After the abrogation of Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik said Kashmir would become "shaandaar” (spectacular). TRT World debunks these claims, one after the other.

Very few politicians have held the post of governor in Kashmir. The position has always been represented either by a retired armed forces general or a bureaucrat.

In August last year, New Delhi appointed Satya Pal Malik as the governor of Jammu and Kashmir replacing N N Vohra. A member of various political parties in India including the ruling BJP, Malik was handpicked by the Modi government before the 2019 parliamentary elections

New Delhi was not willing to take any chances with Jammu and Kashmir. They needed a person who would cooperate with them. 

On August 28, Malik addressed a group of media people in Srinagar. This was Malik’s first press conference after India’s Hindu nationalist government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unilaterally scrapped a law key to the Kashmir accession treaty, Article 370, on August 5. 

The law had protected the demography of the Muslim-majority region for the last seven decades.

Since then, the strife-torn valley has been reeling under an unprecedented security lockdown and communications blackout.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called upon India to restore communication lines in Kashmir saying: “The Indian government’s lengthy shutdown of the internet and telephones in Jammu and Kashmir inflicts disproportionate harm on the population and should be immediately lifted.”

When asked about the communication restrictions in the state, Malik said: “The internet is a handy tool for anti-national elements and the restoration of connections will be deferred for some more time.” 

He further added that phones and internet are “used less by us and mostly by terrorists and Pakistanis, as well as for mobilisation and indoctrination. It is a kind of weapon used against us so we have stopped it. Services will be resumed gradually”.

But this ceasing of phone lines and the internet has had real-life implications for normal Kashmiris. More than seven million of them have been cut off from the rest of the world, with no knowledge of their family and friends.

On August 20, an expectant Kashmiri mother’s joy turned to sorrow. She lost her very first child due to the communication ban reportedly as the senior doctor could not be contacted. Had the phones been working, a single call could perhaps have saved the baby, the Indian Express reported.

Protests have not let up since August 5, a senior government source told AFP. The valley has been hit by at least 500 incidents of protests in 24 days of siege. Nearly 100 civilians have been wounded so far, with a further 300 police and more than 100 paramilitary troopers hurt, the official added.

On being questioned about the loss of lives, the governor said there was no civilian death, negating rumours that the administration was “hiding” the deaths. 

"Tell me, how can deaths be hidden?” he asked.

But days after the abrogation of Article 370, despite a paralysing curfew, imposed to head off unrest, sporadic protests broke out in the main city, Srinagar.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed that in one incident a youth named Osaib Altaf, after being chased by the police "jumped into the Jhelum River and died".

The incident happened in Srinagar's old town, which has become a hotbed of anti-India protests during the three-decade insurgency in Kashmir which has left tens of thousands dead.

Two more people lost their lives due to suffocation from tear gas shelling. On August 17, a 65-year-old named Mohammad Ayub had died in the hospital after being admitted with breathing difficulties from tear gas and pepper spray grenades fired in the old city.

Similarly, on August 22, a 34-year-old woman, Fehmeeda, died due to acute lung injury caused by the inhalation of toxic gases. Under police pressure, the hospital authorities cited a different reason for the fatality.

Addressing the conference, Malik, admitted to the usage of pellet guns by security personnel during protests in Kashmir. He said forces took the utmost precaution to prevent injuries and those that had been injured were hurt because they got violent and were only injured “below the waist”.

But images and reports emerging from Kashmir tell a different story. 

An elderly man, Mohammad Siddiq was wounded when an Indian policeman fired a pellet gun at him while he was returning home from a mosque. His pellet-ridden back and severely damaged left eye is a testimony of the atrocities the Indian forces are carrying out.

Mohammad Siddiq, 70, was shot by a pellet gun. His left eye is damaged and back pellet ridden. His wife stands beside him inside a hospital in Srinagar, India administered Kashmir.
Mohammad Siddiq, 70, was shot by a pellet gun. His left eye is damaged and back pellet ridden. His wife stands beside him inside a hospital in Srinagar, India administered Kashmir. (AP)

Five-year-old Munefa Nazir was shot in the eye by an Indian soldier with his catapult. Her hands were henna-clad because it was the day of Eid and she was accompanying her uncle to distribute the qurbani (the sacrificial meat shared among family and friends and also donated to the poor).

Six year old Kashmiri girl Muneefa Nazir, lies in a hospital bed after she was wounded by a marble shot from a sling used by Indian paramilitary soldiers in Srinagar India administered Kashmir in  August 2019.
Six year old Kashmiri girl Muneefa Nazir, lies in a hospital bed after she was wounded by a marble shot from a sling used by Indian paramilitary soldiers in Srinagar India administered Kashmir in August 2019. (AP)

A clampdown on communications services in Indian-administered Kashmir has also led to a shortage of medicines and essential supplies as pharmacists are unable to contact their suppliers.

But Malik brushed aside these reports as lies. “Every facility is available but people are spreading lies,” he said.

Dr Omar Salim Akhtar, a urologist at Government Medical College in Srinagar, was holding a placard saying: “This is not a protest. This is a request.” He was whisked away by the police, moments after speaking to BBC Urdu claiming that life-saving medicines were running out which means patient mortality could rise. 

The Independent echoes the same views. It reports that hospitals in Kashmir are facing a major health crisis, medicines are running out and patients are being turned away as doctors fear “impending tragedy”. 

Patients are being asked to come back only when things get “back to normal” in Kashmir, the answer to which no one has, not even the governor. “Will you leave anything on Allah or not? I have,” he told reporters in Srinagar.

Like everything else, the siege has taken a major toll on children’s education. While addressing the press, Malik said 3,000 primary schools and 1,000 middle schools have opened. In Jammu and Ladakh, schools and colleges were all open.

Though the authorities have reopened some of the schools in the valley, parents are reluctant to send their children to school, fearing unrest.

“Don't say that no one is going to school. In some places, attendance is low, while in some places it is good,” Malik said. But most of the schools are deserted. Six grade schools in the city were found closed last week, with no school administrators or students in sight.

A Kashmiri school staff member cleans a deserted classroom in Srinagar in disputed Kashmir. August 19, 2019. (Mukhtar Khan / AP)
A Kashmiri school staff member cleans a deserted classroom in Srinagar in disputed Kashmir. August 19, 2019. (Mukhtar Khan / AP) (AP)

"Why would I risk sending my kids to school when the government is uncertain about the security situation?" said Srinagar resident Mohammed Latief, whose children are in the first and third grades.

In a recent report published in The Telegraph, locals allege that people are being arrested and taken to prison to instill fear in them. Many “potential stone-throwers” have been rounded up during nocturnal raids, their fathers and brothers incarcerated in an attempt to urge them to surrender.

When asked about these illegal detentions, and the number of people detained, the governor deflected this question to police chief Dilbag Singh who accepted on record that children in Kashmir were being rounded up by security forces.

Malik also announced that 50,000 jobs will be available in the region in the next three months in what would be the largest recruitment drive in the state. Kashmir, will become “shaandaar” (spectacular), he said. 

But with no end in sight, the conflict in the valley is simmering and normalcy seems far fetched. Only time will tell how “spectacular” Kashmir will become.  

Source: TRTWorld and agencies