By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal. Dated: 10/20/2019 1:27:32 PM
“Normalcy was declared. (Normalcy was always a declaration.)”
—Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Whatever now happens in Kashmir or is happening right now, it is officially normal. Who sets the standards of ‘normal’ and ‘normality’? The dictionary defines normalcy as the condition of being normal; the state of being usual, typical, or expected. By definition, normalcy is messy and inconsistent. The thumb rule for ‘usual’ and ‘expected’ is never the same for any two places or persons. But is there even a thumb rule to measure normalcy in Kashmir? It is a word given and it means what the rulers intend it to mean. Everything else is reality.
To know reality, one needs truth. Only fragments of that are available in the public domain. Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday said that there has been no violation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir since abrogation of Article 370. But last week union home ministry, in response to an RTI query, maintained that it does not have information on any orders passed to block telecommunications and Internet, suspend radio and satellite television services, evacuate tourists and detain political leaders and activists in the state. The Ministry said it has no information on the names and locations of the detainees, and directed any queries to the State administration. If the Centre was in the dark about the all too obvious curbs on communication and the well reported arrests (a contradiction that emerged in the very first week of the reading down of the state’s special status when union home minister claimed on the floor of the parliament that Farooq Abdullah was a free man but the latter emerged for a television interview, breaking the locks of the door of his house where he was kept under house arrest), it is possible that the defence minister has been similarly misinformed about the human rights scenario.
In the initial days of the lockdown in the Valley, since August 5, National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval who shared a road-side meal with some select Kashmiris and had bit of a conversation with another group in two different parts of the Valley had declared that everything is normal. Perhaps, he was just as mis-informed about the situation even as he spoke to the people in the backdrop of downed shutters. If Jammu and Kashmir was officially normal in the first week of the Article 370 scrapping, it is now being proclaimed that things are limping back to normalcy. After the post-paid mobile phones were restored in the Valley last week, the state government proclaimed that the state was 99 percent restriction free. Whether these contradictions are just a case of bureaucratic wranglings, incompetence or deliberate ploys, how does one place any faith on what the government is informing about Kashmir and its narrative of normalcy?
Is Kashmir normal because violence, restrictions on physical movement and communication, militarisation, arrests and torture are familiar ingredients of the landscape? Is it now more normal because landlines and post-paid mobiles have been restored, allowing some people the luxury of calling their dear ones, communicating in times of emergencies or calling for a doctor when in need? Then, what of the two months that they didn’t enjoy this privilege? Is it normal because people holed up in their homes have begun to come out on the streets while an almost total civil disobedience movement paralyses the markets, offices and educational institutes? Is it normal because the apple trade is in doldrums and apple traders, truckers and labourers from outside the state under the direct threat of militants? Is it normal because tourism opened before the post-paid mobiles were restored? Or, is it normal because internet can be barred on the pretext of militants using it? Is it normal because the Block Development Council elections are mid-way even as the entire mainstream political leadership is incarcerated, many slapped with PSA? Normalcy appears to be a state of mind, the power to decide its form and structure resting solely on the government which can give its formal seal, approval and endorsement like some kind of an ISI standardization certificate.
Kashmir is normal and there is no human rights abuse. This is an official declaration from the government which says on record that it has no knowledge of communication blockade or arrests. It may not know that the shops are shut, that medical health-care is in jeopardy and that education is in shambles. It may not know, as reported by sections of media and independent fact-finding teams, that boys as young as nine and six year old have been picked up and detained for a day or two, young men have been brutally beaten and physically abused in their detentions, unknown number of people have been slapped with PSA, many pushed into far off jails of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Coimbatore. It is not aware that an entire generation of the young has been injected with fear and complete disdain for anything Indian in this obsessive integration project. But it is absolutely confident that Kashmir is either fully normal or nearing normalcy.
It is normal enough now to talk about reviving political process. BDC elections are already underway and the government is talking about political empowerment and political outreach. But amidst all these promising sounding claims, last week a posse of security forces cracked down on 14 women, most of them in their 70s and 80s, as they chose to publicly demonstrate silently and peacefully with placards to express their opposition to abrogation of Article 370, the existing atmosphere of oppression and restrictions. They were deemed to be threat to peace, law and order. In this official normalcy, while political process is being revived, no political voices or narrative that is not officially licensed and permitted by New Delhi is allowed. Anything else is a threat to peace.
If this indeed is normalcy, why is it so fragile that government feels it can be threatened by 14 women, mostly senior citizens and known public faces who have served in the field of education, medicine and have been involved in several civil society initiatives, standing in the heart of the city with placards? Is this normalcy so vulnerable that the government in a densely militarized region requires scores of security personnel to bundle them in police vehicles and push them into the dungeons of Central Jail?
When might becomes right, rulers have the authority to remain ignorant about reality and give it any word. It becomes the law or, atleast, the unquestioned gospel. To call something otherwise just makes you a disrupter of peace, even an Enemy of the Nation.