Kashmir never saw better days. A record number of over 1.62 crore tourists visited Kashmir in 2022 – the highest number since independence. In contrast, just about seven lakh tourists had visited the state before the advent of militancy in 1987. Three years later, their number dropped to 6000.
Even if you allow for an increase in population over 35 years, the number of 1.62 crore tourists is simply staggering. Tourists have both their lives and money to be concerned about—they would not have gone to Kashmir had ‘normalcy’ not returned and the atmosphere been conducive for tourism, courtesy of the improved security scenario since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019. Hotels, houseboat owners, shikara operators, etc., and all those myriad people dependent on tourism are overjoyed—the same people were forced to eat their savings and scraped through doing odd jobs during the years of militancy.
Terrorism in Kashmir is on its last legs and the security forces have the situation well under control. According to the statement of the Government in Rajya Sabha on February 8, the security forces killed as many as 187 terrorists in 111 anti-terror operations in 2022. This maintains the tempo of 2021 when 180 terrorists were killed in 95 operations. Terrorists are facing a shortage of weapons like AK-series rifles and that is how many of them have been forced to use pistols. It means that they are no longer capable of major attacks against the security forces. All they can do is targeted killing of defenceless civilians and attacks on isolated soldiers.
Who are the people spreading a fake narrative?
However, there is a concerted attempt by some journalists and politicians to paint a negative picture of the situation in Kashmir. In the following, I will take apart their malevolent propaganda.
As far as these journalists are concerned, they suffer from basically two problems. First, they have been pursuing an anti-India agenda for a long time and their reporting has always been biased. I will prove it by an example. The same people were resoundingly discredited during their coverage of the UP Assembly election last year. During the UP Assembly election, 2022, everything on the ground screamed out that there was a groundswell of support for Yogi Adityanath and he was going to win hands down.
Yet, journalists who crisscrossed the state in their cars for two months, in their so-called election coverage, persistently presented a distorted picture as if Akhilesh (Samajwadi party) was going to bulldoze his way through. In their two months of roaming in the state, they could not find a single person who would speak in support of Yogi—if this is not biased, what else is? Most despicably, words were literally forced into the mouths of the people they interviewed to speak something against Yogi—ordinary people on the streets were made to utter heavy words like ‘incentivization for youth’ and ‘price of crude in international market’ etc. which they clearly did not even understand. Second, they are frustrated because having lost their jobs in the TV channels, which they had obtained courtesy of their political masters, they have now been reduced to being mere YouTubers.
As for the politicians, they are frustrated because they have been rendered both irrelevant and jobless since the abrogation of Article 370.
Puncturing the hoax of “the silencing of the Kashmiri street”
Arfa Khanum Sherwani, for example, has recently lamented “the silencing of the Kashmiri street” since the abrogation of Article 370. This is both misleading and patent fraud. What silencing she is talking of? Does she regret that the streets of Kashmir are no longer witnessing huge mobs of over-ground supporters of terrorists who used to indulge in stone-pelting on the security forces all day long injuring hundreds of them and damaging public property worth crores? Is she missing those days when the engineered protests, elaborately covered by anti-India elements in the media, used to convey an impression of a “climate of collapse” in Kashmir, which bolstered the Pakistani narrative of the Indian Government committing atrocities upon the “hapless Kashmiris fighting for their right to self-determination and freedom”? Is she regretting that it has no longer been possible for a section of the media to further the anti-India narrative in international forums?
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For her information and those of her ilk, the right to protest as enshrined in the Constitution is not unlimited or unfettered. For those who have not understood Articles 19(2), 19(3), and 19(4) of the Constitution, I must remind you that in Anita Thakur (2016), the Supreme Court has held that while the right to peaceful protests without arms is a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution, the aforesaid right is subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, as well as public order. The Court held that in those situations where a crowd or assembly becomes violent, it may necessitate and justify using reasonable police force. In Amit Sahni (2020), the Supreme Court held that public protests and demonstrations expressing dissent must be organized in ‘designated places’ only. This judgment was delivered in connection with the matter of the anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) at Shaheen Bagh, Delhi. Citing Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (2017) and Himmat Lal K. Shah (1973), the Court held that in respect of streets and public parks, the rights of protestors had to be balanced against the rights of commuters.
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Viewed under the light of these judgments, can anyone explain how the public protests (often replete with armed militants) and stone pelting in Kashmir amounted to exercising their right to peaceful protest? Point is, you cannot be allowed to run an insurgency under the garb of civil protest—exactly what the Kashmiris had been doing since 1989. The Kashmiris had become used to the state treating them with kid gloves all these years and which, in their opinion, had accorded them some sort of de facto legitimacy.
