It is the afternoon of 15 August 2019. We sit numb in our rented
apartment in Delhi. While mainstream Indian media busies itself
digging the wounds of Kashmir, barely any news has been allowed to
escape the mountains since 5 August 2019.
We haven’t been home in a long time. “What is the cost of making it
home?” a friend asks. Nobody really has an answer. Whatever the cost,
we decide to go home – to see what is really happening.
The next day, we take the morning flight to Srinagar. Over six days,
we travel about 280 miles across Kashmir, covering five districts. Our
journey – in parts made on foot, sometimes hitching a ride in
ambulances, but mostly in private cars of friends, acquaintances and
complete strangers – is a personal one, in search of truth and
On 5 August 2019, the home minister of India, Amit Shah, rose from his
seat in Parliament to make “important announcements” regarding
Kashmir. Everyone paid attention. The events that preceded his speech
were telling: people in Kashmir were asked to buy essentials in bulk,
colleges and universities were ordered to shut down.
Non-Kashmiri students, labourers, tourists and Amarnath Yatra pilgrims
were asked to leave Kashmir immediately; buses and flights had already
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been preparing for this moment
for a long time. It is less a political milestone and more a
fulfilling of an ideological commitment, for the party, which won an
absolute majority in the 2019 elections and has since shown little
regard for democratic process.
The restoration of “Hindu pride” is at the heart of the Hindu
nationalist project in Kashmir. According to Hindutva ideology, taking
control of Muslim lands – just as the ‘Muslim invaders’ once did when
they ruled over the Hindus – is part of a broader civilisational
The abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, that gave
Kashmir its special status, was, therefore, one of the key nationalist
issues – together with the construction of the Ram Mandir at the site
of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya – for which the BJP and its ideological
head the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have fought.
In a historic speech delivered in 1952, founder of the Bharatiya Jana
Sangh – which later became the BJP – Shyama Prasad Mukherjee declared:
“Ek desh mein do vidhan, do pradhan aur do nishan nahi chalenge” (One
country can’t have two constitutions, two prime ministers and two
flags). Ek nishan, ek vidhan, ek pradhan – one flag, one constitution
and one prime minister – has since been the driving slogan of the
Sangh Parivar in relation to Kashmir. With the abrogation of Article
370, some commented that Mukherjee’s dream had finally been realised.
On 4 August 2019, a day before Shah’s announcement, after the last
non-Kashmiri civilian was vacated from the region, the government of
India pulled the plug from Jammu & Kashmir (J & K).
Landlines were blocked, internet connectivity snapped, mobile networks
jammed, cable television shut down, and newspapers taken out of
circulation. The FM radio played songs from Delhi on loop.
Additional companies of the Indian paramilitary were deployed to
ensure everything happened as per plan and force was used in any
instance of resistance. Kashmir was effectively under siege, but the
government had already employed its go-to line – that Pakistan was
planning a terrorist attack on the yatra.
Since the threat purportedly came from Pakistan, everybody in India
was forced to fall in line – the media, academia, and civil society.
People in Kashmir sensed what was coming. The talk of the possible
abrogation of Article 370 was already on the streets. But when Mr Shah
announced the proposal for the amendments to Article 370, very few in
Kashmir knew what was happening in New Delhi.
Not only were they subjected to a complete communications blackout,
they were simultaneously barred from moving out of their houses.
Minutes before landing in Srinagar, the summer capital of
Indian-administered J & K, the airplane attendants urge us to lower
the window shades. “Because of the current situation in Srinagar the
government has ordered to lower the window shades till we land,” an
attendant tells us upon enquiry.
We arrive at Srinagar International Airport on the first flight of the
day. Photography is not allowed here because it is a defence airport.
The Indian army and the Air Force are stationed inside. Outside, no
buses are available. We are lucky; a friend who was on the same flight
is expecting her brother.
In a few minutes she spots him and we are offered a lift to Humhama.
We are supposed to deliver some medicine to a friend’s asthmatic
father in a village nearby. However, we are not allowed to move in
that direction, so we begin walking towards Srinagar.
