Former Finance Minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha
Former Finance Minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha

SRINAGAR — Kashmir seems to have returned to normalcy, but people have refused to accept the Centre’s 2019 decision of revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, says a report released by the Concerned Citizens’ Group led by former Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha.

The Group visited Kashmir from March 30 to April 02. It was its third visit to the Union Territory after the Central government revoked the special status of the erstwhile State and the eighth since violence erupted in the Valley following the gunning down of militant leader Burhan Wani in July 2016.

The Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG) met with a cross-section of representatives of civil society groups, businessmen, politicians, newly-elected members of District Development Councils, human rights activists, representatives of Kashmiri Pandits, Shia leaders and political leaders, especially those who had been released after being jailed in the wake of the developments of August 5, 2019, the group said in a statement.

The report said Kashmir seemed more normal than what the situation was during the group’s earlier visits. On the face of it, Srinagar seemed peaceful. People were seen going about their daily chores. Life seemed more ‘normal’ compared to our earlier visits, it said.

The group, however, claimed that people were still not ready to accept the Centre’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

When asked about the apparent ‘sense of normality’, people said that life had to go on even after two years of the lockdown. They claimed they had to work for their living and think of their children’s future. However, they were also quick to point out that this should not be taken as acceptance by them of the August 5, 2019 decisions, the report said.

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In the report, the CCG also mentioned that there is no space for any dissent or criticism of the government policies and police action on any platform – be it social media, print or electronic media.

“Journalism has been virtually criminalised. No protests by civil society are allowed, nor are rallies by political parties permitted. The police do not hesitate to summon journalists and ordinary citizens and even lock them up under the Public Safety Act,” it said.

It suggested that State actors and political parties address the sense of defeat and anger amongst the Kashmiris by opening up the democratic space for people to express themselves.

The group members also suggested that security forces not blow-up the houses of villagers occupied forcibly by militants for shelter or for using them tactically against the security forces, and allow civil society organisations to function by holding meetings, seminars and discussions which would allow the people to vent their emotions and relieve the psychological pressure on them.

It also said that media persons be allowed to freely report from the ground.

Do not impose artificial political processes on the Kashmiris which seem democratic outwardly but are bereft of any democratic muscle. Allow the national opposition political parties to visit Kashmir, move around freely and meet local political leaders and civil society actors, the group suggested.

The group said there were fewer bunkers and roadblocks, and the deployment of the police and paramilitary forces appeared slender in the Union Territory now.

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During our three-hour up and down road trip to Kulgam from Srinagar, we were not stopped even once by security personnel. There were, however, short traffic stoppages — never longer than five minutes — to allow Army convoys to pass, it said.

Referring to the status of businesses in the Valley, the report said after nearly two years of virtually no business, the visiting group found that tourist arrivals had picked up momentum and many of the hotels and guest houses claimed that they have had continuous flow of tourists since the winter.

The Sinha-led group said it seemed that the anger, despair and alienation of Kashmiris that we had witnessed first-hand during our six previous visits to the valley, persisted.

However, the Centre’s virtual obliteration of the political mainstream, nullification of Article 370, abrogation of Article 35-A, bifurcation of the State and the enactment of the new domicile laws seemed to have increased the all pervasive sense of fear, humiliation and hopelessness among the Kashmiri population, it said.

People are still in shock and seemed psychologically disturbed showing heightened anxiety and paranoia about the future, it added.

Apart from Sinha, other members of the group comprise executive secretary, Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, Delhi, Sushobha Barve; former chairman of the Minorities Commission and the first Chief Information Commissioner of India, Wajahat Habibullah; Vice Marshal (Retd) Kapil Kak; and former editor and independent journalist Bharat Bhushan.

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