Since the abrogation of Article 370, the Government has come down hard on the criminals and it has made them squirm under the power of the law. Within two years of the abrogation of Article 370, according to official figures, nearly 2,300 people were booked under UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and 954 people were detained under the Public Safety Act since 2019. Extremely few of these detention orders have been struck down by the High Court on the ground of being “vague, cryptic, irrelevant and non-existent”. As for the UAPA cases, the Courts have consistently refused to quash the FIRs. This includes FIRs against even the so-called intellectuals, such as an Assistant Professor working in a Government college who has been accused of intending to provoke common people to use force or violence against institutions like the army, the police and the civil administration. All these measures have led to a drastic reduction in the incidents of stone pelting, which had created the impression of utter lawlessness in the state.
Every citizen of the country stands on the same footing before the law of the land. Ms. Sherwani cannot be allowed to garner ‘undue sympathy’ for the Kashmiris through emotional outbursts like “Is this how Kashmir was supposed to be integrated?” Let us face it. The demand to secede from the Union of India by a section of the Kashmiris was and is patently illegal and the nation-state of India is legally bound to ‘integrate the state into the Union’—if it requires shooting down people, so be it. For her information, the nation-state derives its moral authority to exist only if the law is upheld. The law, as laid down in numerous judgments like Tucker et al (1882); Pancham Lal (1979); Akhilesh Prasad (1981); D. N. Srivastav (1983); and Manoj Sharma (2006) empowers the security forces to even shoot down people under Section 129 CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) in situations as have existed in Kashmir from 1989 onwards.
When Ms. Sherwani sheds crocodile tears by asking “Why is it so controversial to talk about Kashmiri lives?” she must be reminded that the lives of the militants or violently protesting Kashmiris killed or likely to be killed by security forces are not more valuable than the lives of those nearly 7,500 personnel of the security forces who have laid down their lives since 1989 to keep Kashmir ‘integrated’ with the Union of India.
As for the nauseatingly recurrent lamentation of eroded press freedom in Kashmir, there should be some solid evidence and not just rhetoric. Let her show any instance where press freedom has been unduly curtailed in violation of numerous judgments of the Supreme Court starting from Romesh Thapar (1950) until Anuradha Bhasin (2020). She must note that the aggrieved are free to go to court. Why not one of them moved the court or been able to get any relief from the court? She must also note that her version of press freedom cannot become a license to indulge in false, unsubstantiated propaganda against India and our security forces. Incidentally, in this January, Delhi LG has given sanction to prosecute Shehla Rashid, a favorite activist of such people, in a sedition case for her tweets against the Indian army that were aimed at “promoting enmity between different groups” and “indulging in acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”. On August 18, 2019, Shehla falsely accused the Indian army of having tortured four men in the Shopian district, placing a microphone next to them “so that the entire area could hear them scream, and be terrorized”.
Lamentations of politicians rendered irrelevant
Abrogation of Article 370 was the single most important step in the history of independent India. In one swift masterstroke, the so-called Kashmir problem ceased to exist. The NC, Congress, and PDP who had been surviving by letting a wound fester for 72 years, were rendered irrelevant as well as jobless. Now, if there is one thing that unites the constituents of the Gupkar Alliance, it is their despicable opportunism. Cutthroat enemies until the other day, they have no locus standi – except a forlorn hope to carve a future for themselves by joining hands against a common enemy. They are understandably reluctant to admit that rent seekers and those used to living on a sense of entitlement have been beaten consummately in their own game.
In a reference to ‘lakhs of troops’, Mehbooba had once said, “If you establish peace by frightening and threatening people, then you cannot call it peace.” However, she forgot that troops were present during her now inexplicable alliance with the BJP also. Now, indulging in rhetoric like “We hope Gandhi’s India will return to J&K what Godse’s India took away” while talking to Ms. Sherwani will not lead her anywhere at all.
Mani Shankar Aiyar, in an article titled ‘All Is Not Well in Jammu and Kashmir’, raises the now almost filmi rhetoric of “the people’s view is that while Kashmir may have been captured, the Kashmiri has been alienated” is a pure hoax. Well, how did he determine or measure something called ‘alienation’? What methodology was used to measure it or other ‘immeasurable things’ like the dignity of the people, the pervasive sense of having been humiliated that he talks about? How the conclusion was drawn—through interviews, focus group or a questionnaire or some other way like thematic analysis, and what were the parameters on which the inferences were drawn? How many people were questioned, what was their background, what was the reason to believe that they were not disgruntled anti-India elements, or that words were not forced into their mouths? Since the Government’s claim is to the contrary, did they use Cohen’s Kappa?
Even action against illegal encroachments is criticized!
There is nothing new about state governments reclaiming illegally encroached lands—it is a perfectly legitimate action of the government regularly done all over the country. In Kashmir also, this is being done. Court documents show that a total of 20, 46,436 Kanal of state land is under illegal occupation. Over the past three weeks, hundreds of kanals of government land have been retrieved and buildings bulldozed under the drive. Why should the Kashmiri encroachers be spared or treated differently? Are they somehow dearer to the nation than similarly placed people in other states? It may be noted that the Supreme Court has already dismissed a petition challenging a circular issued by the Jammu & Kashmir Government directing deputy commissioners to remove encroachments on state land including Roshni Land and Kachharie Land by January 31.