Indian paramilitary personnel are the only other people on the road.
We walk some distance until an auto rickshaw pulls over. “I went to
the airport to call my daughter. She studies medicine in Bangladesh. I
haven’t been able to talk to her since the 4 August,” he tells us.
He has been going to the airport for days in the hope of finding a
telephone. “People in the city said phones are working only at the
airport. Do you have any idea?” he asks us. We do not.
He drops us at an intersection leading to Varmul in the north of
Kashmir and Islamabad (Anantnag) in the south. It is a Friday;
restrictions are more stringent and entry into Srinagar city is
Going in would require walking past countless security checks, being
subject to frisking and random questioning, and could even lead to
detention, we are told. Instead of risking that, we decide to go in
whichever direction that we find a cab to take us.
We find a cab that takes us south and we reach Islamabad by lunchtime
after crossing a number of military check posts erected along the
highway, and past dozens of convoy trucks moving into the city. Shops
in Islamabad are all closed. So are the banks.
The entire area is acutely militarised. There are close to a dozen
paramilitary personnel at the entry points of every street. With them
are also about two or three J & K police personnel. None of the
policemen are carrying a gun. They have only been given batons.
The government in Delhi was anticipating a rebellion within the ranks
of the J & K police force. When Amit Shah walked into Parliament on 5
August, he was spotted carrying a folder.
A visible sheet of paper from the folder carried some points of order.
Point number 15 read: “Possibility of violent disobedience in sections
of uniformed personnel”.
Concertina wire had effectively remapped the entire town of Islamabad.
We are allowed entry at one point, but not allowed to exit from the
The situation in Srinagar, according to reports, is worse. Regarding
the extent of blockade and surveillance there, the Associated Press
“Amid the labyrinth whose entry and exit points are changed
frequently, people find themselves disoriented in their own city, and
struggle to memorise its frequently changing street map”.
We produce our air tickets every time we are stopped by the
paramilitary troops. At Khanabal Chowk, Islamabad, a moustached member
of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) hurls abuse at us as we
walk past a barricade. There is aggression in his eyes. We pass
We then walk around three miles to reach, unannounced, at a friend’s
doorstep. His parents look puzzled. Since it’s a Friday, the
paramilitary forces are expecting protests. People are not allowed to
pray in mosques where congregations can become large enough to
challenge the forces.
Hours after Friday prayers, restrictions are eased. We leave the house
and try speaking to the people.
A few pharmacies adjacent to the hospital have their shutters
half-open. A chemist from one of these shops says he has run out of
“People have been frequenting my pharmacy more these days. They
complain of depression and sleeplessness” he says. “We have been
lucky,” remarks an elderly man in his 70s from the neighbouring shop.
“Our victory in this has been [that] we didn’t let them kill anyone of
us”. The fight against India, he says, is now going to be a long one
“and we need people to live for that.”
Almost all political leaders in Islamabad have been arrested. Those
who belong to pro-India political parties are placed in the local,
government-run guesthouses called Dak Bungalows. Many others,
including former members of the legislative assembly, have been
shifted to Srinagar. We are told that their families have been denied
The resistance leadership and civil-society activists have either been
sent to jails outside Kashmir or to district jails across Kashmir.
The young men who are routinely rounded up on charges of
stone-throwing are mostly kept in cramped rooms in local jails and
sub-jails. Their numbers are not known.
The government has said they don’t have a centralised data system to
know the exact number of arrests and detentions. According to a recent
AP report, numbers could be as high as 4000 or more.
“If you are popular in your friends’ circle, you are being picked up,”
a radio jockey tells us while talking about the mass arrests.
“The police don’t want anyone with a modicum of consciousness left
free,” says a political activist who is on the run. He has been
evading arrest by continuously changing his location.
“I don’t go home. I have been spending nights at different places;
sometimes I crash at friends’ houses and on other occasions I surprise
my relatives,” he says.
It is close to ten in the night. We walk miles through the meandering
lanes of Bakshiabad to meet a prominent local journalist, to gain a
better sense of the impact of the communications blackout.
