The recent rise in civilian killings in Kashmir Valley echoes concerns over the possibility of the return of normalcy to the region once again.
The abrogation of Article 370 in what is now Jammu & Kashmir union territory is seen as a landmark move in the long-pending integration of the region with India. The recent killings of Kashmiri locals and outsiders in the valley, however, have proved to be a setback. Are they a result of the separatist ideology running scared with India finally taking a stand?
The J&K conflict took an unprecedented turn on August 5, 2019, as Article 370 was revoked along with the implementation of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act. As part of the reorganisation, the Centre declared that the state of J&K will be bifurcated into two separate union territories – the J&K division and Ladakh. Home Minister Amit Shah explained the changes in excruciating detail in the Parliament session, during which, the Opposition led by the Congress party questioned the legitimacy of internal discussions when the region is monitored by the United Nations (UN). In response, Shah not only disavowed the UN’s interference but stated on record that whenever he mentions J&K in the Parliament it should be assumed that he is talking about the entire region, including Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) and Aksai Chin (currently occupied by China), as has been defined in the Constitution of India. While the decision was welcomed by some, it was also widely disavowed. Ladakh MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal was one of the first to applaud the bill in the Parliament, stating that a historic wrong had been corrected.
This was also accompanied by the abolishment of Article 35A, which allowed only permanent residents to acquire government jobs, education and property in the erstwhile state of J&K. This was followed by regular notifications about the Return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Migrants to Kashmir Valley that detailed policies under which the displaced Kashmiri minority communities could be assisted in their homeland. Following registration and evaluation of appropriate documents, the policies will reportedly cover employment and housing, including providing Rs 7.5 lakhs for repairing a fully or partially damaged house.
On August 15, 2021, the 75th Independence Day, the Indian flag was hoisted across 23,000 schools in J&K for the first time, and the tricolour was displayed over various government projects, including the landmark clocktower at Lal Chowk, Srinagar.
Trade & Cultural Inclusion
On November 8, 2021, Srinagar was enlisted to be a part of the UNESCO Cultural Cities Network (UCCN) for its craft and folk art. “This a great recognition of the vitality of the arts and crafts sector in Srinagar,” said UNESCO New Delhi Director Eric Falt to the Kashmir Walla. “Our crafts are not only economic assets, but more widely contribute to a process of building and rebuilding community identities,” said the INTACH Kashmir chapter convener, Saleem Beg. As explained by Sheikh Hussain in his report, “Being a member helps the city gain wider knowledge and builds up a distinctive brand identity.” Expected to correct the sector’s current trajectory of dwindling exports and decreasing youth engagement, Kashmir’s inclusion in the global list can also serve as a “catalyst to revive the industry”.
The recent policies have also allowed businesses from outside the valley to expand in the region. On October 25, 2021, the JSW Group announced the installation of a colour-coated steel manufacturing facility of JSW Steel at Lassipora, Pulwama. With an investment of Rs 150 crores and a capacity of 120,000 metric tonnes per annum, the facility will also produce steel sandwich panels and doors for J&K’s local market. “This facility shall provide immense benefits to local businesses and society in a meaningful way and provide employment opportunities to the local youth,” said JSW Group chairman, Sajjan Jindal.
While roadways and ropeways have reportedly received considerable improvements since the Lieutenant Governor took over, the commencement of the international airport has opened up new avenues for the region. Last week, an order for the relief and revival of the business sector was issued by the government to help the COVID-hit economy of J&K.
The killing of J&K Power Development Department staff Mohd. Safi Dar on October 2, 2021, and medical shop owner from the Kashmiri Pandit community Makhan Lal Bindroo on October 5, in Srinagar, offset a pattern of violent crimes in the region. On the same day as Bindroo’s murder, two street vendors – one local and one non-local – were also shot dead in separate incidents. The murders of a school teacher and principal – Deepak Chand and Supinder Kaur – belonging to the minority Hindu and Sikh communities respectively, also caused havoc in the territory. This week, on November 8, Bandipora resident and salesman in Srinagar’s Bohri Kadal area Mohammad Ibrahim Khan was shot dead outside the shop he worked at, which was owned by Dr Sandeep Mawa. This was about 24 hours after constable Tausif Ahmad was killed by terrorists at his residence in the Batamaloo area of Srinagar. At least 14 civilians have lost their lives in J&K between October 1 and November 9.
While religion does not seem to remain constant across the recent attacks on civilians, their role as daily workers, businessmen, educationists, or security personnel is. Non-local citizens in J&K form a significant part of the workforce. A prevalent perception among some Kashmiri Pandits living in the valley and those who have migrated is that the selective killings have increased to impede the resettlement process. The surge in business opportunities and recognition of local culture on a global scale has garnered positive limelight for Kashmir and contributed to the rise in tourism following COVID lockdowns. However, an official government source residing in the UT says that not much change has been materialised as far as business and infrastructure are concerned. Speaking to The Sparrow, he said, “We keep hoping that the change will come… There may be things being planned internally but it will be impossible to implement them as long as the security situation on the ground continues to be uncertain.” He further added, “Tourism started picking up after the COVID lockdowns were relaxed but the recent violence has created impediments again.”
When asked about the impact of the policy changes in Kashmir, the source said, “There were so many security forces deployed when the abrogation of Article 370 was announced that it became impossible for anyone to create problems. Since it was followed by the COVID pandemic, the peace persisted longer.” He said that things might get better since various areas have been locked down due to a rise in COVID cases in Kashmir along with the targeted killings.
The source also highlighted the army’s change in the practice of handing over the bodies of militants to their families. He explained, “After an encounter, the army used to handover the body of the perpetrator to his family, and a crowd of thousands would gather for his burial, increasing the chance of violence. Now that the army has stopped doing that, the chaos is avoided. However, this still leaves room for vengeance in the hearts of his loved ones.”
The violence has continued despite hundreds of people having been rounded up for questioning. Although civilians continue to lose their lives needlessly, the indiscriminate shootings of the people catalysing progress in the Kashmiri society hint at a slow choking of the reign of terror in the valley. Militancy and terrorism in Kashmir seem to be gasping and making desperate attempts to stay alive, nevertheless, gradually fading.
* Sources kept anonymous for safety reasons.
The Horus Eye is a weekly column written by Divya Bhan analysing current affairs and policies. This column does not intend or aim to promote any ideology and does not reflect the official position of The Sparrow.