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You shall not pass

  • Published at 12:02 am April 16th, 2019
Restricting movement helps no one COURTESY

The ban on civilian movement is a dark reminder of the circumstances Kashmiris are living in

On April 3, Indian authorities banned civilian vehicular traffic on the highway in Kashmir stretching from the district of Baramulla up to Udhampur on Wednesdays and Sundays until May 31 for the smooth movement of army convoys. 

We can’t say whether the order will be lifted in the future or not, as most of the orders and laws, once implemented in this disputed territory, stay forever. The order comes in the wake of the recent Pulwama attack in which around 50 armed personnel were killed and many others injured, and also as a run-up to the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

The draconian order reminds us of the order of the Nazi party of 1930’s Germany which prohibited Jews to tread on roads on particular days and time without the prior approval of the German authorities. Many civilians were seen stamped with “allowed” written on their hands, just like Jews were stamped and asked to wear on their arms a badge with a “star” on it in Nazi Germany.

Though there was some relaxation given to government employees, doctors, and teachers, others were barred and those allowed had to get the approval of the government before driving a car or bus on the highway. The order was condemned by all, cutting across political divides. 

While pro-Indian or mainstream parties called it “mindless” and an “unnecessary exercise” the separatists calling for independence of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian rule termed the highway ban “barbaric” and likened it to Israeli tactics of subjugation against Palestinians.

Authorities closed all intersections and passageways to halt any civilian movement coming from certain routes, thus greatly inconveniencing thousands of small traders and daily wagers. In every market of Kashmir, fruit sellers and small-time traders were seen waiting for customers while some had closed their shops. 

Patients and students bore the brunt of this apartheid-type ban. Some students missed their exams and some reached exam halls late. Most of the students had to travel to Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir one day before for national level and other exams.  

Though magistrates were deployed by the government to allow specific persons to ply on the road, this had little effect to ease the suffering of the common people. Some civilians were also beaten up for occupying the highway during the time the ban was in place.

The ban on civilian movement on highway traffic is a dark reminder of the circumstances Kashmiris are living in. The news and reports about the ties of the Indian government with the Israelis vis-a-vis Kashmir are proving to be right given these methods. The suppression and subjugation of civilian populations further indicate that the Indian authorities are not shying away from tactics which Israel has been using against Palestinians. 

The closure of highways can be seen also as a failure of the Indian government to “win the minds and hearts of the common masses” as its politicians and army claim from time to time and also its failure to contain home-grown militancy, which is rising with each passing day, especially with more youth joining. 

The civilian killings and draconian measures on separatists and other persons, denying democratic space to the youth to vent their anger and put forth their aspirations, has been prompting the youth of India to take up arms, deeming it as the only way to get justice and to find a solution.

The recent order of closing highways for two days a week and confining the masses to their homes is not going to bring any immediate peace in the already fragile atmosphere of the bruised valley. Rather, it has deepened the alienation of Kashmiris from New Delhi and, in a way, exposed the hollowness of the Indian democracy. 

To make a particular place an “open-air prison” further exposes the agenda of the present regime towards common Kashmiris who have seen enough misery and bloodshed in this decades old armed conflict. It is now up to international authorities to look into this grave matter and provide a sense of relief to Kashmiris from this apartheid like order. 

Ashraf Lone is a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.