A fact-finding report released by a team of women activists who have visited Kashmir from September 17-21. The report was released yesterday in Delhi Press Club. The team comprising of Annie Raja, Kawaljit Kaur and Pankhuri Zaheer from the National Federation of Indian Women, Poonam Kaushik of Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan Delhi and Syeda Hameed of Muslim Women’s Forum.
The report titled “Women´s Voice details the ground realities of the state after the Centre’s decision of abrogating Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution. The team visited 17 villages all across Kashmir.
The team visited Srinagar and seventeen villages of Shopian, Pulwama, and Bandipora. They went to hospitals, schools, homes, market places, spoke to people in the rural as well as urban areas, to men, women, youth, and children.
This Report covered the account of the population that has lived for 43 days under complete lockdown. Shops, hotels, schools, colleges, institutions, and universities were closed.
The report tells several accounts of people living under lockdown. Their stories sound more like living in a war zone.
“They (army persons) pour kerosene on our ration supplies. During random checking of houses which occurs at all odd hours of the night, the army persons come in and throw out the family. “
The team found that peoples’ experiences were the same in all the villages they visited. They all spoke of lights to be turned off around 8 PM. In Bandipora, we saw a young girl who made the mistake of keeping a lamp-lit to read for her exam on the chance that her school may open soon. Army men angered by this breach of 2 ‘curfew’, jumped the wall to barge in. Father and son, the only males in the house were taken away for questioning. ‘What questions?’, no one dared ask. The two have been detained since then. ‘We insist that men should go indoors after 6 PM. Man or boy seen after dusk is a huge risk. If absolutely necessary, we women go outside’.
The report tells several accounts of villagers telling their plight during such difficult times:
Zarina from a village near Bandipora district headquarters recounts ‘In a reflex action, my four-year-old places a finger on her lips when she hears a dog bark after dusk. Barking dogs mean an imminent visit by the army. I can’t switch on the phone for light so I can take my little girl to the toilet. Light shows from far and if that happens our men pay with their lives.”
There were also accounts of people complaining of the inability to respond to health emergencies, to inform family members about the death of dear ones.
Army pounces on young boys; it seems they hate their very sight. When fathers go to rescue their children they are made to deposit money, anywhere between 20000 to 60000’. So palpable is their hatred for Kashmiri youth that when there is the dreaded knock on the door of a home, an old man is sent to open it. ‘We hope and pray they will spare an old man. But their slaps land on all faces, regardless whether they are old or young, or even the very young.
Boys as young as 14 or 15 are taken away, tortured, some for as long as 45 days. A woman recounted how they came for her 22-year-old son. But since his hand was in plaster they took away her 14 years old instead. In another village, we heard that two men were brutally beaten. No reason. One returned, after 20 days, broken in body and spirit. The other is still in custody. According to the report, around 13000 boys lifted during this lockdown. The families do not know about the whereabouts. Many are sent to jails in different parts of India.
The team has set forth a list of demands in the report:The report concludes: “Everywhere we went there were two inexorable sentiments. First, desire for Azadi; they want nothing of either India or Pakistan. The humiliation and torture they have suffered for 70 years has reached a point of no return. Abrogation of 370 some say has snapped the last tie they had with India. Even those people who always stood with the Indian state have been rejected by the government. Since all their leaders have been placed under PSA [Public Safety Act] or under house arrest, the common people have become their own leaders. Their suffering is untold, so is their patience. The second was the mothers’ anguished cries…their children’s lives should not be snuffed out by gun and jackboots.”
• Immediately restore all communication lines in Kashmir including internet and mobile networks.
• Restore Article 370 and 35 A.
• All future decisions about the political future of Jammu and Kashmir must be taken through a process of dialogue with the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
• All army personnel must be removed from the civilian areas of Jammu and Kashmir.
• A time-bound inquiry committee must be constituted to look into the excesses committed by the army.