It’s over 100 days now since Article 370 was abrogated and the state of Jammu & Kashmir bifurcated on August 5, since then the state in under lockdown. The abrogation has generated a lot of conversation, and controversy, especially over the communication blackout that had been imposed by the Union government. We bring you a photo essay by Mriganka Lulla, who visited Kashmir in an independent capacity, to seek the very complex and multifaceted, but also heart-breaking truth about Kashmir.

(The Irony of) Telecom Company Advertisements on shuttered shut shop fronts in downtown Srinagar.

 On October 5, or Day 60, exactly two months after the Indian government cut off communication – phone services*, the internet and credit card networks, I landed in Srinagar’s Defence Airport.

Unwittingly, and breaking the slow tension that had descended, our flight attendant announced that we could now use our mobile phones. Without pause, my fellow passengers laughed. Some, finding solace in the irony of it all, others, understandably bitter.

And Kashmir has plenty to be bitter about.

“I consider myself Indian. Why not? I’m 40 years old. For forty years, India has been the one to feed me. And now, should I suddenly decide to go to Pakistan?! That’s being unfaithful. And my religion does not teach me to be disloyal.”

For over two months now, shops have been shuttered shut and city life has largely come to a standstill. Only recently, morning markets are now operational between 6:00 – 9:00 am, for “emergencies,” as the locals say. Indian officials allege that this is because of threats from militants to protest the abrogation of Article 370. However, local Kashmiris say that for several, this is a form of nonviolent protest against the unconstitutional revocation of the act by the Indian Government, as well as against the on-going communication blackout.

(*Only Postpaid services are said to have been restored in the valley 70 days later, on Monday, October 14, 2019.)

A delightful afternoon with two of the spunkiest girls, Maleeha (9) and Tabiyah (5), in Soura, Srinagar.

“Hartal shuru hone se ab tak, main apne friends ko nahi mili. Sirf Uzma idhar, paas wali ghar me rehti hain, toh kabhi kabhi Uzma ko dekhti hoon.”

“Ever since the communication blackout, I haven’t been able to meet any of my friends from school. Uzma lives nearby, so sometimes I see her.”

Also read: Women Scholars Present Kashmir’s Human Rights Crisis At A US Panel

Registered schools in the Valley have recently been forced to reopen, but parents are too scared to send their children to school. Unable to communicate, unaware of who will be on the bus, whether teachers will even show up, and, also terrified that their children may get caught in a stand-off between protestors and Indian armed personnel — parents cannot fathom sending their children outside, even to school, amidst such uncertainty. As a result, children have been out of school for over two months now.

Driving past the Jamia masjid in downtown Srinagar, in a rickshaw whose windshield cracked from a stone that hit it during a demonstration.

“Jamia Masjid August 5th se bandh hai. Eid pe bhi nahin khulvaya. Kya pata, shaayad Modiji Namaz hi padhna bandh kar denge…?”

“The Jamia Masjid has been shut since the 5th of August. They didn’t even allow it to be open on Eid. Who knows, maybe Mr. Modi will now even stop us from reading Namaz.”

 

Another shuttered shut shop front, expressing a large number of Kashmiri’s desire for freedom or ‘azadi’.

 

Man walking past more modified graffiti.

When even Kashmiri self-expression is modified, if not censored — I saw several shutters covered in graffiti that had either been sprayed over, blacked out or changed into something more favourable to India. “Go Back India” is changed to “Good India/Good Indian.” 

Kashmiri ‘‘mehman-nawazi” (hospitality). Pro tip: treat yourself to a piece of freshly baked Kashmiri chochowar (sesame bagel) – It is divine.

Over an afternoon cup of noon chai and delicious cookies, I spoke to Zubeida-ji, whose words have given me much pause.

“Ek nazar se nahi dekhte hain. Jaise humare (Musalman) mein se bhi acche aur bure hote hai, waise Fauj mein bhi. 

Hartal jab hua tha, main doodh lene bahar gayi thi. Kyunki kya pata phir kab doodh mile is mahaul mein? Us samay ek Fauji ne mujhe achanak se pakad ke side mein kheench liya. Patthar aaya tha, mere sar se bhi bada. Agar woh nahi hota us din to kya pata mere sar ke kitne tukde hote.”

“You don’t look at anything singularly. In the same way that there are good and bad Muslims, there are good and bad Army officials.

Registered schools in the Valley have recently been forced to reopen, but parents are too scared to send their children to school. Unable to communicate, unaware of who will be on the bus, whether teachers will even show up, and, also terrified that their children may get caught in a stand-off between protestors and Indian armed personnel.

