Kashmir Civil Disobedience: A Citizens’ Report

October 15, 2019

Anirudh Kala, Brinelle D’Souza, Revati Laul, and Shabnam Hashmi

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The Big Picture or Why We Wrote This

Two months is a long time for people to be under siege. And there has been a lot that is very substantial and worthy written on what has been going on in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A of the Indian Constitution on 5th August 2019.

However, we did find ourselves looking at the big picture differently from those that have gone in and written reports so far. The Indian government has spun the story that their clampdown on civil liberties in Kashmir with an increased military presence, summary arrests of all mainstream and separatist leaders and the communication blockade has made the unfolding of this new reality peaceful.

But we found exactly the opposite. Kashmir is on edge – humiliated, angry, disturbed and `disrobed,’ as a journalist who spoke to us described it. The fact that there has been no violence has to do with the resilience of the people. It is an active and collective choice being exercised each day, to observe a civil disobedience. In feeling rejected and betrayed by the Indian state, Kashmiris have chosen to respond back, through a largely non-violent protest.

Most people we met told us they were keeping their shops and offices closed not under any call by militants or separatists or political leaders but as an act of resistance against the Indian state. This is the big picture we have come away with and it is significant for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it points to an internalizing of the trauma caused after the abrogation of 370 in a radically new way from the previous instances of state versus people. In 2016, when there were large scale protests after the killing of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, people were led into those protests by the separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

This time, there is no leader and no call to protest from anyone. So the decision to keep shops and businesses shut is one that individuals have taken across Kashmir, largely on their own.

Secondly, this mode of protest sets these two months of lockdown apart from all others in the past. People in Kashmir are no longer interested in an interaction with the Indian state. That space is now dead. From those who have been hardliners to separatists demanding a union with Pakistan or azadi to those siding with India – they have all reacted to the current political situation as a big, abominable trauma.

The collective shock, fear of reprisal has however turned them into silent protestors. They say this may well be the lull before the storm or the making of molten mass that is bound to erupt; but regardless of what comes next, these 60 days need to be recorded as a phenomenon in its own right.

Finally, we have spoken to a spectrum of people from politicians (those that were not in jail), bureaucrats, homemakers, schoolteachers, traders, fruit-sellers, taxi unions, students, teachers, intellectuals, poets, writers, farmers, children, journalists, civil society workers, Pandits, Sikhs and Christians and even wedding caterers across five districts over eight days.

From Srinagar to Baramulla to Anantnag to Badgam and even Jammu, all had one thing in common – every single interaction was an emotional outpouring. So we decided to write about what has gone amiss in the day to day lives of people and to present that as an emotional landscape. We felt that would be the truest way to tell the story of what we saw, heard and experienced in this very short trip.

To protect the people we met, we have withheld all names and identity markers. But we have reproduced large chunks of what they told us, unprocessed, so that this becomes open-source material for whoever finds it useful. Use this as you see fit and tag us, citing the report as, #KashmirCivilDisobedience – A Citizens’ Report, when you do.

Who We Are

We are a team of concerned citizens from different professional backgrounds who travelled to Kashmir between September 25-30 and Jammu between October 6 &7 as part of a solidarity and fact finding mission to understand the impact of the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent security clampdown and communication blockade on the lives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Anirudh Kala is a psychiatrist and writer based in Ludhiana. He has written the very well received book called `The Unsafe Asylum – Stories of Partition and Madness,’ published in 2018. A novel set in the decade of Punjab terrorism and a non-fiction book on drug addiction in Punjab are in pipeline.

Brinelle Dsouza is an academic, activist and public health professional from Mumbai. She is also deeply engaged with issues of secularism, communal harmony, inter-religious dialogue and gender justice.

Revati Laul is a Delhi based journalist whose main body of work is in understanding violence. She is the author of `The Anatomy of Hate,’ a book about the Gujarat mobs of 2002.

Shabnam Hashmi has been working as a social activist for more than 35 years. She is the founding trustee of Anhad, an organisation that works on questions of democracy, secularism, gender rights, diversity and pluralism. Shabnam has extensively worked in Kashmir and Gujarat as well as at the national level.

These four people front this report but the main body of work was done by civil rights activists with decades of dedicated work in Jammu and Kashmir. They cannot be named in order for them to keep up the difficult long-term fight for truth in times of post truth.

We are deeply grateful to the people of Jammu and Kashmir who poured their hearts out to us and shared with us stories of betrayal, anger, loss, despair, hope, resilience, survival and resistance.

We also acknowledge the contribution of Leena Dabiru, Abuzar, Faizan and Supreeth Ravish who helped us with transcriptions and compilation of this material.