10 moves by the Kashmir government that drew criticism

Time and again, Kashmiris have been questioning the decisions taken by the elected governments. A common Kashmiri may not understand the policies and strategies of the authorities. However, some decisions do not need you to be an expert to judge them.

Some of the decisions implemented by the Jammu and Kashmir government have raised many fingers pointing towards their illogicality and short-sightedness.

Here is a list of 10 moves that were heavily criticised:

1. 7 feet high fence “to tackle suicides”

Instead of addressing the mental health issues prevailing in the valley and figuring out as to why people are choosing death over life,  in 2014, after an eighth standard girl committed suicide there, the government decided to fix a 7 feet high fencing around the Amirakadal bridge.

“The decision was pointless. The jumpers may simply choose another bridge, consume poison or hang themselves. Even if the fencing was fixed to stop people from throwing garbage in the river, it still doesn’t make sense because that’s an issue of awareness,” said Zeeshan, a passerby standing on the bridge.

2. Curfew on the day when Burhan Wani was killed 

On 8 July 2016, the news regarding the killing of a local Kashmiri commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, a Kashmir-based militant outfit, Burhan Muzaffar Wani went viral. The locals say that before any mass reactions, the government triggered the bloodshed by ‘hinting at the people to react.’

“Militants have been killed before as well. By killing him right at the time of Eid and imposing curfew right after his death, the government triggered the unrest. People would have wailed as usual. But, when they (the government) show their presence at such instances, people react,” said a local, requesting anonymity.

3. Social media ban/ Ban on calling

“Bandh ma korukh beyi (Did they shut it down again?),” is a common phrase in every Kashmiri home when a website shows some error or takes more time to open. As much as the use of Internet has grown over the years, the timely ban on it is but expected by the people here. Why?

Shoot the messenger? Instead of focusing on, and addressing the issues captured in the videos shared by Kashmiri civilians, and some armed officials, the government shuts down the media.

“Be it the India’s Republic Day or any situation in Kashmir, we know they will ban the Internet and cut us off from rest of the world. Even on Eid, we were not able to greet our loved ones who are not around. In an era when the Internet is one of the basic necessities, we are forcefully deprived of it. Why do they do wrong at the first place when they need to hide it from the world later on?” asked a group of students studying at a local school in Srinagar.

4. Media Gag

Last year, a “temporary” ban was implemented on a local daily, Kashmir Reader. Even on the usual days, the government keeps a check on what the newspapers write about.

More than once, have the media persons received threats for publishing a story that the government could not digest.

A noted historian Zareef  Ahmad Zareef told Free Press Kashmir that he has served the Information Department. Zareef’s comment regarding the department, reveals as to how the state tries to shut down the voices of common people, or even journalists who are supposed to write about the happenings in a society.

“They don’t let us speak. They don’t let us write. I remember the days when I would be in the newsroom. At 10.30 am, the summary of the newspapers, headlines, editorial subheads and content had to be reported to the Resident Commissioner. So, we don’t enjoy any democracy here,” he said.

The question is why to ban the media when there is alternate media and people will manage to tell their stories. It is unstoppable.

5. Darbaar Move

It’s a century-old practice that started in the late 19th century by Maharaja Ranbir Singh. He would shift the offices from Srinagar to Jammu and vice-versa so that official work stays unhampered during the harsh winter conditions here.

“It would snow and the raods would get covered. Then, we would dig tunnels to be able to move around. It was impossible to work in such conditions,” said Gulam Qadir, a local in his 90s.

Asked if he feels there is a need for Darbaar Move now, he said, “The weather at present, is much favourable. You have new technology. They can work here easily now. Probably, it’s some kind of propaganda going on.”

So, the weather is not much of an issue. Why shift the offices then?

6. Mehbooba Mufti’s 5 percent remark and AFSPA, PSA

In August, last year, Chief Minister J&K Mehbooba Mufti made a statement that only a mere 5 percent of the Kashmiris with ‘vested interests’ incite violence in the state.

Reacting to the statement, the locals question the existence of Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA). AFSPA is a collective name of several acts passed by Indian parliament for providing special powers to the Indian Armed Forces and to provide army officers legal impunity for their actions in “disturbed” areas.

Jammu & Kashmir has its own Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) a separate legislation that came into existence in 1992. After the DAA for J-K lapsed in 1998, the government reasoned that the state can still be declared disturbed under Section(3) of AFSPA. And it continues to exist.

“The question then is: If only 5 percent of the people are instigating violence, why are laws like AFSPA and PSA existent in the valley?” asked a student of Law at the University of Kashmir.

7. OSA vs RTI 

In order to promote transparency in the system, the authorities had decided to empower a common man via Right to Information Act. The act enables any citizen of India to request information from a “public authority” that is required to reply “expeditiously”. However, at the same time, what kills the absolute transparency is the existence of Official Secrets Act.

OSA is an anti-espionage act, which states the actions which involve helping an enemy state against India. It also states that one cannot approach, inspect, or even pass over a prohibited government site or area.

However, the existence of OSA doesn’t make much sense to people who have faced corruption.

“Both the acts you are talking about are important. But, sitting under the dark shadow of OSA, are corrupt officials who can deny giving you information regarding a scam done by them and put a tag of OSA on it,” said Gulam Mohammad, a local here.

8. Ladies special buses

Instead of addressing the alarming issue of harassment in public spaces, especially the overcrowded buses, the government started ladies special bus service in June 2016. While some women were happy with the decision, some believed that it was not the solution to the underlying problem.

“It’s much better to travel in a ladies special bus. But, shouldn’t the focus be on how men should behave around women? Shouldn’t they be taught not to objectify and harass women?” said Azra, a student who travels by public transport.

9. Addressing Traffic mess:  Killing the Heritage while blocking u-turns

In order to ensure the construction of a 2.4 km long flyover from Rambagh to Jehangir Chowk, felling of 11 chinars was ordered by the authorities.

“Was there no other way,” the locals ask. “Why kill the heritage? Why not have a better plan instead? The Chinars would have stayed with us for a long time. The construction of this flyover may not even be finished,” said the locals.

It is obvious that because of the construction of the flyover, the traffic in the city is a mess and diversions are needed more than anything else. However, there are many places where the u-turn is blocked or is missing, adding up to the inconvenience.

“You got to Lalchowk, there is a 4-way that has been turned into a two-way. You have to drive to Polo View and then take a u-turn. You go to KaranNagar, you will face the same issues. You got to the JVC hospital and if you have a vehicle, you will have to travel 3 km to cross the road. Is this a plan? Who will buy that much petrol for us? This is clearly not helping the traffic mess in any way, rather it is adding to it,” said Muzaffar, a shopkeeper at Lalchowk.

10. Aadhar Card

Now, that the Supreme Court of India has said that no person should be deprived of any Government service if they dont have an Aadhar card. People in Kashmir as well as in many states of India have started to doubt it. Moreover, an information received via an RTI suggests the biometrics system is not hundred per cent accurate.

The way each detail is being collected is also raising many fingers. “Why do they need to scan our eyes. Why do we need it in the first place? We would have the passport and that used to be it. We were managing without it. If it has no benefits, why waste so much money and time? I smell something fishy,” said Rabia, a student.

The three monkeys of Mr. Gandhi come to mind: See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil, at the time when there is a dire need of the fourth monkey: Do No Evil!

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