The lockdown in Kashmir is a new reality for people of this pristine valley. When I updated my first book, Secrets of the Kashmir Valley (2016), the tragedies of war were different. While no less brutal, recent events in Kashmir have changed the way Kashmiris live. The ongoing injustice of militarized occupation make it clear that peace is an afterthought. Which is why I updated the book and included the recent lockdown, the communications ban, rising radicalization, and much more. The new special edition focuses on the conflict today and the harsh realities of chronic social suffering. The new books on Kashmir are heartbreakingly real–these are the stories of women (and men) trying to survive another day.
The Great Lockdown
The following is an excerpt from my new special edition of Secrets of the Kashmir Valley.
On August 5, 2019, Kashmir went dark. The Indian State banned phone and Internet service indefinitely. Kashmir was subjected to a new form of cruelty. India forced an entire population into debilitating silence—a mental, physical, social and psychological lockdown. Although lockdowns were common in Kashmir, the extent of this silence was unprecedented.
A week before the communications blackout, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who won his election by encouraging anti-Muslim bigotry, flooded Kashmir with thousands of troops, detained hundreds of prominent Muslims, and asked foreign tourists to leave the valley.
Kashmiris had no clue of what was about to happen.
And so, without warning on that summer morning, the Indian State revoked Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution that had protected Kashmir’s special status as a Muslim-majority state. The article granted Kashmiris some autonomy and special privileges as a people, such as the right to buy and own their land. The Permanent Residents Law or Article 35A prevented outsiders from owning property or landing a state job in Kashmir.
Under the article, decisions on foreign affairs, defense, and communications remained under the jurisdiction of Kashmir’s central government. That changed on August 5th when the Indian State declared that the fundamental rights of Kashmiris no longer mattered. Kashmir was forever changed.
So why now? Some claim that Modi and the supra-Hindu nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had long opposed Article 370; that the Indian PM had promised the article’s dismissal in his 2019 election manifesto; that Modi and his party-supporters had long intended to integrate Kashmir into the rest of the country; and that the PM believed he could bring economic growth to the valley and long-lasting peace.
Perhaps India’s move was designed to change the demographics of the valley and threaten the very identity, interests, and integrity of Kashmir. In a New York Times op-ed, Indian activist Arundhati Roy wrote:
[India] turned all of Kashmir into a giant prison camp. Seven million Kashmiris were barricaded in their homes, Internet connections were cut and their phones went dead…For Kashmiris, this has been an old, primal fear.”
The dismissal of Article 370 forced Kashmiris to abide by the Indian Constitution. Kashmiris were thus required to comply with all Indian laws much like the people of other states, while non-Kashmiris were given the right to buy land in the pristine valley—a move that Hindu right-wing groups welcomed with joy. Indian leaders publicly promised development to the region and justified their actions in the name of democracy, an artificial word to Kashmiris who have been tortured and traumatized by India and its false promise for years.
India’s decision to implement a policy of forced isolation is arguably the worst form of control and coercion. For months on end, the communications blackout destroyed the way of life in Kashmir. Famous Kashmiri graphic novelist Malik Sajad paints a vivid and dark picture of life in Kashmir with the apt title, We Have Been in a Lockdown for Three Decades. Through cartoons, Sajad illustrates the way Kashmiris have suffered through lockdown since 1990. It is a life not lived as India imposes curfews and uses brute force to control an unarmed population.
Since August 2020, the communications ban imprisoned Kashmiris inside their homes. They could not call their neighbors, friends, and other family members inside the valley, much less those outside of Kashmir. Without access to loved ones or the news, a silence of uncertainty permeated the valley. Feelings of resentment, rage, defeat, and doubt against the Indian State were amplified. The blackout reaffirmed to Kashmiris that India’s efforts would remain insincere and incapable of seeking a peaceful, political solution to the decades-long conflict.
In the West, or anywhere else, a life without the Internet is unthinkable, if not unimaginable. The entire global economy would collapse. Media would cease to exist. The foundation for human rights and democracy valued in the West would disintegrate. The long-term impact of a communications ban would create anxiety, alarm, agitation, and much more for those used to living with access to free and fair communications system. The loss of the Internet on any society would cripple, if not crumble, global interconnectedness that is vital to our everyday existence.
In Kashmir, losing contact with the outside world and others inside the valley is destabilizing, disorienting and dehumanizing. Which is why the blackout in Kashmir should be labeled a human rights violation. The international community should deem the blackout illegal. Because it is not illegal, India continues to suppress Kashmiris with a communications ban—an arbitrary and autocratic move.
Most recently, in late June 2020, the Army’s battle with militants was followed by a three-day communications blackout: no phone and Internet service in southern Kashmir. Most sayings on silence are inspirational, I thought. But not in Kashmir. The echo of silence is inexpressible.
The books are available on pre-order now. The books will be LIVE on Monday, July 27, 2020.