‘Slowly The Situation On Ground Is Improving In J&K’

Priyanka Pandita, a 29 year old Kashmiri Pandit, says life of a Jammu-Kashmir citizen has improved marginally since August 5, 2019, when the Centre abrogated Article 370

As someone who belongs to Jammu & Kashmir, we see the world differently and in turn are seen differently by the rest of the country (or the rest of the world). So far there has been no possibility of having a good education or work life in Kashmir and those of us who can move out of the state, do so. But when we go to other states for studies or work, most people see us only as Jammu & Kashmir residents and less as people who have dreams, hopes and aspirations of a better life.

Till Class 12 I lived in J&K, but after that I have lived in Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Karnataka for higher studies and just shifted to Mumbai post-marriage, but the story was the same everywhere… Kashmir just meant violence and terrorism to other people.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say we have had an identity crisis of sorts. There are so many of us who long to be a part of the wider landscape but the goings on in Kashmir for the past few decades had led to more and more isolation of the residents of Jammu & Kashmir… until August 2019, when Article 370 was abrogated. It will now be almost two years to that (in my opinion) momentous day and I feel it is in the best interest of Jammu & Kashmir that it happened.

As far as I can see, the ground reality has changed for the better. I now feel like part of a whole and hopefully it will change for other people as well. Identity of the residents of this region won’t be pigeonholed anymore. And it is not just about us Kashmiri Pandits (living in Jammu region) but also many Muslim friends of my father have mentioned how there seems to be more peace around, how the mahaul is more conducive for business and also tourism (of course once coronavirus is under strict control).

Pandita says ‘mahaul’ is more conducive for business and tourism now

The endless curfews, the looming shadow of when violence might erupt, suspension of internet… it was all beginning to take a toll on people who longed for normalcy. Instances of stone pelting have come down. And people have finally begun to listen to each other’s point of view. The communication breakdown that had happened is being repaired little by little. Earlier there was no possibility of having deep conversation with fellow Kashmiris on the matter of terrorism or even how the government was faring.

People would get defensive so quickly and a conversation would turn into an argument. All solutions begin with a conversation and now I feel people have begun to talk to each other a little more openly. I have also begun to worry less about my parents and other loved ones who live there, no matter which part of the country I am in.

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I believe Covid was also handled well because the Centre was in charge here. In fact there has been less corruption for the past two years as far as I can see. I last visited my family in November, 2019. After that the pandemic meant travelling has been difficult, but I have kept myself updated.

Also, the local leaders whose policies so far reflected only resistance have begun to think of cooperation (even if it is miniscule right now), I feel after they were arrested or put under house arrest.

I feel once the final creases are ironed out (like the restoration of statehood, elections), Jammu & Kashmir will truly be on the path of development. The Taliban’s advancement in Afghanistan has rung bells of concern for the subcontinent, but I believe that the strong leadership of the current government will keep them at bay and Kashmir will truly flourish, even if it takes one baby step at a time towards the future.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

A Tale Of Two Elections In Jammu & Kashmir

The month of November has witnessed elections in two different parts of the former Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir. On November 15, elections were held in Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) wherevotes were cast to elect a puppet legislative assembly. And on November 28, Direct Development Council (DDC) elections were held in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir for the first time.

The DDC elections were held in order to elect representatives who would be in charge of development projects in their respective districts.

The GB elections were more of a ‘make-PTI-win’ by hook or crook exercise. Originally the elections were scheduled to be held in August. However, excuses were made regarding incomplete voters list and elections were postponed for three months.

Critics of Imran Khan are of the view that this was a manoeuvre to let winter set in so that far-flung regions in the mountainous region would be blocked due to snowfall thus making it impossible for voters to get to the far and few polling stations.

The DDC elections in Jammu and Kashmir were held for the first time in the history of the Union Territory. They are designed to devolve power and to transfer control of local development from a centralised UT government right down to the district level.

On the contrary, the GB elections were a power grab scam which enabled the federal government in Pakistan to ‘select’ a toothless rubber-stamp legislative assembly.

On election day, ballot boxes were stolen and ‘unknown’ gunmen armed with guns attacked more than one polling station in GB and allegedly replaced numerous ballot boxes with those which had already been filled with votes to make ‘selected’ PTI candidates win.

At least 1,700 postal votes were discovered in Astore which had mysteriously been stamped before the election date.

Despite vigorous election campaign run by Pakistan People’s Party leader Bilawal Zardari Bhutto and Maryam Nawaz of Pakistan-Muslim League Nawaz drawing the largest crowds at her public meetings in Gilgit and Skardu they only managed to bag 4 and 2 seats respectively. The PTI bagged 8.

It has been the norm in previous GB elections held in 2009 and 2013 that the party which formed government in Pakistan would win in GB as well.

However, this time around the poor performance of Imran Khan government in Pakistan, the lack of grass root party organisation in GB, the resentment against the declaration of turning GB into Pakistan’s fifth province and the resonance of the anti-military establishment public discontent displayed at several rallies held across the country under the banner ofPakistan Democratic Movement were decisive elements that everyone had realised would grossly dent PTI popularity, if any, in GB, and that the PTI would lose miserably.

However, today we have a PTI government in GB. This can only happen in Pakistan where the invisible hand of Pakistani military establishment works in mysterious ways. But the people of GB have rejected the tampered election results and taken to the streets.

Violent protests set in across the land and in Gilgit and Skardu they continue for over a week. All major opposition parties have refused to accept the election results.

The DDC elections held on November 28 were held undisputed. Even the Gupkar gang did not raise a finger to challenge the transparency of the voting process. Electors in the valley came out in their droves to vote.

A 120-year-old woman was carried on the back of her great-grandchild to the pollingstation. Despite the bone-chilling cold and the fear of terrorist attempts to disrupt the polling, people came out and voted.

A glance at the percentage of votes might give us a better understanding of how seriously people took the DDC elections. In an interview with this scribe Sajid Yousaf Shah, CEO of The Real Kashmir News said that more people turned up at the polling stations in South Kashmir than North Kashmir.

This, he claimed, was of great significance since most of the violence and terrorism was previously attributed to the Southern part of the valley.

Perilously notorious trouble spots such as Kupwara, Shopian, Doda, Kathua and Samba to name a few, witnessed a turn out of 50.74 per cent, 42.58 per cent, 64.49 per cent, 62.82 per cent and 68.61 per cent respectively. The total overall turnout was recorded at 51.76 per cent.

No untoward incident was reported during the polling. This shows the resilience of the people of Kashmir who have been held hostages for seven decades by those who now comprise the Gupkar gang.

The politics of communal hate and insecurity are over or so it seems at least for now. The fact that people turn up at the polling stations in Jammu Kashmir is a testimony of approval of the abrogation of article 370 and 35A.

The second phase of the DDC elections will be held soon. This will include areas that were left out in the first phase. Unlike GB where elections have brought more repression of the colonial occupier, the DDC elections are to prove the steam engine for progress and prosperity.

The tale of two elections have brought about two opposing outcomes.

While DDC election in Jammu Kashmir will help the Union Territory to take long strides towards integrating its economic and political with the living body of Hindustan, in GB the struggle to free our people from the clutches of jihadist oppression and colonial slavery continues.

(The author is a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK — ANI)