‘Hello, I’m Calling From Kashmir. Is There Anybody There?’

Abid Hussain chronicles his hometown’s descent into darkness, the communication blackout in Kashmir & betrayal.

Published14 Aug 2019, 04:28 PM IST
5 min read

Everything seemed normal when I flew home to Kashmir from Delhi on 31 July for a week-long break from work. Children were going to school, employees clocked in at their offices. Everyone was busy with their chores. But within a few days, everything in Kashmir changed. My stay had to be extended.

The undeclared but strictly enforced curfew descended like the concertina’s wire fence all over the state.

Students, employees, and others were locked in this ‘concertina cage’.

The descent into this spiral of panic started with the Central government’s decision to deploy thousands of troops in the Valley where lakhs of troops were already in action.

The term ‘the world’s most militarised zone’ went up exponentially. The weary people bought into the government’s justification that the forces were being added to strengthen the counter-insurgency grid. This was followed by an advisory on 2 August asking Amarnath Yatris and tourists to leave Kashmir “immediately”, citing security as the reason. That advisory was fuel to the already raging panic in the minds of Kashmiris as they had never been victim to a similar situation even in the turbulent 1990s.

Kashmir’s Descent Into Darkness & Feelings Of Betrayal

Till 4 August there was much chaos and confusion in the minds of people, with Kashmiris coming up with their own theories, in the absence of clarity from the government and authorities.

The following day the fog cleared. On 5 August, the BJP-led NDA government decided to revoke Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir unilaterally without any conversation; not even a whisper to the Kashmiri people.

The Centre’s unilateral move to scrap the state’s autonomy and divide it into two Union Territories was seen by Kashmiris as another “betrayal”.

Fearing protests, the government had already prepared in terms of deploying thousands of troops, the imposition of a stringent curfew, and a total communication blackout. To add insult to the searing betrayal, it was claimed that Kashmiris “supported” the move. “Kashmiris are caged. Curfew is imposed and the internet is suspended. Mobile phone and landline services are barred. And government claims Kashmir is normal and the residents have accepted the decision,” said Manzoor Ahmad, a journalism graduate. Like others, I witnessed several things for the first time in the past week in Kashmir.

Jammu & Kashmir Police Disarmed, As Central Security Forces Stand ‘Guard’

The police, who have played a crucial role in suppressing anti-India sentiment in the Kashmir Valley and the frontline in taking on the armed secessionists, also suffered, as many of them were disarmed. The security forces laid out hundreds of check-points (nakas) across Kashmir and each naka party comprises 10 ITBP or CRPF or SSB personnel and two-three policemen. Besides their uniform, the other thing which differentiates the two is the firearm and a baton.

I saw all central forces armed with weapons and in riot gear, while police personnel had neither firearms nor protective gear.

I saw Kashmiris ‘mocking’ the Jammu and Kashmir Police, saying the Centre no longer trusted them. Policemen didn’t have guns, barring those escorting top officials. I approached one of them, asking whether it was right to trap the police between the devil and the deep sea, and his only reply was "yes". I spoke to many locals who claimed that the police were disarmed as the government had expected them to rebel against the changes.

Kashmir’s Mainstream Politicians’ Descent Into ‘Irrelevance’

Kashmir’s mainstream politicians, who supported Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to the Union of India, are facing an existential crisis. They had been beating the drum of ‘special status’ the state had been enjoying under the Constitution. During elections, they would plead with Kashmiris to vote, subsequently won elections and formed governments, but failed to protect the unique constitutional status.

Dozens of politicians, including two former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, were placed under house arrest.

Many Kashmiris seemed to be happy with the treatment meted out to these politicians, claiming that they had been ‘shown their place’ and that they had lost relevance and credibility after the ‘llegal and unconstitutional’ abrogation of Article 370. “What will be their agenda in future elections? Will they promise retrieval of special status? Those who failed to save it, cannot retrieve it,” said a group of youngsters. “Why will we fight for the benefit of mainstream politicians?” argued the group.

Is There Anybody There?

While communication blackouts have taken place in Jammu and Kashmir before, this long a siege is happening for the first time. From mobile phones to landline services to internet to cable network (news channels), all mediums of communication were cut off, even as the state is slowly trying to get back on its feet, with some lines of communication now open.

Patients lying in hospitals were not able to contact their families. Students and Kashmiris residing outside had no contact with their relatives.

Some needed money, some wanted to hear their loved ones’ voices. Even news of a person’s death could not be immediately conveyed to family. Air tickets could not be purchased by many.

Though I was lucky to be in Kashmir at this tumultuous time, the communication outage stopped me from speaking to my close friend, who studies outside Kashmir. It was for the first time that I could not communicate with him for such a long period. Every day stretched like a year with growing anxiety.

Thousands of mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons were writhing in uncertainty, and many still are, as they are cut off from the world, from their loved ones. I rushed to the Deputy Commissioner's office to speak to my friend. As the DC was not there, I requested a top official to allow me to make a call. His reply was unexpected since people were yearning to listen to their loved ones. “I don’t know you. I don’t know who you will call,” he said.

When I offered to give him my identity card, he replied: “It’s my personal phone. I can’t do anything.”

I fail to understand what would have happened to his phone had he allowed me a call. When a Kashmiri is not ready to help another Kashmiri, how can we expect others to help us?

(Abid Hussain is a journalist from Kashmir. This is a reader’s blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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