When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.â€ â€“ Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Inhabitants of the contested Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir have long feared that India would engineer demographic changes that would alter the territory’s Muslim-majority character. This theory didnâ€™t have many takers until August 2019 when the Indian governmentâ€” led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modiâ€” revoked the quasi-autonomy of the state accorded to it under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. The legislative changes meant that non-locals could now buy and own land in the territory that was previously protected only for the local residents. The decision was especially hailed by India’s jingoistic media.
The Jammu and Kashmir state is claimed in full but ruled in part by arch-rivals India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over control of the territory. To crush all forms of public dissent in the restive state, the region was subjected to eight months of severe curfews to curtail mobility, and the authorities imposed a communication blackout. Just when things were looking up to open, COVID-19 erupted and threw the state back under lockdown.
As the people of the region were demanding more doctors and medical assistance to deal with the pandemic, the Hindu nationalist Indian government introduced a new domicile law that defined who can own land and apply for jobs in the state. Since then the Indian government has introduced a slew of legislation including granting domicile and voting rights to Indian citizens and opening up agriculture and non-agriculture land for commercial purposes to outsiders.
â€œToday, a pathway is being paved for emulating the Israel model of West Bank in Kashmir towards disempowerment and dispossession of the localsâ€”Muslims as targets and the rest as collateral damageâ€”to exercise hegemonic control through new settlers,â€ Anuradha Bhasin writes in the prologue of her book The Dismantled State: The Untold Story of Kashmir After Article 370. The book begins with a nationalistic appendage of reducing the Kashmiri people as spatial entities and putting the regionâ€™s sense of foreboding in perspective. She illustrates examples from decades of Delhi’s constitutional disempowerment of people in the Himalayan valley, delving thoroughly by compiling key historic episodes, new reports, anecdotes, and eavesdrops on people’s lives.
The editor of Kashmir Times, a daily newspaper based out of Jammu province discusses the painful sequences of events that paved the way for the Kashmiri populace into forcible silence, throughâ€” mobilisation of troops (in a zone that is already densely militarized with over seven hundred thousand troops), cutting-off communication lines, mass arresting popular and dissenting voices, imposing restrictions on masses, increasing surveillances, invoking draconian laws to prosecute critical voices under â€œrevolving door detentionsâ€, using torture and harassment as military tactics to inculcate fear among populace and relying on series of raids to silence the messengers. Bhasinâ€™s book narrates each of these themes in detail, comparing them with the seminal work of Judith Herman. The book talks about traumatising experiences and their implications on ordinary people, elaborating on how survivors develop â€œprofound deficiencies in self-protection that they can barely imagine themselves in a position of agency or choiceâ€.
Knowingly, a large percentage of people in the region have incurred trauma of multiple magnitudes and intensities for several years, especially after the armed revolt of the 1990s against Indian rule. Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives during the conflict in Kashmir, a region divided between India and Pakistan ever since both nations attained their freedom from the British in 1947.
Theorist Cathy Caruth pinpoints that traumatic experiences can cause an overwhelming identity displacement affecting the individual’s coherent consciousness resulting in the displacement of self and the surrounding. The trauma known through â€œrepetitive flashbacksâ€ captured through the individual experience doesnâ€™t remain limited to a person but is rather passed onto the next generations. Kashmiris sandwiched in the perpetual cycle of violence and state intimidation have found themselves in a similar space, they have been silenced after the downgrading of the state into two union territories in 2019â€” the measures that are being taken structurally have created a palpable fear, disappointment, frustration, despair, anger which seems to be even â€œmore pervasiveâ€.
Anuradha Bhasin sensibly engages with these traumatic experiences of people and tries to compare them with what John Berger called â€œundefeated despairâ€ in the context of Palestine. Throughout the twelve chapters, the book paints a dismal picture of the state-of-affairs of the polity and analyses the series of events, using news reports, interviews, and anecdotes to bring perspective about what the people of Kashmir went through when the stateâ€™s land and job protection laws were scrapped unilaterally.
The author documents the palpable panic that gripped the entire state with its people preparing for the worst-case scenarioâ€” a war with Pakistan, with locals witnessing an increase in the number of military planes doing rounds for multiple nights. The trust deficit of the unholy People Democratic Party (PDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition that the state was mooring with had polarised the communal polity giving rise to manipulative alliances and conspiracies. The inefficient role played by the mainstream electoral actors is also discussed in the book, offering a perspective about the tightened space they had to operate within where they were expected to bend but their incompetence and lack of conviction forced them to crawl.
The book in general manages to expose the myths peddled by the official sources that bragged â€œno single bullet has been fired and [not] a single person has died in Kashmirâ€ since Article 370 was read down. The author recorded 152 people were injured by tear gas fire and pellet injuries. Teenager Osaib Altaf drowned in the Jhelum river after he was chased by the paramilitary. 34-year-old Fahmeeda Shagu, another local died from suffocation caused by tear gas smoke in Srinagar. Likewise, a 55-year-old man died of asphyxiation following the bursting of a tear gas shell and another 8-year-old Asrar Ahmad succumbed to his injuries in Srinagar. Anuradha Bhasin pleads with its readers to reject the propagandist claims regarding Naya (New) Kashmir. â€œ(Prime Minister) Modi government is trying to integrate Kashmir, [however] what it is effectively doing is making India an extension of Kashmir.â€ The situation in mainland India has also been deteriorating with the state crushing on critical civil society members, independent media, and minority groups.
â€œThe Indian mainland is experimenting with the Kashmir model elsewhere,â€ Anuradha remarks. Bhasin rejects the notion that the flow of tourists throbbing and the development of infrastructure such as roads, and the unveiling of new projects reflects returning of normalcy in Kashmir.
The author discusses at length the political crisis of the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir sandwiched between China, Pakistan, and India and the inconsistencies with regard to New Delhi directly meddling with regional affairs. Over the years, the power politics and dirty counter-insurgencies have largely interacted with what the former secretary of the Indian intelligence agency RAW, AS Dulat glamourized through corruption and bribes over killing sprees.
Kashmir witnessed unprecedented events such as the eight-month-long communication clampdown, arbitrary arrests, humiliation and harassment, structural restrictions in the form of new Orwellian policies, and amendments in existing land and domicile laws to inculcate fear among the populace. The author has herself experienced the share of terror, despair, fear, and emptiness after failing to reach out to her friends and colleagues in Kashmir for days: â€œThe 5 August was not Kashmir first. Bloodshed and brutality have been witnessed during the previous lockdowns,â€ she noted.
The author recalls a casual conversation between a journalist and police officer where the police official informs that the state achieved in making the 3Ps (Politician, Pulpit, and People) fall in line with the writ of the Indian state, while the 3Ms (Militants, Madrasa and Media) remained a perennial problem.
Generally speaking, the book is an important chronicle for researchers, academics, and individuals who are finding it difficult to navigate through the blurry official state narratives on the subject. Although the book follows a loose structure of analytical chapters with a number of subsections, it doesn’t offer recommendations or resolutions in the purview of the political crisis and ongoing conflict. The author makes a point that this endeavor attempts to bring forth alternative and less-heard voices to the public glare.
A Dismantled State: The Untold Story of Kashmir After Article 370 is published by HarperCollins (2023)