In August 2019, India’s most troubled and complex state, Kashmir, witnessed a seismic shift with the revocation of Article 370, followed by a prolonged and brutal lockdown. Amidst this upheaval, a prevailing silence enveloped the region, obscuring the ground reality experienced by its residents. As a journalist grappling with an information desert, the author embarked on a quest to unravel the truth behind the official narrative. What began as a series of articles evolved into a profound journey to piece together the untold stories and alternative perspectives of Kashmir.
In their book, “A Dismantled State: The Untold Story of Kashmir after Article 370,” the author Anuradha Bhasin sheds light on the profound impact of the Indian government’s engagement with the region, the silent suffering of the Kashmiri people, and the dire need for understanding and resolution. Through a relentless pursuit of authenticating available information and unearthing more, this book serves as a poignant testimony to the unheard voices and experiences of Kashmir, providing valuable insights into the path we are heading towards.
What inspired you to write the book, “A Dismantled State: The Untold Story of Kashmir after Article 370”?
In one stroke, on August 5, 2019, the geographical and political map of India’s most troubled and complex state was changed amidst a brutal and militarized lockdown that lasted months. This was followed by a massive restructuring of laws bringing radical legal changes, with a momentous impact on the lives of the residents of the region. But there was silence in the region. The only dominant narrative was the official version. But none of this reflected the ground reality. Residents of Jammu and Kashmir were reeling under a sense of dispossession and living with an acute sense of fear. As a journalist, I was dealing with a huge information desert.
The book which began as a quest to make sense of what was happening actually started as a journey to write a series of articles. My attempt was to piece together whatever information was available in the public domain, scrutinize it, authenticate it, and dig out more information wherever possible. But as I began to collect information, I realized there was a bigger picture to present than just a series of articles.
This book is a humble attempt to bring to the public domain alternative voices and perspectives that have been less heard or unheard. It is also an attempt to analyze the impact of the Indian government’s engagement with the region on the people’s lives, to understand the deafening silence in Kashmir, and to see where we are headed. In doing so, I have been able to bring in only a very small fraction of the many stories that continue to be unheard.
The Government’s decision to amend Article 370 has created a sense of silence among the people of Kashmir. Can you describe it more?
It is very difficult to understand the sudden silence that descended on Kashmir where a small incident could trigger a volatile reaction. But the silence was so eerie and deafening that it clearly did not look like the calm that the Indian state was describing it as. The silence was an outcome of the acute suppression of the people. This suppression was far more sophisticated than the previous violent strategies used in the past. It was less bloody and yet more brutal. Physical violence was less but there was more psychological violence. The heavy militarization, the massive scale of continuing arrests, and the communication shutdowns created an unprecedented level of psychological terror which I have explained in chapters 4 to 6 of the book.
Could you share any specific incidents or experiences that highlight the humiliation faced by ordinary Kashmiris while documenting the book?
People including top brass of politicians were picked up and taken to police stations and jails in the middle of the night from their homes, hours before the legal changes were made. If this was the fate of the most powerful people of Kashmir, one could well imagine the fate of commoners. People were picked up randomly but the detained people included a cross-section of people – politicians, journalists, lawyers, businessmen, activists, academics, mohalla committee members, and ordinary people.
Many of them were taken to jails outside the state and their families were not informed. There were people who were very poor and had to sell their assets to find out the whereabouts of their jailed kin and travel to distant locations like Agra to meet them. For instance, there was the case of Mushtaq, who spent nine months in prison in Bareilly in UP before he was released in May 2020. His family did not know of his whereabouts till his brother was informed ‘shortly before my release’. He neither had an extra pair of clothes nor any money. One officer in the jail was sympathetic to him and offered him a set of clothes that helped him survive through those months with dignity.
As I quote in my book: “Many family members of the detainees who visited these jails were poor and illiterate and could speak only Kashmiri; and, thus, they were horrified to find that inside the jails, the security guards would insist that they could only speak ‘Hindi’. One mother of a detainee said that during her visit to a jail in Bareilly, all that she and her jailed son could do was stare at each other’s faces. The visit was allowed for a few minutes under surveillance, and though her son could speak Urdu and tried to, she could not understand. They looked at each other, communicating with moist eyes and tears.”
The detentions were a continuous process. The security forces raided the homes of people without a pretext and snatched their ATM cards, I-cards, mobile phones, laptops and forcing people to approach them in camps – where they were in for a more excessive bout of harassment. Sometimes, they would be detained, sometimes, they would be handed back to their families after subjecting them to torture.