“I have not been able to file a single story since 4 August. It isn’t
possible to go out and report,” he says.
The district administration has also largely denied local journalists
a movement pass. “Since the phone lines are down I can’t reach my
I’m not sure if my organisation has been printing anything these
days,” he says. It was only two days later, when we reached Srinagar,
that we found out Greater Kashmir – the newspaper he worked for – was
printing only two pages, and mostly carrying government press releases
Half of the last page was dedicated to informing people about the
cancellation of wedding ceremonies.
It has been raining incessantly since midnight. We convince a friend
that the highway is clear for military convoys, and that private cars
are also allowed. He agrees to drop us at Vejbeour, the hometown of
former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Two military trucks are stationed at the entry point. Some locals sit
tentatively outside a closed shop and observe us passing through. We
reach a small colony in the heart of Vejbeour in search of a
journalist who works for the local English daily, Rising Kashmir, and
a professor. We find the professor.
There is a wedding scheduled in two weeks, but the arrangements have
been cut short. The professor’s younger brother is getting married.
“There will be no wazwan,” he tells us with obvious disappointment.
“We just want to take care of the formalities.”
August-September is the wedding season in Kashmir and hundreds of
wedding ceremonies have had to be cancelled.
“The scrapping of Article 370 wasn’t a surprise for Kashmir. It did
not happen abruptly. The state administration can claim it was
following orders, but that is an abasing defence even by its own
They issued orders that created war-like hysteria in the entire
region,” the professor explains.
On the evening of 17 August, we reach Mahind – a small village some
five miles south of Vejbeour. Every evening, the menfolk of this
village gather at a place they call “assembly”, near the local
Such assemblies are a common feature across Kashmir in times like
these. People sit in shop fronts and discuss the political
developments of the day. References are generally made to news
broadcasts from the BBC, Al Jazeera, and Voice of America.
As we get out of the car, a group of men are facing the graveyard
making dua with raised hands. There are six marked graves in front of
them, separated from the rest of the graveyard. A collective epitaph
details the gory story of a massacre.
On 19 January 1994, six members of a family in the immediate
neighborhood were burnt alive by the Indian military for allegedly
hosting a dinner for militants the day before.
Three among the massacred were children. The International People’s
Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir (ITPK) and the
Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)
in their 2015 report, titled ‘Structures of Violence – The Indian
State in Jammu and Kashmir’, listed this incident amongst 49 cases of
mass violence perpetrated by the Indian armed forces between 1989 and
“You have come from the 21st century,” a banker says casually to us.
Slowly, a small group gathers around us, eager to find out what is
happening in the outside world. The Indian state has cut off all news
People are completely unaware of what is happening around them. They
have no news from adjacent villages, let alone from around the world.
In the wee hours of the next morning we leave for Srinagar. We stop at
the residence of a prominent human-rights defender, Khurram Parvez. He
is also largely unaware of the situation in and around the city and is
forced to depend on conjecture.
“I don’t have any news of my colleagues,” he says. “People have been
summarily detained and I am not sure who is out and who is not.”
Khurram was previously booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA); the
order was later quashed after an outcry from international
We walk through an eerie, graveyard-like, silent city centre to reach
Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital. The hospital has a
surprisingly low number of patients.
The paediatric ward is absolutely empty. Ward number 8, where pellet
victims are treated, has only four patients with pellet injuries.
“We came here only this morning, they will discharge us by evening,”
one of the patients tells us. “They are not keeping pellet-hit people
here for too long,” an attendant says.
The government has prevented reporters from gaining real-time access
to data and information. “Each day, five to ten patients are brought
here,” a paramedic tells us, wishing not to be identified. “Keeping
them here for a night or longer attracts attention. The government
does not want that,” he explains.
On our way back to the city centre, we run into a researcher who works
for the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS). He
doesn’t have access to information either. “Nobody here is ready to
talk. We are living under an emergency where anyone can be arrested
without charges,” he says, as we keep walking towards Kashmir Press
The derogation of Articles 370 and 35A has only cemented the fears
Kashmiris have always grappled with. This fear and anxiety has tricked
down even to the children. “
Soun parun gou zaaye” (Our studies are of no use now), says a
ten-year-old, walking outside the hospital gates with her parents,
when she hears our conversation about 370 and 35A.
