Kashmir Indepth

Free movement, no net, kids away from school — Kashmir 2 months after losing Article 370

Srinagar: As Jammu & Kashmir completes two months without its special status Friday, much has changed on the ground in the Valley, with all security restrictions on civilian movement lifted in capital Srinagar, 43,000 landline services restored, and higher secondary schools, colleges and universities slated to open from 9 October.

Security forces, however, remain on high alert as 450 “sightings” of militants have been reported in Kashmir valley, including 40 in Srinagar, so far, ThePrint quoted officials.

Citing intelligence inputs, they said, nearly 60 Pakistani militants have managed to infiltrate into the Valley in the past two months.

A senior state government official posted in the secretariat said “450 sightings do not mean 450 militants”.

“Some militants could be sighted roaming around multiple times. But, that said, there has been a definite spike in sightings, especially in parts of south and north Kashmir,” the official added.

‘A smooth journey’

There are, of course, those in the security establishment who believe that, despite all odds, the Valley’s return to normalcy is not only inevitable but will be a smooth journey.

“There were several challenges before and after Article 370 was scrapped. There was Amarnath Yatra, Eid, 15 August, Muharram and then the speeches (by PM Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan) at the United Nations,” said a senior IPS officer posted in the state.

“The security forces managed the situation until now and will continue to do so,” the officer added.

Although mobile and internet connections are still largely off in the Valley, incoming calls on mobiles in militancy hotbed Kupwara have been allowed. According to official sources, nearly 3,000 of the 4,200 people arrested as a law-and-order precaution shortly after the scrapping of Article 370 have been released. The released individuals, said officials, were made to sign bonds promising not to indulge in political activity.

Even so, political activity is likely to resume in parts of Jammu and Kashmir, which officially becomes a union territory this month, with block development council polls scheduled for 24 October.

Nearly 300 people, including prominent politicians (former chief minister Farooq Abdullah is one), activists, lawyers, and separatists have been booked under the Public Safety Act, which allows detention for six months without trial.

Most of them have been sent to jails outside the state — in Agra, Prayagraj and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Karnal in Haryana.

‘People’s curfew continues’
The Centre had defanged Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir on 5 August, triggering protests in the Kashmir valley.

A massive security clampdown ensued, which involved large-scale arrests of potential trouble-makers, including prominent politicians, and a communication blockade marked by the disconnection of landlines, mobiles and the internet helped the administration prevent any major law and order problem.

But the Valley has been simmering with anger, witnessing around 750 stone-pelting incidents, with at least one teenager said to have died of pellet injuries.

“The intensity of protests is nowhere close to what we saw in 2016 when Hizbul commander Burhan Wani was killed,” said a senior security officer. “Most of the violent protests saw not more than 20-25 people throwing stones.”

Meanwhile, a shutdown or “people’s curfew” continues to be observed in the Valley since August as a civilian disobedience movement. Students remain absent from both government and private schools across Kashmir even though the state administration announced their opening in the third week of August.

There are 10,777 primary, middle and higher secondary government schools in the Valley, of which 10,442 were opened in phases to dismal attendance. The state administration now plans to start 335 higher secondary schools, colleges and universities by 9 October.

Businesses, commercial establishments, factories and shops open in the morning, until around 10 am. Shops selling items for day-to-day needs open shutters for a couple of hours in the morning and the evening.

Although the so-called civilian curfew was spontaneous, militant outfits like the Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Al Badr had also reportedly put up posters asking people to continue with the shutdown.

“Largely the situation has remained calm but there is a lot of unease among the people,” a senior police officer said.

“We are treading very carefully and hoping that slowly people resume normal life. There is a need to break this status quo inertia. It’s a waiting game,” the officer added.

Another senior police officer said, on a note of relief, that Kashmir had passed the “psychological deadline” of 27 September, the day Modi and Khan made their speeches at the United National General Assembly.

“There was anticipation that situation might erode by the content of the speech made by the Pakistani Prime Minister. However, that didn’t happen,” said the officer.

“Except for a few places that saw gatherings, the situation remained in control. Now we have to wait which way the situation will swing in the Valley,” the officer added. “The signs until now show an improvement.”

Courtesy ThePrint

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