Kashmir is like an open jail, say activists who travelled across Valley

People feel a sense of betrayal, say the four activists

Kavita Krishnan, a social activist, speaks during a news conference to release a report after returning from Kashmir | Reuters Kavita Krishnan, a social activist, speaks during a news conference to release a report after returning from Kashmir | Reuters

A group of activists, who had travelled to Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, said on Wednesday that the Valley was feeling a sense of betrayal, and people were angry at being denied the special status. The misery of residents was further aggravated as there was no communication, and the people were made to live like in an open jail, the activists claimed.

The four activists—Jean Dreze, an economist, Kavita Krishnan of the CPI(ML), Maimoona Mollah of All India Democratic Women’s Association, and Vimal Bhai of National Alliance of People's Movements—addressed a press conference in New Delhi to highlight the plight of Kashmiris. The activists demanded that the Article 370 and 35A be restored, and any action to change the status be done with the will of the people.

“There is immense anger. We met women who said they did not need politicians like M.L. Khattar who had said people can now marry Kashmiri girls," Kavita Krishnan said.

Vimal Bhai said the Valley is like an open jail. “It is the first time that even landlines have been shut. We met many people and no one ever spoke against Amarnath Yatra or pandits. There is a harmony between the sects. People said pandits are safe here. It was only (former governor) Jagmohan who asked them to leave.”

“They felt anguished that their Kashmiriyat has been hurt. The Kashmiriyat which includes Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus has been attacked,” Vimal said.

He also narrated tales of harassment at the hands of security forces as told by the locals.

Vimal claimed that people were not allowed to read names in mosques. As they had their namaz around their houses and in streets, the Governor claimed that people had done their namaz everywhere, claiming normalcy, he said. 

The activists also hit out at the media, saying that they were not bringing out the full details at the ground and instead were reporting that the situation was normal.

Mollah said the removal of 370 was like adding insult to the injury.

“With the mangal sutra of 370 being taken away, now what is the relation (of us) with India,” the activists quoted a local whom they met in the Valley as asking. They also quoted the locals as saying that the Congress had stabbed them in the back, and now the BJP stabbed them in the front.

“There is no communal polarization. The government should restore Article 370 and 35 A. There are paramilitary forces everywhere. There is no communication,” Dreze said. 

The activists claimed that there was a gag even on the local press, and they were not been able to publish as they faced difficulty in getting newsprint.

Krishnan said a myth was being perpetuated against Kashmir that the Article 370 had hindered development. “Nothing can be farther from truth. We found Kashmiri children, who go to schools and colleges, fluent in Kashmiri, Hindi and English. They were able to argue about the constitutional points with factual accuracy. The homes in rural Kashmir were pucca. We saw no shacks like the ones common in rural Bihar, UP and Jharkhand,” she said.

The activists said though it was not easy to move around in the Valley, they had to convince their drivers to take them around. 

They also claimed that there were restrictions in showing a film that they shot in Kashmir, at the press conference which was held at the Press Club.

"They (Press Club) said they are also under surveillance," the activists said. Krishnan later took to Twitter and posted the video.