Mehbooba Mufti chose to be detained in Delhi on February 8 protesting against the J&K administration’s anti-encroachment drive. She said that Kashmir was becoming worse than Afghanistan, the way bulldozers were being used to demolish the homes of people. This is not just rhetoric; it is simply ridiculous. Omar Abdullah and People’s Conference leader Sajad Lone also criticized the demolition drive and, not forgetting to omit the communal angle, they also alleged bias against the Muslim community. Sensing an opportunity to fish in troubled waters, ‘The Resistance Front’ (TRF), an offshoot of Lashkar-e-Taiba, has threatened bulldozer owners, drivers and officials of the revenue department, involved in the anti-encroachment drive.
As Srinagar deputy commissioner Ajaz Asad pointed out, “A fake list of encroachment on nazul property (government land for non-agriculture purposes) in Srinagar district is being circulated on social media in order to spread panic and hatred against the government.
A case is being registered against miscreants spreading panic.”
You can easily see the conspiracy against the nation.
In fact, LG Manoj Sinha has assured the common people that they won’t be touched and only the state land under powerful and influential people, who have grabbed government property due to their influence, will be retrieved.
The state chief secretary said the retrieved land will be used for public purposes only, such as hospitals, schools, playgrounds, bus stands, industries, and parking spaces.
Some of the former high and mighty from whom government lands have been retrieved and sealed include Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, Maqbool Dar, Haseeb Drabu, Taj Mohiudin, and Ali Mohammad Sager besides former legislators Farooq Andrabi, Mir Qasim and Sofi Yusuf. In Anantnag, authorities retrieved land from the occupation of two former legislators and heirs of a former chief minister. The administration also razed structures in Srinagar allegedly constructed by two prominent business families. The LG hit the nail on the head. It is only the people suffering from a sense of entitlement and who had systematically subverted the system over the decades that are coming out to criticize it.
If Kashmiris are allegedly depressed today- it is because of their karma
It has also been lamented that Kashmiris are depressed, in pain, and suffering. Well, if it is true, it is their karma for what they had done to the Kashmiri Pandits and for colluding with terrorists then! If it is false, the wailing of these journalists will not motivate Pakistan or their friends, the Arab nations to attack India for that.
I must clarify that the degree, measure or extent of the support of the local people to the terrorists in the era when Pandits were being massacred, is not significant. The significant fact is that Kashmiri militants were not swooping down on their victims riding horses from some remote jungle a la dacoits of Bollywood films and disappear back to their hideouts after committing their crimes. They operate from within civil society. They have all along been sheltered by the local people who provide them with food and logistics support as well. Yet, there has been not a single instance on record in 33 years of militancy in Kashmir when common people informed the police of the presence of terrorists in any area.
Moreover, let the hackneyed bogey of the fear of the gun be not raised. There is no reason to believe that less than a couple of hundreds of terrorists could have terrorized nearly seven million people spread over more than 15,000 sq. km area to such an extent that not one of them ever dared to inform the police in 33 years. There has been no instance when the people informed the police of any excesses committed by the terrorists, such as molestations or rapes of their women. Since there has been no complaint of this type, the only inference possible is that the support of the terrorists has been a voluntary process in which the people and the terrorists have had been equal participants. The situation in Kashmir became what it became not just because of the terrorists and the ISI, the support of the local people to them was equally important.
Beating -breasts on Kashmir is now futile
Kashmir is now irrevocably ‘integrated’ into India, whether these people like it or not, and nothing can reverse it now. Occasional acts of terrorism or protest, however terrible, will not be able to unseal the fate that has been sealed irrevocably. These people want to go back to the era when the Kashmiris were mollycoddled—in spite of their atrocities on the Pandits and covert or overt support to militancy. If they want to go back to the era when a murderer terrorist Yasin Malik was invited by the then PM Man Mohan Singh for a meeting at his official residence—they must know that no way, it’s never going to happen again.
One terror attack in Rajouri and the Government responded by sending in 18 additional companies of CAPF there. What else do they expect? We cannot have three cops protecting every single Hindu/Sikh in the valley round the clock in eight-hour shifts. There may be isolated killings; they do not reflect on the overall security situation. Modern society presents myriad targets to terrorists or to lone wolves. Not all of them can be protected. It does not mean that the Government has failed.
Aiyar says that unless current trends at forcibly ‘Indianising’ J&K are reversed; J&K will continue to drift from us. Well, even primary school kids know the diversity in India and nobody is trying to force any concept of uniform Indian-ness on anybody. However, diversity shall not be allowed to become an excuse for secessionism or insurgencies, come what may.