Her fears are not completely unfounded. The abrogation of Article 35A
means that non-locals can buy and own property in J & K.
This, many argue, is an attempt by the Indian state to change the
demographic composition of the place by enabling an overwhelming
influx of non-Muslims.
We hear people drawing parallels between Israel and India employing
similar tactics of repression, state violence and demographic change.
“Yath gaschi waen tei, Hindustan banayi waen Israelek paenth yati
colony. (This is moving in the same direction. Like Israel does in
Palestine, India is now going to have settler colonies here in
Kashmir),” a trade union member remarks.
There have also been reports of Israeli army contractors possibly
being involved in setting up a large surveillance network in Srinagar.
As we continue, we encounter a few civilians walking across the road.
They are moving with a strange haste. “Where are you heading?” the
researcher asks one of them.
“Gobra, majbori chem. Nat kyati nerha ghari.” (Son, I have to attend
an emergency. Why else would one leave home these days?) the old man
says and keeps walking.
At the Press Club, journalists have just started coming in. We meet
several reporters there who tell us about the difficulties of
reporting in the present situation. “Downtown is out of bounds for
us,” says a reporter who works for a New Delhi-based online portal.
“How is the press in India reporting on Kashmir?” another one asks us.
“Since the clampdown, I feel I am the most uninformed person around.”
We come across three local newspapers printed today. They are only
carrying government press releases. We turn the pages and find the
editorial of the day to be on science and the natural environment.
Kashmir is familiar with a particular kind of ‘parachute journalism’,
where selected reporters are flown in to report a story the way the
government wants it to be reported.
Unjustified curbs on the media are also not new, and are put in place
whenever the Indian state wants to prevent the truth from coming out.
This time, however, the preparations have been more meticulous.
Months before, the editors of two leading English dailies – Greater
Kashmir and the Kashmir Reader – were questioned by the National
Investigation Agency (NIA) about stories and opinion pieces their
newspapers published in 2016.
They were also accused of being part of a terror-funding network. In
addition, a blanket ban on government advertisements in the newspapers
was enforced in a bid to hurt the newspapers financially. All this was
done to force the two media organisations – and, by extension, others
– into silence.
As the day progresses, we move towards Batmaleun – arguably Kashmir’s
busiest location. There we hope to find someone to give us a lift.
There are no hawkers, no vegetable sellers, not even the sound of bus
conductors. We are lucky to find a cab.
“We were at the hospital with a patient from Varmul and now we are
going back. You are not going to find any other cab here,” the man
sitting in the front seat tells us, while offering us a lift.
We reach Varmul at two in the afternoon. We look for all the places we
know, to find something to eat, but the market is shut. Even
pharmacies are closed. We walk across the cement bridge over Jhelum to
reach the Old Town.
We find that no one is allowed to move in or out of this congested
locality. This siege, however, isn’t unprecedented for the people of
Old Town. For decades, this has been the centre of resistance in all
of Varmul town.
We wait on the Varmul-Handwour Highway for anything that can take us
to Peraspore, a small village in Rafiabad. Around an hour later, an
ambulance stops after people wave at the driver.
Close to fifteen people hop on, including the three of us. Most of
these people are patients, returning from clinics and hospitals after
failed attempts at seeing their doctors.
As we get out of the ambulance at Peraspore, a young man shouts at us:
“Hey you are home, everyone is so worried here”. We assume he is
pulling a prank on one of us, Basharat.
We continue to walk on the road leading to the village, without
acknowledging him. But every person we pass greets us with an
unnecessary delight. There is something we don’t know.
The day we left Delhi, Basharat’s maternal uncle had called him on
this cell phone. Not being able to get through, he had called
Basharat’s sister who had informed him that Basharat would be home by
evening. When we hadn’t reached even after three days, the entire
village had assumed the worst.
