In 2020, the year after the decades-old limited-autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated, many things changed, if not everything. From the economy, education, health, to politics, every public sector see-sawed as the status of civil rights dipped further. The Kashmir Walla spoke with some of the leading voices in different sectors to understand how they look back at a tumultuous year that was 2020.
Right to Information activist
I was under the impression that the Government of India would ensure better governance so as to divert people’s attention from the abrogation of Article 370. But for the last one year government officials have become more unaccountable. They even fail to respond to Right to Information applications. The aggrieved can’t even file second appeals under the RTI Act in J-K as the State Information Commission was shut down like several other commissions. Very few people have access to the Central Information Commission (CIC) in New Delhi.
The Government of India claimed that J-K would experience good governance post-abrogation but the situation is otherwise. On the ground we are not even able to get Golden Cards (Health Insurance).Cancer patients and kidney transplant patients have not been given government insurance cover due to official apathy. Waste management under the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin is not undertaken in rural areas and the public is not receiving money under rural housing schemes.
Government officials are not responsive to the public. They feel there are no institutions of accountability and probity — like the State Information Commission — operational in J-K and local officers are given unimportant posts. Many District Commissioners and Superintendents of Police are not accessible by the public. Corruption continues in government offices, arbitrary decisions are taken by New Delhi and laws thrusted against us in the absence of any elected government. Several pro-public laws like the Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act were repealed. Other pro-public laws such as the central Right to Fair Compensation Act, the Forest Rights Act and the SC ST Atrocities Act, even the RTI Act of 2005 are not implemented.
Habeel Iqbal, Lawyer
For decades Kashmir has been in a state of exception. The permanent emergency imposed by India in Kashmir only got worse in 2020. From arbitrary arrests to fake encounters Kashmir also saw a clampdown on those who used to report and document human rights excesses. The Indian state took its project — Enforced Silence — to new heights in 2020. Every second person felt that they could be a target of state persecution. Hence we saw whispers being replaced with gestures and complete silence in most cases.
The justice system in Kashmir has totally collapsed. Unfortunately the courts, which used to be the last hope of the oppressed, have lost that place both in the minds of the people and in popular discourse as well. They no longer command the respect they ought to by acting like post offices. They no longer question the decisions of the executive and thus we see the police using their powers arbitrarily and capriciously.
The year 2020 in Kashmir began with a state controlled and guided tour of Kashmir by different envoys from world over to sell to them the facade of normalcy and democracy but the facade couldn’t hide the pellet scars and naked state aggression which we saw during the Muharram processions, the use of excessive and disproportionate force during extrajudicial killings reducing houses to rubble, the extensive and unbridled use of laws like UAPA and the suppression of democratic voices by using different agencies like NIA and ED.
It was a challenging year for the health sector. Accessibility of hospitals was affected due to COVID-19. There were many loop holes because of COVID-19 and lockdown, staying away from facilities which overall affected the health of the public. At the same time health care was a curse at the forefront. The fear of psychosis as a human being to all, being a senior person and asking my juniors to work and putting their lives at risk because no one knew about this new disease.The way of working also changed. It caused the non availability to the patient as the patient didn’t get the proper care if he/she faced any problem, while we were busy taking care of infected patients which affected the overall healthcare. It was a psychological trauma.
The biggest challenge was to understand the disease and then to change our working strategy. Another challenge was to take care of patient’s attendants, avoiding overcrowding of hospitals. So it was entirely a different scenario which the health care workers had never faced. Initially, the implementation was difficult for a month or so. Then we had to streamline by separating hospitals for the ones who were affected. Then counselling our junior doctors and paramedic staff and ourselves facing this situation was in itself a challenge. Our colleagues were also getting infected so we were running out of staff as well which was adding to challenges.It was difficult but we never stopped working. In this year, we have to be positive and we are hopeful that we come out of this situation. We are getting back to normalcy gradually.
Shagufta Parveen, former chairperson Service Selection Board
In 2020, there was total clampdown in every sector and the education sector was the most hit. There were no schools – from kindergarten to colleges – everything was closed. If we look at the state of a three-year-old who just started going to a kindergarten but because of the scenario in 2020, the child’s education is hampered. Literate parents can try and teach their children at home but illiterate and poor families can’t. So, how will those children cope up later and what will they become in future, how will they excel?
The online education in Kashmir is staggered. In other states of India, the online system has reached 5G and we are still on 2G here. I have seen children asking questions and the teacher is not able to attend to every child or not able to answer the question of every child not because he/ she does not know the answer, it’s because the teacher cannot listen or talk to everyone at the same time. Now, what will be the base of those children after ten years? We can see the private schools started the online classes but the government schools they were in hibernation, they started it quite late and that too some lectures on radio and television. Also, if we see children enrolled in government schools in remote areas, nothing has been done for them. So the government should restore 4G at least for children in schools, colleges and universities during the times of pandemic.
Aijaz Ashraf Wani, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir
We are nearing two years of center’s rule with no real, competitive politics in sight. So, if we look at it from democratic perspective it is obviously not good. If you see it in that context then naturally you cannot describe it as something like a healthy trend that is happening. But then what we have always heard in Kashmir, when it comes to “national interest and security”, they prevail over everything. So, definitely from a party system, from healthy democracy, from a competitive politics that we had somehow witnessed from 2002 onwards that has been completely derailed. That context, I would say, this is very fragile and uncertain and sort of going backwards and particularly the way the local leaders and political parties were dismantled, sort of or discredited. In that context also, it can’t be described as in our political, party or electoral system is in any way healthy. It obviously had a tremendous negative impact this year.
Certainly, the DDC polls have restarted the politics in Kashmir. DDC elections were not conducted before, now it is like an improvement that they amended the Panchayat Raj Act and got this as a sort of a layer in between state and panchayat. The People’s Alliance said that the election results were a vindication of our stand on the 5 August decision, the BJP tried to portray that people have moved on from it. Now, the issue is that we can agree that it is the first step but provided that you accept the decision and take it in a healthy manner. Center got a chance, in one way, to say that they restarted the electoral and democratic process. It also gave the local parties, who had completely gotten into isolation and lost the narrative as well, a chance to reach people and make a narrative. If it is taken positively and built upon and then moved forward for restoration of state and the assembly elections are held then it will be a right direction. DDC, in any case, is not a substitute for assembly elections.