RNA – In an exclusive interview with Rasa News Agency, Saif Ali Budgami, an activist in Indian-occupied Kashmir, referred to India’s ongoing security lockdown and communications blackout imposed to prevent protests during which thousands of people, mostly young men, have been detained in the northwestern state of Jammu and Kashmir after the government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Indian activist said it was on August 2nd, 2019 when the government of India had ordered the authorities of Kashmir Division to issue a notice to order tourists, especially at the Amaranth Yatris Hindu temple to leave the Kashmir Valley as soon as possible. The notice read: “Keeping in view the latest intelligence regarding terror threats, with specific targeting of the Amaranth Yatra Temple, and given the prevailing security situation in the Kashmir Valley, it is in the interest of safety and security of the tourists and Amaranth Yatris that they curtail their stay in the Valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible.”
He said that this was the moment that triggered Kashmiris because some rumours of revoking Article 35A, which guaranteed special rights to the Muslim-majority state, including the right to its own constitution and autonomy to make laws on all matters except defence, communications and foreign affairs, were being spread in the Kashmir Valley for the previous weeks before this notice.
He added, “The BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) tree of propaganda had already rooted in the Valley. The day after day, unusual news would flash on my mobile screen. Thousands of paramilitary forces were deployed in the state, all the major state departments were asked to store foodstuffs for the upcoming three to four months. Some major transfers of senior government officers were made immediately. So-called rumours rang the palpitation of the people of Kashmir. Everybody was questioning everyone. Something unexpected is going to take place. The entire Kashmir Valley was caught in a dilemma. The foundation of BJP’s psychological warfare was not less than mass electrocution. Certainly, some were sure that a war between India and Pakistan is going to take place. As this speculation was also a part of the propaganda chain, people started to compare the nuclear strength of both countries, counting which country will support India and which country will support Pakistan. Although the majority of the people were aware of the disastrous consequences of nuclear war still, they all had a single line on the tip of their tongues ‘gachun goach jung, akey saate makleha ye Kashmir huend neyae’ – ‘let the war begin and resolve the Kashmir issue once for all.’”
Mr. Budgami said, “I was travelling on a public bus to the University of Kashmir on the afternoon of Friday, August 2nd, 2019 to stay with my friend in his rented room near the university because we had to reach the department early to go for a picnic next day. The bus was so crowded that I had to hang on by holding on to an iron rod behind the bus door. Suddenly my phone started ringing continuously but I avoided answering it. At the same time news aired inside the bus about the notice that ordered the tourists to leave the Kashmir Valley.”
He continued, saying, “As soon as I got a seat, I swiftly checked my phone and saw five missed calls from my mother’s number and called her back. She was very anxious and asked me to return as soon as possible. After we finished our call, I logged on to Facebook and saw multiple posts about that official notice. Even though it was a short and simple notice for outsiders and tourists, it was surely a notice of imprisonment for the common people of Kashmir for an unlimited period of time. On reaching the room of my friend at Habak Crossing in Srinagar, I was looking through the transparent window glass and saw groups of soldiers patrolling the streets. The state of fear didn’t allow me to stay there because my friends also planned to return their home just that day.”
He noted, “Upon returning, I saw huge lines outside ATMs and grocery shops, the city gas stations looked like the village well, as people were carrying water cans to get gasoline. As of this point, the questions that the BJP called rumours were taking shape to reality. The mainstream political leaders would still exclaim that everything was normal. But was everything normal? Not at all! Not at least for the poor people who had nothing to do with ATMs and gas stations because they had no personal cars and bank accounts. I can tell you that nobody in Kashmir slept well during those three nights. Again, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the people of India and made a statement about Kashmir: ‘I have something special for the people of Kashmir that will be gifted to them on August 5th, 2019.’ As soon as the sun began to set on the afternoon of August 4th, tension, depression, fear and palpitation started increasing. Therefore, at midnight on August 4th, all the voice and data services were disabled and a curfew was announced.”
Mr. Budgami said, “On the morning of August 5th, the people were watching their televisions closely to be updated about the future of Kashmir. All of the streets and public places were deserted, scary gusts of wind disrupted the signal of my television screen again and again. The places that were previously crowded with people were full of soldiers. Schools, colleges and universities were closed. Surprisingly and suddenly, my television screen received a signal and the yellow and bold headline on red background flashed on the screen ‘Article 35A Revoked’ and since then, Kashmir has been locked down and disconnected from the global family. Kashmiri students studying in other states and countries were tensely trying to get a hold of their families by sending written or audio messages to radio stations and some local networks.”
He stated, “Quickly, all the mainstream political leaders held their heads high and took an oath under the Indian constitution to work for the welfare of the people and the nation, secure justice, liberty and fraternity were arrested. All these leaders had promised the security of Article 35A to the people. In reverse, people still had no concern about the arrest of these mainstream leaders. The common people of Kashmir consider them fruits of a single tree. Additionally, all the Hurriyat leaders, Islamic scholars and other prominent public figures were arrested and detained in unknown places. The CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force), an armed wing of the Indian police, were given vehicles with an automated set of CCTV cameras to move around all of the areas where protests would take place and obtain footage of protesters. The CRPF would raid the houses of protesters and arrest them under the cover of night and take all the protesters to a newly constructed jail in Agra, Uttar Pradesh that is thousands of kilometres from Kashmir. Moreover, it’s catastrophic to mention that none of them were allowed to keep any information about the arrested youth. If the guardians of the arrested youth would approach the police station they repeatedly reply ‘we have no information, approach those who arrested them.’ Hence, thousands of youth were arrested overnight and sent to Agra Jail within a few days.”
He emphasized, “It looked like Kashmiris were fed volcanic lava that had torched everything inside without any noise. On one hand, Kashmiris in other states and countries were worried to death about the prevailing situation in Kashmir, on the other hand, most of the Indian news channels broadcast daily “Everything is normal in Kashmir” messages as all the local blogs, Facebook pages and websites that would carry the real news on ground were shut down due to internet lockdown. After protests took place in front of Indian embassies in different countries against the Indian crackdown in Kashmir and after international pressure, Satya Pal Malik, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, arranged a press conference on August 16th which was attended by his secretary who assured the world through his pre-scripted white lies that all is well in Kashmir.”
Rasa News Agency