In Kashmir’s complex political spectrum, Peraspore is a paradox. It
has always been pro-India and voter turnout during assembly elections
has been as high as 90 percent. Now, there appears to be a clear
“In our village, Pakistan is now a compulsory subject, just like
English language in schools,” a young person remarks. This change of
political mood is telling. From the youngsters on a volleyball field
in the village we hear about atrocities being committed by an Indian
army officer stationed at the Watergam army camp.
The fight for freedom is a fight for space. In Kashmir, the control of
streets is an indicator of freedom. If people control streets, by way
of simple movement or protests, they are free.
The Indian state has always tried to position its troops at locations
which make the nearby streets easily accessible to them, more
accessible than the streets are for fire response, emergency and
In times like these, the Indian army, and other arms of the security
grid, demonstrate their control over the streets through the
perpetration of absolute violence on the locals.
Most of the youngsters we talk with at the volleyball field in
Peraspore have remained confined to their village for fear of
encountering security officers.
We decide to visit the adjacent village of Chijhoum to find out more.
We meet close to a dozen people who tell us that an Indian army
officer had got into a fight with a local police officer for allowing
a biker to pass through the roadblock.
“He also beat up one of the escorts of the local SHO [station house
officer],” says a shopkeeper sitting outside his shop. “The escalation
was eventually prevented after the army officer was transferred to
some other place,” a district administration officer informs us.
There have been credible reports in the international media of fights
between the J & K police and Indian soldiers after some of the local
police forces were disarmed. Over the years, the J & K Police has been
used as a counterinsurgency force, leading encounters with militants
and responding to the civilian protests in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016
that resulted in hundreds of killings and injuries, and thousands of
detentions. The latest move by the Indian state has left them feeling
‘dispirited’ and unwanted. “At the end of the day, we neither belong
to our own nor are we trusted by higher authorities,” an officer was
quoted as saying to AP.
The next morning we ask a friend to drop us at Varmul town where we
meet a senior journalist. “I haven’t been able to report anything
since the clampdown and I am feeling suffocated,” he says with a hint
In today’s Kashmir, the distinction between pro-resistance and
pro-India politics has ceased to exist and “Everyone is banking on
We depart from the journalist’s residence, hoping to make it to Old
Town this time. We find the restrictions still in place.
A paramilitary trooper shouts from a distance, “Go Back”. We don’t
have the liberty to refuse his orders. Ironically, the graffiti on the
brick-wall behind the trooper reads, “Go India, Go Back”.
We hesitantly walk back and rest under the shade of a Chinar tree near
the Varmul maternity hospital. Next to us is a man, perhaps in his
mid-50s. He identifies himself as a schoolteacher.
“How have you been spending your days?” we ask casually.
“I am watching the disgrace of pro-India political parties. They sold
lies to Kashmir for their petty gains. Today they stand exposed,” he
says. Like him, many other people we meet also point out that the
current lockdown has shown the pro-India politicians of Kashmir how
expendable they are for the Indian state.
History is witness to the way the Indian state has created cliental
regimes in Kashmir, who are in power at the will of the government in
New Delhi, carry out its writ in J & K and are then done away with
when the Indian state feels the need to cultivate a new group of
In 1953, Sheikh Abdullah, the then prime minister of J & K was
dismissed by India and jailed for 11 years. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was
installed in his place. To the common Kashmiri, this was a blatant
betrayal of trust. Over six decades later, Omar Abdullah has now
spoken of a “betrayal of trust” and Mehbooba Mufti pointed out how
India has been “reduced to an occupational force in Jammu and
Kashmir”. “They want power,” a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) youth
member argues with clear disappointment. “They will forget this
humiliation after a while and start framing their politics within the
argument of statehood now”. Through the decades, these Kashmiri
politicians talked about autonomy and self-rule, and reiterated calls
for the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). With
this rhetoric no longer tenable, they are now left with the demand for
statehood, to build their politics on.
Our next destination is Sopur – the hometown of Hurriyat Conference
leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. This town is known for its staunch
support for the militancy.
From south to north, every town looks similar. Closed markets and
empty streets manned by paramilitary forces. There is nobody to talk
to on the roads. After walking a distance, we spot a vegetable seller
visible on the outskirts of Sopore town.
