Archives  >  2019  >  August  >  5th

Kashmir, Uneasy

1. What’s the story?

Kashmir is on the boil again. Last week, the Government abruptly announced that every Amarnath Yatra pilgrim had to leave the state with immediate effect, citing security concerns. This unprecedented order, quite naturally, led to widespread panic in the valley. As of early morning on Monday, Section 144 has been imposed in the state. (Quick recap: CRPC’s Section 144 gives an executive magistrate the right to forbid more than four people from gathering in an area.)
Tell me more.
Apart from cancelling the Amarnath Yatra, the Government also took a slew of other related decisions – sending a clear message to the masses. The less popular Machali Yatra was cancelled, outstation students of NIT Srinagar were asked to leave the institute as soon as possible, state cricket team trials were postponed indefinitely, and additional paramilitary forces were deployed in the state. The valley is also set to lose its Internet connectivity from Monday, and all Government exams are set to be rescheduled.

Officially, this was what the Government had to say: “Keeping in view the latest intelligence inputs of terror threats, with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra, and given the prevailing security situation in the Kashmir Valley, in the interest of safety and security of the tourists and Amarnath Yatra, it is advised that they may curtail their stay in the Valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible.”

The unforeseen order led to alarm in the valley over the last weekend, with people crowding Srinagar markets to buy essentials. Large crowds also gathered in railway stations as migrant labourers tried to get the first ticket home. In response, Indian Railways has declared that ticket checking on Jammu trains will be lenient over the weekend.

According to the Indian Army, the “significantly high” security threat to this year’s Yatra led them to take this step.

“On Friday, Lt Gen Dhillon, speaking at a joint briefing by security forces in Srinagar, said a Pakistan-made mine and a huge cache of arms were recovered from along the Yatra route.

He said searches were conducted along the route after specific intelligence that Pakistan-based terrorists might target the Yatra using improvised explosive devices and attack pilgrims. The arms seized include a mine with a Pakistan Ordnance Factory stamp and an American sniper rifle M24.”

Political bigwigs in the valley, including National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti have criticized the centre’s handling of the situation. According to Abdullah, “Although this unprecedented order would seem to suggest a genuine fear of a massive terror strike directed at Amarnathji yatris or/and tourists, this will do nothing to dampen the sense of fear & foreboding that prevails in the Valley at the moment.”
So, what next?
On Sunday, security in important areas, such as the civil secretariat, airport, and police headquarters was ramped up. An all-party meet was also held by leaders from across the state. However, major political leaders, including Abdullah and Mufti were placed under house arrest from Sunday night.

Additionally, Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting with top security officials, including National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval.

Some have also speculated that increased terrorism risk may mean an end to Article 35A – a crucial piece of legislature in maintaining peace in the state. (Quick recap: Under Article 35A of the Jammu and Kashmir legislature, no one from outside the state can own property or get a state job there.)

Keep your eyes on this space. We’ll keep you updated.

2. Where else should I be looking at?

The Rajya Sabha, that’s where. On Friday, the Parliament passed a crucial amendment to our current anti-terror law (the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) that is expected to give the central Government power to pronounce any suspect a “terrorist” and seize their properties even before trial commences. It was first introduced in the Lok Sabha about a week ago by Home Minister, Amit Shah, who managed to fast track it to the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) with great haste. Even though the Opposition put up a valiant fight (MPs Asaduddin Owaisi and Mohua Maitra being notable among them), the ruling NDA coalition managed to pass the legislature in the Rajya Sabha with 147 votes in its favour and only 42 votes against it. According to critics, this amendment may be used to silence dissent in democracy.
“… the designation of an individual as a terrorist gives the Central government the power to label and stigmatise an individual as a terrorist even when it doesn’t have the evidence to actually prosecute and convict him. It is, in other words, an extra-legal form of punishment.

If fake encounters allow the police to pass a death sentence on individuals like, say, Kauser-bai and her husband Sohrabuddin without going to court, Shah’s plan to designate individuals as terrorists will allow the government to push its targets into a solitary confinement of sorts – by making their life a living hell without taking them to court or sending them to jail.

Once an individual is designated as a terrorist, he will lose his job. His landlord will throw him out. His children will have a tough time at school. Everyone will look at him with suspicion and the police will keep harassing him and anyone he meets.”

3. What more?

Mumbai and Pune regions of Maharashtra have continued to battle flood-like situations with non-stop rain for 48 straight hours over this weekend. At least four people have been killed in this latest spate of heavy rains. Almost 500 people have been evacuated to higher grounds as the Mithi river swelled to reach danger level. More than 2000 passengers were stranded on the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus railway station due to inclement weather, and authorities have asked offices, schools, and colleges to be closed tomorrow.

4. Anything else?

India and Israel’s friendship seems to be going strong. Sunday was World Friendship Day, and India awoke to a Bollywood greeting from its close ally.

“Israel greeted India on friendship day with a Twitter message that featured popular Bollywood song “yeh dosti” from the movie Sholay, drawing an equally warm response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi who asserted that the bond between the two countries is “strong and eternal”.

The message had lyrics of the song, ‘yeh dosti hum nahi todenge’ in Hindi and emoticons conveying that Israel loves India. Modi responded with a tweet in Hebrew saying, India and Israel have proved their friendship over time.”

5. Is that all?

USA was rocked by two major mass shootings over this weekend, leaving at least 29 dead and many more injured. 20 people were killed in the majority-Latino city of El Paso, Texas, in what the federal authorities have labelled a potential hate crime. Less than 24 hours after that, another shooting took place in Dayton, Ohio, leading to the loss of nine lives.

“The El Paso shooting reverberated on the campaign trail for next year’s US presidential election, with several Democratic candidates repeating calls for tighter gun control measures and others drawing connections to a resurgence in white nationalism and xenophobic politics in the country.

Several candidates pointed a finger at Trump, a claim the White House dismissed as ‘ridiculous’.”

6. Before you leave …

Take a look at how Russia is all set to inaugurate floating nuclear plants, amidst fears of a situation that some call “Chernobyl on ice”.

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