Voices from ground zero in Jammu & Kashmir

(Asian Independent)

-Dr. Rahul Kumar, senior Correspondent, the Asian Independent, UK- 

A webinar organized by the Centre for Peace and Economic prosperity in South Asia on the topic; ‘Jammu & Kashmir after August 5, 2019 – Voices from Ground Zero,’ on October 31st via zoom meeting.  

Ms. Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor , Kashmir Times   and Mr. Firdos Baba, a well-known social activist based in Srinagar were the distinguished  speakers.  It would be a misnomer to say that the situation in Jammu & Kashmir has improved since August 5, 2019. It would be an understatement to say it is bad, the right description of the situation at ground zero is not that was promised by the central government, development model as promised not benefiting the local people, more than 13 civilians have been killed, people belonging to the minority sections of the society are being penalised and killed said,  Ms. Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor, Kashmir Times based in Jammu.

‘The alienation among the people is at the breaking point, the human rights issue remains a major concern, the civil rights has lost its relevance in the current situation, the gulf between the people of Kashmir and administration has widened, outsiders are promoted inside the valley, ‘ said Mr. Firdos Baba.

Answering the question about economic investment to be made in Jammu and Kashmir, Ms. Anuradha Bhasin was of the opinion that the  national as well international investment would sustain only when the local people of J&K are taken into confidence and their social, religious and political aspirations are met. There is a climate of fear and in that environment who would like to invest. Let me inform you that mining contracts are awarded to outsiders which is causing ecological fallout in the valley. In the real sense, the New Delhi establishment is dispossessing the people of their fundamental rights. Unemployment is the highest in Jammu and Kashmir. Integrating with the UT would not serve the purpose but integrating the people only can bring sustainable peace and normalcy to the region. Ms. Bhasin also said that massive forest land is being doled out to pro- government people at a throwaway price. Recently, 500 acres of land has been donated by the local government to build a Tirupati Temple in the valley. Earlier, New Delhi was practicing carrot and stick policy in the region but now it is a stick policy.

This point was further elaborated by Mr. Firdos Baba who said; ‘the glaciers here are melting fast, the region has lost 23% of the area in the last six decades. The glaciers in the Pir Panjal range are melting at more than one meter per year and the situation is no better for the Kolahoi glacier as well, the main source of water for the river Jhelum is depleting fast.

‘Kashmir valley’ may face water shortage in the coming years due to the melting of the glaciers at such a rapid pace,’ Baba also said that ‘this will have a huge impact on agricultural productivity.’

Both the speakers from ground zero were unanimous that a big silence is prevailing in J&K under  the shadow of the gun. Peace seems   choreographed in the valley. The leaders of mainstream political parties are cornered and they are not allowed to converse with the local people. Both speakers were of the opinion that the alienation would further derail the peace process. Democracy in the region is in shambles.

While responding to a question on diplomats’ subsequent visits from New Delhi to the valley raised by Dr Rahul Kumar, secretary of the centre, Ms. Bhasin responded that various diplomats were cherry picked who were not allowed to meet the representatives of the local people, activists, journalists. These diplomats made a tour of Dal Lake. The press statements were made by them as was desired by the central government. These subsequent visits to the valley by diplomats were conducted in a hush hush manner to elevate the image of the government in the eyes of the international community. Let me recall, a diplomat from the US High Commission expressed his interest to visit the valley independently to observe the current situation prevailing in the valley but allowed only to visit Jammu not Srinagar. New Delhi has closed diplomatic engagements with Pakistan and now with Afghanistan, such behaviour on behalf of New Delhi establishment is not going to achieve peace, normalcy and development in the region, said Ms. Bhasin

Ms. Anuradha Bhasin was of the view that a narrative of peace and normalcy is being created by the dominant media but the truth is that discontentment has been increased manifold; alienation has been multiplied; anger has been elevated. Such a volatile situation is going to backfire sooner or later. If this happens, it is going to explode not only in the region but also in the whole South Asia region. In their concluding remarks, both distinguished and highly experienced hold strong opinions that the situation in Jammu & Kashmir(J&K) has deteriorated further after the abrogation of Article 370.  The adverse impact is seen in Ladakh regions where China is showing eyes to India.

The Centre for Peace and Economic prosperity in South Asia is a non-political non-profit organization and is an independent platform for academic stimulation. The center is run online by its honorary President Dr. Syed Ali Mujtaba based in Chennai and Secretary Dr. Rahul Kumar based in New Delhi.   The center does not endorse nor oppose the views of the speakers. The views expressed by the speakers from time to time are their personal views and do not subscribe to the policy of the center. Dr. Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@gmail.com