“Are you coming from India?” he asks, probably noticing our backpacks.
We nod in affirmation.
More questions follow. “Has any country issued a statement on
Kashmir?” he asks and then continues without waiting for our response,
“Only Pakistan would talk about us”. Another person sitting nearby
interjects, “Pakistan can’t do anything. It has its own problems’. The
vegetable seller raises his voice: “It is only because of Pakistan’s
presence and their intervention that Kashmir exists. Had it not been
for her, India would massacre all the Muslims in Kashmir”.
The conversation continues for half-an-hour until a car stops and its
driver offers us a lift. Our next destination is Hardushiva – a
village nestled in the foothills of the Himalaya. Dense forests border
the village to the north and the east, and apple orchards to the west.
On the way to Hardushiva , we have to change our route at three places
because of roadblocks erected by young boys. “We can’t help it. They
[the police and CRPF] come in the night and raid our houses. They have
already picked dozens of youth from this locality,” one of the boys
tells us, as we ask him to let us pass.
We get ourselves dropped-off a few miles away from Hardushiva and
walk. As we enter the house in which we intend to stay, everyone in
the family is surprised. It is difficult to decipher if they are happy
to see us here or not.
“Did they send all Kashmiris back from India?” the family enquires and
the conversation goes on.
After having a cup of nun chai, we set out for Batung – a small
village three miles away from the house we were staying in – to meet
professor Abdul Gani Bhat, executive member of Hurriyat (M), a
resistance group led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
Prof Bhat is the only resistance leader not detained – at least thus
far. He appears circumspect in talking about the current situation. He
instead focuses on the centrality of Kashmir in the larger regional
geopolitics and reiterates the need for dialogue between India and
Pakistan, which involves the aspirations of Kashmiris.
He also cites the importance of the UN Security Council closed-door
meeting on Kashmir that happened on 16 August 2019, after a gap of
around fifty years.
For Bhat, the current clampdown cannot obscure the ‘reality of Kashmir’.
“Information will pile up, people outside will ask questions and
finally it has to come out,” he says.
“India has lost its direction in Kashmir. They have lost the links.
National Conference (NC), PDP and other such parties were their links
in Kashmir. They have lost them as well”.
We ask him about 370 and 35A and he brushes it off as a non-issue. “We
should directly go to the fundamentals of the issue rather than the
offshoots: there are thousands of hectares of land under army control
across Kashmir– they have built huge cantonments. Then there is the
railways and the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation. They have
already taken swathes of Kashmiri land and resources despite 370 and
35A. Indians are guided by emotions and arrogance, taking the position
that Kashmir is an integral part of India – this is not a realistic
The reaction on Kashmiri streets, the professor argues, should bother
India more. “This is anger with grace,” he says. “They were prepared
to kill, but Kashmir responded maturely”.
At nine the next morning, we pack our bags and leave for Bundpur.
Shutters are down. Here- and-there small gatherings of people on the
roads, huddle together – probably discussing the situation they have
no idea about. Much of this public discourse is founded on rumours.
On our way to Bandpur, we meet an officer of the J & K Police. He is
travelling to Srinagar, the location of his posting. He is dismissive
about the obvious suppression and clampdown Kashmir is witnessing. He
also doesn’t admit that the local police have been disarmed.
“It is a normal protocol. In a law and order situation that involves
dealing with public protests, policemen don’t carry guns,” he says. He
is nevertheless worried about some developments in the department.
“Except for three people, all the superintendents of police [SPs] at
the district level are non-Kashmiris. India is making efforts to
ensure that no Kashmiri Muslim is at a decision-making position in the
J & K Police”.
We ask him about the Article 370 and 35A. “The police had an idea
since April this year. All the troop deployment in the recent months
was actually in preparation of a war with Pakistan.”
At Kehnus Bandpur, a stone thrown from a distance by a group of youth
hits our car. They do not want any traffic in the area and have
enforced a kind of spontaneous curfew.
