KASHMIR: Muhammad Daniyal Ubaidullah on the reality on the ground, politics of cowardice and the ‘Gaza of Kashmir’

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Roar interviewed Muhammad Daniyal Ubaidullah, a Kashmiri activist and a student at King’s College London, on his experience of being in Kashmir during the blockade imposed by the Government of India and his thoughts on the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

R: I heard that you were in Kashmir recently. Can you describe the situation in Kashmir right now?

M: Yes, I was. In Kashmir, there currently is a complete communication blackout – no phones, in some cases no satellite or cable television, huge curbs on movement and traffic, and the closure of all institutions of relevance (such as schools, banks and shops). When the blockade happened, the immediate feeling was what can most accurately be described as a state of uncertainty and shock. It felt as though something very close to the Kashmiri people had been snatched away from them, something that ensured the protection of their identity. Subsequently, the feeling of being unable to communicate with the rest of the country started to sink in.

After 10-15 days of no change in the situation, the response of all those who could afford to travel was to leave. This happened at a large scale, and a lot of people, including myself, ended up leaving the Valley and going to mainland India.

R: What was your personal experience in the Valley?

M: On the night of the blockade, I was at my grandparents’ house, and it was out and about in the air that something was going to happen. People were going out to the Dal Lake in Srinagar to see their relatives, with a sense that this might be one of the last times in a long while that they were going to see each other. The next morning, I woke up to find that there was no network, no service on my phone. It took three days for my dad to get a curfew pass, come to my grandparents’ house and take me home; three days, because there was uncertainty about whether protests would happen, whether the government would have a violent reaction to them, and whether there would be firing and pellet guns on the streets.

After that, I was locked in my house for almost a month. There was limited to zero travel that I was able to do, with absolutely no connection to the outside world. Cable television was working for some time, but it was depressing to even turn it on; imagine, you are being subjected to something, it’s happening to you right now, and you have a TV screen in front of you telling you that it is not happening. You go out, you see something; you come back in, they tell you it didn’t happen.

Eventually, the government said that the curbs would be lifted on a ‘day-to-day basis’. International media started reporting that there was partial communication allowed in Kashmir. The reality on the ground, however, was slightly different. Picture it like this: one day, the government will lift a curb; this will get registered in the national conscience. The very next day, the curb is put back. It does not get the same audience. The usage of landlines is a prime example of this. Despite ‘partial communication restored in Kashmir’ making global headlines, communication was taken away just as fast as it was given. The whole situation was nerve-wracking and a very big source of depression for me personally and Kashmiris generally.

R: I heard that there were rumours within the Valley that Article 370 – and 35A in particular – would be scrapped… was this move by the Government expected?

M: Yes, this was actually a very hot rumour. People speculated that Article 370 and 35A might be scrapped, that Ladakh would be made a Union Territory, and that there would be a redistribution of seats among Jammu and Ladakh. What was not speculated, however, was that all of these would come true, and that too all at once. The immediate cause of these rumours was a variety of factors: the electoral promises of the ruling party, who used Kashmir as an electoral plank; the sudden influx of troops in the Valley (supposedly a normal routine build-up); and the print order by the government asking the ‘real’ Indians to vacate the valley – the Hindu Amarnath pilgrims.

ON MEDIA AND THE ECONOMY

R: What do you think about the Indian State continually denying the existence of multiple demonstrations that have since been covered by international media?

M: Beyond a point, it became pretty bizarre. You had Al Jazeera, Washington Post and New York Times reporting on these incidents, and yet the Indian government blatantly denied them, which was absolutely absurd.

I, for one, was a first-hand witness to these protests; and the protests that occurred in my area were not even reported on. I’m talking about protests that even Washington Post and New York Times failed to cover. The main protest that was covered was in Soura, which has been dubbed the ‘Gaza of Kashmir’. Soura remains the epicentre of the demonstrations, which are happening to this day. My point is that I find it absurd that the Indian Government took it upon themselves to disprove the protests. It’s all just the politics of cowardice. How did they even think that this was something that people would buy?

R: The Indian Government claims that the abrogation of Article 370 will help improve economic conditions in Kashmir, based on the Gujarat model. Do you find that convincing?

M: Not at all. In fact, I find it entirely absurd, simply for the reason that Kashmir is doing much better than the state that they’re holding as a target for it on multiple economic indicators – education, sanity, literacy and school dropout rates. If Article 370 has historically been an impediment to development, why is Kashmir, with all its baggage, doing better than states without the Article? What is stopping their development?

ON LEGALITY

R: Many people argue that the abrogation of Article 370 was unconstitutional. However, the fact of the matter is that although it may have been underhanded, it was legal. What do you have to say about this?

M: In my opinion, even on hard legality, their argument can be poked holes into.

I think what people fail to understand is that although Article 370 was abrogated 60 days ago, it was hollowed up over the years through consecutive Presidential Orders. At one time, the article encompassed many things besides the ability of other Indians to buy land in the Valley. For example, for a long time, J&K had its own Prime Minister and to some degree, a working Constituent Assembly which could pass its own laws. The abrogation of the article sixty days prior only removed the remnants of something that existed a long time ago. It’s clear, then, that when it comes to the legality argument, there are a lot of grey areas that people don’t usually talk about.

R: My final question is about the Indian Judiciary. Do you think that Kashmiri citizens like yourself are counting on the Supreme Court to overturn this legislation?

M: Many people think that the judiciary is a sacrosanct institution. I think that regarding Kashmir, it has always been biased. In fact, over the past few years there have been multiple issues regarding the Supreme Court, even on matters unrelated to Kashmir. We have had sitting Chief Justices come out and say that the delivery of justice is being compromised. We have had benches cherry-picked by the government to decide on specific matters. In light of these, it’s bizarre to lend any credibility to the Supreme Court in the current context of Kashmir. Regardless, even when given the benefit of the doubt, it has now been 60 days since the blockade, and the Supreme Court has done nothing. Every petition filed against the revocation of Article 370 has been denied for having flaws and lacking legal standing; so no, no one is counting on the Supreme Court – at least not anymore.

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