When the communication blackout happened, I stepped out of my house to buy some milk. Who knew when I’d get milk again, given the uncertainty of the current environment? Suddenly, a CRPF Officer grabbed me and pulled me aside. A stone hurtled past me. It was bigger than my head. If he hadn’t been there on that day, who knows into how many pieces my head would have shattered?”

Two uniformed personnel in front of shuttered shop fronts on the road to Soura, Srinagar.

Soura and Anchar are two particularly volatile regions in Srinagar, where protests, demonstrations and stand-offs between ‘Stone throwers’ and Army officials have been rife.

I wanted to see what was really happening, and so, in order to be less conspicuous, my driver packed me into his brother-in-law’s rickshaw.

“Ever since the communication blackout, I haven’t been able to meet any of my friends from school. Uzma lives nearby, so sometimes I see her.”

Shortly into our drive, a little bit ahead of where this picture was taken, our rickshaw was stopped.

An Army/CRPF official had seen me use my phone and thought I was taking videos of the desolate street, angry graffiti and paramilitarization. Just to be clear, I didn’t take any videos, but I had taken photos.

He called his senior standing nearby, who began to question me.

“Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing here?” I answered honestly, and to the best of my ability. I also offered to show him pictures of the Dal Lake and the Hazratbal Dargah, more typically tourist things I had also captured.

He cut me off, and told me point blank, to stop taking any pictures. Then, he turned to my driver.

“Agar isne koi shor machaaya, na, toh main tumhe marke laal kar loonga”

“If she makes any noise, I will beat you till you are red.”  Silently, my driver drove on. He was used to being spoken to like this.

Graffiti on the way to Anchar, Srinagar, that is semi-blacked out and says “Pakistan Zindabad” (Long live Pakistan)

“You know, the Government keeps saying that Pakistan pays these 13 year olds to protest. Do you really think 500 rupees is worth facing a gun with a stone?” – Razia, a local Kashmiri journalist asked.

Just a few days before my visit, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Mr Imran Khan, visited the United Nations General Assembly, where he gave a rousing speech, highlighting the plight of the Kashmiris and the repercussions of potential, almost inevitable violence, when India does lift it’s curfew in Kashmir.

To some, it’s perfectly clear that Mr Khan is taking advantage of a bad situation and turning it in his favour. Others feel that at the very least, in this moment, Pakistan is a sympathetic party, by drawing the world’s attention to what is happening in Kashmir — while the Indian Government continues to insist that things are “normal.”

“Humare bacche ki majboori socho, agar 13 saal ka ladka bandookh ke samne patthar leta hai,” says Farida-ji, a mother of two, reinforcing Razia’s sentiment.

“Imagine the desperation of our children, if a 13 year old boy is willing to face a gun with a stone.”

As reported by the Telegraph, and based on a report by the National Federation of Indian Women, over 13,000 boys, some as young as nine, have been arrested since August 5.

My driver was kind enough to invite me to his home for tea. Here is his beautiful, sunlit living room.

“Main apne aap ko Indian maanti hoon. Kyun nahi? Main 40 saal ki hoon. Chaalis saal se India ne mujhe khilaya hai, aur ab main boloon ki Pakistan jaoongi?! Yeh beimaani hai. Aur humara mazhab beimaani nahin sikhata.

Lekin, jo Government ne kiya hai, 370 ke saath? Yeh bahut galat kiya hai. Bahut hi galat.”

“I consider myself Indian. Why not? I’m 40 years old. For forty years, India has been the one to feed me. And now, should I suddenly decide to go to Pakistan?! That’s being unfaithful. And my religion does not teach me to be disloyal.

But what the Government has done with Article 370? It wasn’t right at all. It just wasn’t right.”

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, on the front page of a local newspaper covering Article 370.

“India aur Pakistan ne Kashmir ko football jaise banaya hai”

“India and Pakistan treat Kashmir like a football”

My shikarawala (boatman) goes out of his way to show me the inside of a friend’s houseboat, during a shikara ride on the Dal Lake.

“Humare Jannat ko jail kar diya gaya hai.”

They’ve turned our Heaven into jail.”

A shikara on the Dal Lake, with flowers from the wonderful flower man, a floating florist on the Dal.

Kashmir is truly Amir Khusrow’s ‘firdaus’!

Mriganka Lulla has always felt an inexplicable connection with Kashmir and visited in an independent capacity to better understand what was happening. She is incredibly passionate about levelling structural inequality. In her search to most effectively create social impact, she has worked across South Africa, the US, Kenya and now India, where she works with Fintech in Bangalore.

The views expressed are the writers own.

Pictures: Mriganka Lulla

Also read: How Social Capitalist Madi Sharma Facilitated EU Delegation’s Kashmir Trip 

 

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