We finally reach our friend’s house at Bandpur. He is a fellow
researcher. His viva dates at the university were announced when we
were in Delhi, but he was unaware of this. We ask him to return with
us to Delhi for his viva.
In Bandpur, we interact with many people, listening to stories of
excessive militarisation, detention and restriction.
“Why aren’t there any large-scale protests?” we ask a young man who is
usually at the forefront of pro-resistance demonstrations
“They have arrested thousands of young boys. The Hurriyat is already
behind bars. They are controlling our Friday prayers. Imams are being
called to the camps regularly. Last week a school teacher was picked
up for casually explaining to a group of villagers what Article 370
was,” he says.
It is three in the afternoon. We head towards Srinagar. On our way,
strangers approach us with Dish TV numbers written on small pieces of
paper; they want their accounts recharged from Delhi.
We reach the press club in Lal Chowk in pursuit of some new
information. We meet journalists and listen to their struggles of
reporting, reaching places amid heavy restrictions and filing stories
from the Sarovar Portico media facilitation centre – a hotel room
where authorities have started an internet facility on four computers
for more than 300 journalists to file their stories.
Late in the evening we drop by a friend’s house in Srinagar,
unannounced, and spend the night there.
The next morning our friend joins us and we divide ourselves into two
teams, so that we can reach as many places as possible before boarding
the flight back to Delhi in the evening. The other day, at the press
club, we heard that Saif-u-Din Soz, a senior Congress leader in
Kashmir, had not been detained, so we decide to try and meet him.
We reach his residence only to find that he has been placed under
house arrest. Despite requests, the police officers watching over his
residence do not allow us to meet him.
We leave and to go to the J & K High Court. There are few people
inside the court premises and only two courtrooms are in session. We
spot Shabnam Gani Lone in the lounge area. She is there to file a
petition on behalf of her mother, who has not been allowed to meet
Sajad Lone, Chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Peoples Conference.
“I am under tremendous pressure to not file this petition, but I will
go ahead,” she tells us and desists from engaging in further
We meet the son of former Kashmir High Court Bar Association president
Nazir Ahmad Ronga, who has been detained under the PSA. He shows us a
dossier. Among the grounds for his father’s detention: raising
awareness and “being vocal about 370”.
There is very little activity inside the usually bustling court. So we
decide to visit Chashma Shahi, a government guesthouse that has been
turned into sub-jail housing for some of the pro-India politicians.
We mobilise some contacts to help us connect to Chashma Shahi. A
senior journalist tells us that it’s a futile plan as he had himself
tried a few times. We abandon the idea.
It is impossible accurately to predict an outbreak of mass violence,
particularly in a conflicted region like Kashmir, where bloodshed is a
normal affair. In the first five months of 2019, more than 100
militants were killed in multiple encounters. Encounters are usually
sites of military confrontation between Indian armed forces and
But in the recent past, civilians have engaged in stone-throwing at
these sites to help militants escape. These confrontations have also
led to a number of civilian killings, leading to more protests. Thus,
expecting people to explode all at once in response to a structural
change, is a little too far-fetched.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a response. Reports coming in
from Srinagar show that large-scale demonstrations have already taken
place. During our travels we also came across several small-scale
‘stone wars’, called ‘twenty-twenty’ in the local parlance.
For now, it looks like Kashmir is waiting for a trigger, or,
conversely, a little space to breathe. Once the forces are withdrawn
from the streets, there is every possibility of things taking a
different turn. That’s exactly the predicament staring the Indian
state in the eye.
After six days of travel, we are only sure about one thing – the
marked uncertainty that the Indian state faces in Kashmir. The
additional deployment of thousands of paramilitary troops patrolling
the street doesn’t seem to be the real reason behind Kashmir’s
unexpected restraint in the face of the abrogation of Article 370.
There is a conscious uniformity in this response. It is a decision to
disown the buffer that Article 370 has represented and with it the
peddling of the Indian narrative in Kashmir.
Despite trying to find meaning in scattered anecdotes, the unease and
uncertainty has not left us. But it is time to leave – so, we pack our
bags and walk back to the airport.