Hope Looms Large Despite Apprehensions

A Kashmiri family enjoying morning sun near Nageen Lake, Srinagar 
 A delegation of journalists after visiting the Kashmir Valley presents a realistic picture of the situation on the ground
New Delhi/Srinagar September 17: After the amendment to Article 370 of the Constitution and abolition of 35A from Jammu & Kashmir, there is a feeling of hope and happiness in Jammu and Ladakh, but Kashmir has been edgy. Despite the strange fear that prevails among the people, seeds of aspirations are also sprouting in the valley.
A month after provisions 2 and 3 of Article 370 and 35A were abrogated, a delegation of journalists from various media institutions, under the aegis of the National Union of Journalists (India), visited Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir Valley to take stock of the situation on the ground. During the assessment on the ground, several interesting aspects about the news prevalent in the political corridors of the country regarding the situation in the Kashmir Valley came to light.
On the whole, the regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, are taking a turn for the better and a hopeful future. While a new hope for development has arisen in Jammu, the common people in Ladakh are expressing their happiness with the formation of a separate union territory. But in the Kashmir Valley, the life of the common man is rife with both hope and apprehension. Though peace has prevailed in the Valley, attempts are being made by separatists and terrorists to create an atmosphere of fear through the use of guns, stone-pelting, inflammatory statements, posters and antics.
The six-member delegation which visited the Kashmir Valley, met nearly 150 people from the minority community, including Sikhs, Hindus and Shias as also village heads, sarpanches, farmers, students, educated and unemployed youth, security personnel, journalists, lawyers, political activists in different areas of Kashmir including Srinagar, to know and understand their views. Many shocking facts emerged during this dialogue. In Kashmir, most people were not ready to reveal their identity during the conversations.
While people were concerned about their livelihoods, there was resentment against Pakistan-funded terrorism and separatists as well as the local leaders of Kashmir. It was also found that most people in Kashmir did not know much about the losses they had to suffer due to Article 370. Nor are they aware of any losses, if any, amendments to 370 and removal of 35A has caused to them. Shias demanded a separate Shia Waqf Board, while the youth wanted modern industry to be set up for better employment opportunities and trade. Farmers demanded that they should be given better prices for apples and other produces.
People in Srinagar had many questions about their future and most of these questions were related to development and employment. Most did not want to talk openly on the issue of terrorism, separatists and Pakistan in front of the cameras. But as soon as the camera was removed, their anger towards Pakistan sponsored terrorism and the atmosphere of fear created in the valley exploded.
There was widespread resentment among the people of Jammu and Kashmir against major political parties of the state and their leaders. On the question of the house arrest of former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti including prominent state leaders and separatist leaders, there is a general perception that no one has deceived the Kashmiris as much as the Abdullah and Mufti families. The people of Jammu and Ladakh were also clearly angry with the leaders of the Kashmir valley.
The crisis of credible political leadership is the biggest problem of Kashmir as there is no common leader in the state who is trusted by the people. It is also interesting that people consider Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to be decisive leaders who have the courage and vision for the country. An interesting thing that emerged after talking to the youth everywhere was that the youth of the valley are more worried about their smartphones being rendered useless than the detention of the political leaders. The ban on internet and mobile networks in the valley has annoyed people, especially youngsters. However, the administration has tried to provide relief to people by provisioning landline phones and installing phone booths. The youth are scared of getting attacked in other parts of the country and they also question about what the government will do for their employment now that Article 370 and 35A will not be coming back.
While conversing with the Sikhs, farmers, traders and representatives of Panchayats, it emerged that there was rampant corruption and politicisation of recruitment process in Jammu and Kashmir behind the facade of 370 and 35A. Thousands of crores of rupees have been allocated for the cleaning of Dal Lake in Srinagar in the last two and a half decades. But little has been done except removal of hyacinth. The recruitment scam of Jammu & Kashmir Bank is a prime example of political recruitment, as appointment letters were handed over to PDP workers in place of 580 youth who passed the entrance examination and interview.

 A roadside market near Lal Chowk selling goods of daily needs
Bashir Malik, the leader of the Jammu & Kashmir Panchayat Raj Forum, said that after being declared a Union Territory, more than one and a half thousand village heads and around two hundred and fifty sarpanches who were elected under his banner in the valley wanted to hoist the Indian tri-color in their villages on August 15. He accused the separatists and agents of Pakistan of being entrenched in the State administration and demanded that large-scale transfers be done in the State. Sikh businessman Kuldeep Singh said that it is due to the connivance of old officers of the state administration with the Pakistani agents which has pressurised the common people in the valley to reject the new changes. It is due to their instigation that the terrorists and separatists are constantly trying to create an atmosphere of fear in the state through provocative speeches, stone-pelting and other activities.
In Srinagar and in many parts of southern Kashmir, the daily life and business of people has come to a standstill due to this fear. When people tried to open their shops, the terrorists tried to create fear by killing two or three shopkeepers and businessmen. The government is taking steps to purchase apples from the plantations by granting a package of eight thousand crore rupees. But separatist elements are planning to attack trucks and drivers which transport these produce. In an attack on a truck in Anantnag area, a truck driver was killed.
All ATMs are open and people are withdrawing money, and transactions are going on as usual, is a testimony to the normalcy in the valley. It was also found that women and girls were seen driving their vehicles comfortably
While the complaints about the behaviour of the central security forces are negligible, many youths complained that the attitude of the local police in the name of questioning is not correct. However, there is no shutdown enforced by the government either on businesses or newspapers in the State. The shops are open with their shutters fully open during the early mornings and evening but they keep their shutters half open only during the day. There was considerable crowd at a drugstore here. The fact that all ATMs are open and people are withdrawing money, and transactions are going on as usual, is a testimony to the normalcy in the Valley. It was also found that women and girls were seen driving their vehicles comfortably.
The delegation also met Jammu & Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik and discussed various issues. In the meeting, the reporters shared the findings from the conversations they had with the people. The Governor also informed the delegation of the steps being taken for the welfare of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. He said that not a single person died in Kashmir due to the ban on mobile and internet. He also expressed hope that the situation would be normal and the ban on mobiles and internet would be lifted soon. The delegation of journalists included senior journalist Hitesh Shankar, National Secretary of National Union of Journalists (India) Manoj Verma, National Treasurer Rakesh Arya, National Vice President Harshvardhan Tripathi, General Secretary of Delhi Journalists Association Sachin Budhaulia and Vice President Alok Goswami.