Tuesday, March 9, 2021

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British Media Criticizes India’s Rent-a-Diplomat Kashmir Tours

Jammu and Kashmir sees a hint of light as the administration decided to lift the internet ban imposed on the region after Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the autonomous status of India’s only Muslim-majority state in August last year.

Though this is not really a cause for celebration, as the restrictions have only been lifted until March 17 and after that, the government will decide the way forward. Not when the people of Kashmir still live under the fear as the paranoia of the Indian government of controlling militants and its urge to put on a show of normalcy continues to mount.

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Just before this, in February, foreign delegates from various countries were brought in the highly volatile region to show off the mesmerising beauty of Kashmir. The whole region has been under the military lockdown and communication blockade, to check the spread of propaganda.

Those dignitaries and diplomats touring the region were taken to several delightful places in the state, made to talk to many businessmen, political leaders and youths from different communities. It was another attempt to make a formal pretence at normalcy, Waheed Mirza writing for The Guardian says.

They visited the beautiful Dal Lake and many other places, and a young Afghan diplomat, Tahir Qadri, went so far as to comment, “everything is normal and all right here. We saw children on the way to their schools, which is a sign of normalcy.” Now, given that the schools and colleges of the Himalayan region have been shut down for vacation since December, this statement is funny at best, writes Waheed.

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But, according to Waheed, born-and-bred man in Srinagar, a tour of Kashmir doesn’t end unless you visit some other places that are not being planned by New Delhi.

Like, Papa II or Fairview, a beautifully renovated building sheltered in the hills and the residence of the last Chief Minister of Kashmir. But this place, Waheed says, conveniently hides the fact that it was previously used to hold and torture Kashmiris who were thought to be involved in the uprising of the ‘90s. Like, the Martyr’s Graveyard of Srinagar – a yard filled with the graves of those Kashmiris who were killed by the Indian Armed Forces since 1989.

Like, the many streets of the old city, just a few minutes from Daal Lake, where you can find the helpless local people. Like, the luxurious hotels and guesthouses where the several Kashmiri politicians have been staying. They look cosy enough, but, as Waheed says, that picture of comfort is an illusion. It hides the lack of freedom of these leaders, be it in speech or movement.

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Then there is the only psychiatric hospital in Srinagar, where so many people can be seen, wearing faces of devastation and trauma. The numbers have only risen in the aftermath of the lockdown put down by the government, according to Mirza.

He also says these Europeans have been known to help the Indian government in their construction of fake reality. He gives the instance of 2013, when the German ambassador, Michael Steiner had thrown a concert beside the Dal Lake, inviting dignitaries, bureaucrats and government officials to enjoy the music while four Kashmiris were killed in a clash with the Indian paramilitary on the other side.

Kashmir has witnessed uncountable deaths and much chaos since the independence of India, though it feels forever now. The battle with Pakistan over its jurisdiction has been a long and exhausting one. Article 370 was meant to offer Kashmir a semblance of freedom at making their own laws and lives. But the Modi government’s decision to repeal it did not help the situation.

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Instead, after it happened, the Kashmiris were cut off from communication and restrictions on travel was imposed. Kashmir has seen a fall of more than $2.4 billion in its economy, claims Waheed.

This tour does not help much either, according to the author, since the foreign diplomats who hardly know Kashmir’s people and their state can hardly serve judgment on that very state. The problem, as Mirza suggests, is precisely this: The officials, be it Indian or foreigner, never bother to know what the Kashmiris want, what they have always wanted – freedom. The blood-painted word azadi over the streets of Kashmir is enough to indicate that.

But instead, the government had managed to worsen the situation by throwing a lockdown on the state, banning internet and mobile services, taking control of the press, arresting its citizens who they think could disrupt their make-believe paradise of peace, Mirza says.

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Now the internet ban has been lifted and people are allowed to access social media, though with 2G speed only. But it remains to be seen how this will go. The Jammu and Kashmir administration has stated that this will be applicable till March 17, only “in experimental basis”, to restore the normalcy of the situation.

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