This is what Kashmir went through in the 70 days since Article 370 was scrapped

At midnight on August 5, our phones went silent. We have still not been able to break that silence.

 |  4-minute read |   15-10-2019
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Even though no one could have imagined the exact magnitude of the big decision being taken on August 5, days before, there were definite signs of a big churn in Kashmir. Gusts of air about it had started flowing in our direction a few weeks before the announcement actually came.

The journalistic circles were abuzz with speculation but no one knew exactly what was coming. A lot of officers from the police and the administration would call and express their helplessness and anxiety because even they had very little idea about what exactly lay ahead.

wire_101519062307.jpgMuch before the announcement came, people in Kashmir knew something big was coming. (Photo: Reuters)

When the government announced that the Amaranth Yatra was being suspended and tourists already in the Valley were advised to leave immediately, the gravity of the situation hit us. Having lived in the Valley and seen several shades of turmoil, people here have inadvertently learnt to deal with them. This is perhaps why Kashmiris started hoarding essentials right then.

In the first few days of August, anxious people had started queuing up outside petrol pumps and grocery stores.

At home, I had told the family that they needn't worry. But to my surprise, they had already prepared for it. My parents went out on their own and stocked up as much as they could.

On August 4, when it became clear that the next day was going to be the big date, I called home and informed my family that I wouldn't be coming back that night.

The drill was clear. We all knew that the roads would be blocked, phones lines jammed and the internet snapped. For a television journalist, it is essential to be with the crew, so we all decided to spend the night in a nearby hotel. At midnight, the phones stopped ringing. Just before that happened, I messaged a few political leaders and they confirmed that the gates to their houses were sealed. One of them, who is still under detention, sent a message, "Unfortunately it has begun."

My reply seeking more details couldn't be delivered just a second after.

It was already post midnight and there was nothing one could do. A few hours of uneasy sleep is what most of us in the room could manage. The morning was action-packed. We woke up to noises of loudspeakers blaring from the police vans, announcing the curfew, asking people not to venture out. Outside, there were paramilitary forces in numbers bigger than what we were used to seeing.

Concertina wires were laid out at every corner of the city in Srinagar. As one of our friends observed, "The map of the city was very intelligently changed by the concertina wires."

370-inside_101519062414.jpgPeople in Kashmir still do not know how they feel about what happened on August 5. They have gone numb.  (Photo: Reuters)

If one took a particular route to walk or drive to a point, there was no way that person could have used the same route to get back. Such was the meticulousness with which the administration planned and executed the move.

At exactly 11 am, the Parliament of India started discussing the issue. Suddenly, Home Minister Amit Shah rose and announced that Article 370 had been hollowed out. He said a lot of things after that; all of us were glued to the TV screen, but were still trying to register the first one. Was it really Article 370? Was it legally possible? Was it so easy to strip Kashmir off a seven-decade-old Article enshrined in the Constitution of India?

These were the questions most of us asked others and ourselves too. As soon as the decision was announced, I had to be on air and give the ground report. The anchor tossed the obvious question: what the people in the Valley felt about it. I had no answer to this. I replied by saying it was too early for this to sink in. That is how I myself felt, and I assumed most Kashmiris who were inside their homes would have felt.

Later that day, when I asked a few neighbours what their reaction was, they said that they felt nothing for a few hours. They had gone numb.

For journalists like me, it was a strange a feeling. There was hardly anyone we could speak to or call to record a reaction. Almost everyone who would otherwise be giving sound bites or quotes was either detained or put under house arrest.

Common Kashmiris were mostly in their homes and had no way to talk or express themselves. Those who we could find and tried to speak to, would simply refuse. The Valley seemed like it had suffered a paralytic attack.

Over two-and-a-half months later, that paralysis is just as acute as it was when it all started. And finding people to speak to remains the biggest task a journalist in Kashmir faces today.

Also read: Mohan Bhagwat is right. Indian Muslims like me are so happy they just can't handle

Writer

Shuja-ul-Haq Shuja-ul-Haq @shujauh

Senior Special Correspondent, India Today TV. In spare time I volunteer for Read Room Circle. Setup libraries for underprivileged.

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