A month after the unprecedented clampdown and communication blockade in Kashmir since the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the celebratory claims of the government that all is well have been punctured by several reports of unrest, voices of angry people and torture. The claims of the government that “not a single bullet has been fired, no person has been killed” have already been punctured by several news reports pointing to the killing of a pellet victim in the very first week of the lockdown and three persons dying due to suffocation from tear gas shells that were thrown inside the homes. Since last week, more elaborate reports of torture and detentions on a huge scale have managed to find their way in the national and international media. While the government’s chief spokesperson Rohit Kansal has admitted that about 4500 people have been detained under the draconian public safety act which allows the government to keep anyone in the lock-up without any charge for up to two years. The number includes the entire political leadership of the state, lawyers, traders and activists. The exact number of those being detained is not known but in one of his press briefings, Kansal spoke of this being a dynamic process of arresting and releasing people on a regular basis.
He did not divulge any concrete statistics. But the news reports of torture shed some light on an important detail he conveniently chose to miss out. The government has simply responded to some of these reports with abject denials or called them “exaggerations”. That does not wish away the allegations which may not necessarily be just few aberrations. It is difficult to make any safe conclusions about the exact truth of such allegations of torture but they mock at the confidence of the government that no bloodshed has happened. Bloodshed and killings are not the only indications of torture. Constant harassment, crackdowns, random arrests, beating people, arresting minors and the very act of restricting the basic civil liberties of an entire population also amounts to mass torture. Such oppressive methods can at best help the government to achieve some temporary calm, which neither translates into happiness of the public over the decision to scrap the special status of the state, as is being claimed, nor does it ensure that the calm would last for long. An important question to grapple with is “what will happen once that fatigue of a suppressed population is over”.
Such incidents do not enhance the image of a democratic country. Nor are they in sync with the laws of the country. It is morally and democratically wrong to create a picture of calm by subjecting ordinary citizens to harassment and torture. Besides, such moves are counter-productive, especially in a region which has a history of alienation and unrest. The government needs to come out of the delusional mode and stop putting a lid on the ground realities of Kashmir and deal with them in a more mature and calm manner. There is dire need for the Centre to reach out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and help them resume their normal lives first of all. Pure military methods and security strategies will not help to fulfill that end. For the Centre, the grim test is how it is going to bring about normalcy in Kashmir.