NEW DELHI: Ahead of the informal UN consultations regarding India’s abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, the administration of Jammu and Kashmir announced on Friday that restrictions in the valley would be lifted “in a phased manner.”
The state’s Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam said at a press briefing in Srinagar that no lives had been lost, nor anyone injured, “during the course of maintaining peace.”
“We are now taking measures to ease the restrictions in a gradual manner,” he announced. “There will be easing of restrictions in the coming days in an orderly way.”
He said that schools in the state will reopen on Monday and that public transport will be permitted to function in areas around those schools. “Government offices were fully operational today and attendance was high,” Subrahmanyam added.
He claimed that 12 districts in the state were now functioning “normally” and that limited restrictions were in place in only five districts, and that those restrictions had been imposed to counter the threat of “cross-border terrorism,” adding that “a few preventive detentions” had been made “to maintain law and order.”
“The history of terrorism required the government to take steps. A few preventive measures were also made according to the provisions of law,” he said. “Similar measures were taken in the past also. Terror groups carry out attacks in Jammu and Kashmir to create fear and block development.”
His announcement came on the same day that the UN was set to hold an informal discussion on the government’s abrogation of Article 370 — a provision that gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir special autonomous status.
On Thursday, Amnesty International appealed to the Indian government to lift the communications blackout and engage with the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The human rights NGO told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that if his decision to repeal Article 370 has the support of the people, “then he must immediately lift the communications blackout.”
“Modi must listen to the people in the region, engage with them, and hear what they have to say when it comes to decisions that affect their lives,” said Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty International India.
“The government of India must realize that the ongoing clampdown on civil liberties in Jammu and Kashmir will only increase tensions, alienate the people, and increase the risk of further human rights violations,” he added.
On Friday an open letter from more than 200 writers and activists was published condemning the “mockery of democracy in Kashmir.”
By scrapping the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian constitution, the letter said, New Delhi has “violated the solemn promises made to the state by the Union of India during the accession of the state in 1947.”
The letter called on the government “to lift the state of siege imposed on the people of the valley,” and appealed to Indians “to resist this authoritarian challenge to the freedom and autonomy of Jammu & Kashmir.”
On Wednesday a fact-finding team of economists and activists published a report — “Kashmir Caged” — in which they alleged that security forces in the valley had “abducted hundreds of boys in midnight raids and molested women and girls amid the state’s 11-day blackout.”
The activists — Jean Drèze, a famous Indian economist, Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, Maimoona Mollah, vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, and Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People’s Movement — spent five days travelling through the valley from August 9.
In a press conference in Delhi they said that “there is an intense and virtually unanimous anger in Kashmir against the Indian government’s decision to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A, and also about the way this has been done,” adding that “the silence in the valley is the silence at gun point.”
They demanded that any decision on the future of Kashmir should not be taken without the involvement and consent of the Kashmiri people.
The Indian government would not allow the team to screen a short film they made about the situation inside the valley.
The opposition Congress party expressed “grave and deep concern” that the Indian government had failed to stop the “internationalization of the Kashmir issue.” Congress party spokesman Abhisekh Manu Singhvi described it as “a great diplomatic and strategic failure of the government.”
Happymon Jacob, a writer who teaches Disarmament and National Security at the School of International Studies in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University suggests that too much importance is being attached to the UN’s decision to discuss the issue, though.
“It’s only an informal discussion (in which no minutes are taken),” Jacob said.
He told Arab News that by scrapping Article 370, the Modi government “wants to make the Kashmir issue a domestic problem, but the issue has become international and it will have geopolitical consequences.”