonomy to Kashmir.
The situation in Kashmir has been turbulent following the chaotic partition of the former British colony in 1947, leaving the status of the former princely state undecided. Since then, Kashmir has been subject to intense political conflict involving Pakistan and India. Both countries fully claim an area that is partially administered by both.
The response of the Pakistani government has been to condemn the revocation of Article 370, emphasizing the alleged human rights violations taking place in Indian-administered Kashmir, even declaring Sept. 27 as “Kashmir Solidarity Day” in order to show support for the Kashmiri people. While the response of the Pakistani government and media in general has been focused on the plight of the Kashmiri people, some sources, such as the media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces have adopted sometimes biased, and overly patriotic tones on the topic of Kashmir. The narrative of Kashmir has often been intertwined with the issue of religion in Pakistan, for instance, the Pakistani government and media have expressed a feeling of solidarity with Kashmir due to their predominantly Muslim population.
On the other side of the border, people across India were beating drums and distributing sweets. The move was seen as the complete integration of Kashmir into India, a huge win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government’s second term. Article 370 was seen as a roadblock to peace, and this move is the definitive final blow to the “terrorism, separatism and corruption in J&K.”. Another group celebrating this move were sections of Kashmiri Pandits, who were brutally driven out of the valley in the 1990s by extremist militant groups. While authorities have maintained that there has been “no untoward incident barring minor stone-pelting which was dealt with on the spot and was nipped in the bud,” reports by international media sources starkly contradict these claims. The occurrence of a large-scale protest on Aug. 9 in Soura, Srinagar was denied by the Indian government, even as the BBC had video evidence of the protestors being attacked by tear gas from the police.
Akash Jaini, Class of 2020, has chosen to focus his capstone on the communications blockade in Kashmir. “India has had a claim to Kashmir because there are people [Kashmiri Hindus] who call this place their homeland and for generations have lived there, and were driven out during this violent period [1990s],” he explained, when asked about his perspective on the abrogation of Article 370. “The way India continued to have a claim on this land was to say that no other Indian ... that doesn’t have a claim to this being their homeland can buy land etc. in Kashmir. This move is problematic because India has ideologically, or I think it has morally, given up what they say was the strongest claim to the land of Kashmir.”
From the contradictory narratives presented in Indian and Pakistani media, it is clear that bias runs deep. When talking about the narratives of Kashmir he grew up with, Jaini said: “I think a lot of people grow up with this idea of like we are fighting over Kashmir, Pakistan thinks it’s theirs, but the whole world thinks it’s ours. This is what we’re told since we were young. And I think what I’ve realized is that people in Pakistan have been told that we are keeping Kashmir as a hostage and Kashmir wants to be Azad Kashmir.”
While both sides have been fighting this narrative battle, a humanitarian crisis in Kashmir goes unnoticed. Abhishek Majumdar, a playwright who’s been following the Kashmir situation both on-ground and from afar for 11 years, shared: “There is a humanitarian crisis in Kashmir, which is not today. There is no house where somebody hasn’t been beaten up, somebody hasn’t been tortured… there’s just no house like that. Even if you see the cases of mental health in the soldiers, it’s very high.”
When asked about the on-ground humanitarian situation, he shared this story: “I know a lady who had two sons. One who was seven, and the other was thirteen or fourteen. The CRPF entered their house in the compound. The child was playing just outside. They entered the house, took the child in, beat his head against the wall, and the other brother…so the mother couldn’t let the other brother go. She had to hold him. The other brother…because now she can’t go to protect the other child. And the little boy is saying ‘Uncle aap mujhe kyu maar rahe hai? (Uncle why are you hitting me?)’ They killed him. This is a real incident. I know the mother of this child.” Ever since the clampdown, Majumdar has been in contact with people who have visited Kashmir. Referring to the blockade, he said: “This I didn’t foresee coming. It’s not only bad, it is also really stupid. It’s going to backfire like nobody’s business.”
Nimrah Khanyari, Class of 2020, grew up in Bombay after her parents moved from Srinagar, Kashmir in the late ‘90s. “The narrative I heard from my parents... is just kind of this idea that everyone wants Kashmir but no one really wants Kashmiris,” she said. “It was just this idea that Kashmir as a place is kind of in this stuck-between-position, where it’s never really winning but it’s also never being defeated.” She continued, “it was the way Modi went about it. It was the way that he othered us again, where he took out students who were non-locals, took out tourists in that situation and he left us with a big question mark.”
Khanyari explained that she had people living in her house, caretakers and her mom’s family, and that they were unable to reach out to them. “[This] kind of inhumane way to go about it — of course that’s going to create animosity in the youth and that’s not just gonna go away,” she added. “That’s what scares me.”
Angad Johar is a staff writer and Eyza Irene Hamdani Hussain is Deputy Copy Chief. Email them at
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