These are only some of the humiliating experiences. The very fact that a democratic country had decided to switch off the internet, and mobile phones of an entire population leaving them without even the basic health care facilities that are digitally accessible or be able to call for an ambulance was extremely humiliating. It was nothing short of reducing people to second-rate citizens. People trekked miles to access the government set up phone booths for a one-minute call to their children studying and working outside and all they did was cry out. Journalists were compelled to work out of a small government set-up shack with poor facilities and their entire work under surveillance. These were the daily indignities that people suffered for a long time and much more.
Kashmir has been complex and volatile for years. It was been mishandled for years by governments in New Delhi and also by local politicians and other stakeholders.– Anuradha Bhasin
Regarding Article 370 and the government decision-making process, do you have any concerns or criticisms?
Article 370 was the constitutional link between India and Jammu & Kashmir which acceded to India under exceptional circumstances. Though it was already hollowed down by previous governments, it protected the rights and privileges of the residents of J&K with respect to land, jobs, college admissions, etc. A large section of the population of J&K felt that accession was not final and that their fate should be decided as per the UN resolutions and the promise of a plebiscite made to them by India’s first prime minister.
They already felt betrayed by the way New Delhi had for years manipulated the politics of Jammu and Kashmir and undemocratically removed leaders, even throwing them in jails. Yet despite these betrayals, there was space for proper dialogue. By removing that, by taking away the privileges and rights of the people they cared most about, monumental damage has been made. The government of India has not resolved Kashmir but shut all doors for the resolution of Kashmir. Political issues cannot be resolved without the involvement of people. In fact, the disproportionate use of force and suppression may in the long term have an adverse impact not only on Kashmir but also on the rest of India.
Could you elaborate on the implications of re-imagining of Kashmir as “Naya Kashmir”?
Naya Kashmir is an act of completely dismantling a state – one that was the most complex, volatile, and a nuclear flashpoint. Nothing good can be imagined of a vision, even if well-intentioned, that is built by suppressing local populations, instead of involving them. And here you see that an entire architecture of existing laws has been brought down and new laws have come in place reversing the gains of the land to the tiller. Besides, local people are being marginalized and threatened by the influx of outsiders who will easily monopolize the job industry and businesses. Then there is also the threat of environmental impact.
Residents of Jammu and Kashmir were reeling under a sense of dispossession and living with an acute sense of fear. As a journalist, I was dealing with a huge information desert.– Anuradha Bhasin
Article 370 is surrounded by many myths. How far does “A Dismantled State” debunk these?
I have tried my best to debunk many of these. But this book is more about the impact of what happened on the lives of the people. I will leave it to the legal experts to shed more light.
Can you highlight any notable quotes or passages from your book that encapsulate the essence of the situation in Kashmir after August 5, 2019?
For me, every word does. I’ll leave that to the reader. But I could describe the situation using keywords like humiliation, fear, psychological trauma, dispossession, and hopelessness. Of course, that is not true of the entire population. There are people who benefit in some situations. But I am talking about the overwhelming feeling which exists today – not only in Kashmir but also in Ladakh and Jammu, though in lesser degrees in the latter two.
The focus on criticizing various players including politicians and anti-social forces while exploring the history of Kashmir is noticeable in the book. Can you further clarify?
Kashmir has been complex and volatile for years. It was been mishandled for years by governments in New Delhi and also by local politicians and other stakeholders. The Modi government has added another layer but one that is extremely destructive. It is important to see this historic moment from its perspective and see that there are many others who are responsible for reducing Kashmir to a mess.
Is “A Dismantled State” a historical analysis or a day-by-chronicle of what happened in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh?
As a journalist, I am a day-to-day chronicler of events. But it is the daily chronicles that makeup history. Historians look at different kinds of sources and use different lenses to research and analyze things. It is more thorough. It looks at a wider range of things. This is more a journalistic work.
As the editor of Kashmir Times, did your experience and role in the media influenced your perspective on the events unfolding in Kashmir after the amendment of Article 370?
I have worked as a journalist for over three decades. I have seen the many ups and downs of Kashmir’s politics and situation. I have a fair understanding of how people would be impacted by certain actions and events. My experiences and the stories and narratives that have been a part of my life-long work were indeed instructive in understanding Kashmir after Article 370 revocation.
The Interview was first published in Storizen Magazine June 2023 Issue.