“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them.” – George Orwell
In 1944, the founder of Jammu and Kashmir National Conference and a central figure of the Kashmir politics at that time, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, presented a memorandum before the ruling Maharaja Hari Singh. It called for transferring control of the princely state to a democratically elected government. This memorandum came to be known as the Naya Kashmir memorandum.
Naya Kashmir was touted to be a document that was way ahead of its time. The same memorandum was used by Sheikh Abdullah in 1947 to lay down a socialistic constitution for Jammu and Kashmir. In laying the basis of a welfare state, the new regime abolished the feudal system and redistributed thousands of acres of land.
On August the 5th 2019, the Modi government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Subsequently, it bifurcated the state into two union territories. A day before the special status was revoked, J & K was put under a curfew, and all the means of communications were snapped. Narendra Modi, in an interview, said that his government would build a “Naya Jammu and Kashmir and Naya Ladakh.” Following this announcement, mobile networks remained suspended for weeks. The Internet was also shut and was only partially restored to 2G bandwidth six months later.
The BJP government claimed that revoking the special status was necessary for the development and prosperity of the erstwhile state and for rooting out terrorism. The irony was not lost on anyone when the Indian media started throwing around the term “Naya Kashmir” even as the entire region was put under an unprecedented lockdown. Businesses and educational institutions were also closed. The government imposed continued lockdown for many months.
Naya Kashmir—a recycled and plagiarized phrase spells doom for the unfortunate people of Jammu and Kashmir. As the entire world is battling an unforeseen viral enemy in the form of this pandemic, the ‘new Kashmir’ appropriated from history is being enforced with multiple chains of events unfolding in the backdrop while people are restricted to use painfully slow Internet to stay informed and communicate. While students across India and other parts of the world are streaming online lectures, Kashmiri students have to wait for hours to download a simple PDF. This is the developed Naya Kashmir where work from home is not an option because the Internet has been throttled in “national interest.” Only in Naya Kashmir do bunkers and armed men greet you at every nook and corner, and a lockdown to control a disease is imposed like a curfew.
Naya Kashmir has nothing new to offer other than the longest ever internet shutdown in the world. That is indeed something new.
Meanwhile, like in the Purana Kashmir, artillery shelling continues to kill Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control. A few days ago, three civilians — one of them an 8-year-old boy — lost their lives when a shell probably from the Pakistan side landed 50 kilometers inside the LOC, bringing down many houses with it. Similar deaths were reported from the other side of the LOC as well. The pandemic did not seem to have stopped anyone from baying for Kashmiri blood. On that April 12th, just last month, the “Indian Army moved artillery weapons in an open field surrounded by over 200 houses in Panzgam and Rawatpora villages, a few kilometres away from Chokibal.”
While COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc throughout the world, Kashmiris are fighting on multiple fronts. Businesses in Kashmir, which had barely opened for a few weeks after the months-long “security” lockdown, were closed again because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, mobile companies continue to charge Kashmiris for high-speed Internet without providing any services. Naya Kashmir, it seems, allows corporate loot in broad daylight.
Speaking at an event, former governor of Kashmir, Satyapal Malik, proudly talked about his achievements in Kashmir. He bragged about how he tired-out Kashmiris through curfews and lockdowns. Listening to him, I wondered if this new Kashmir is habituated by a tired population—a fatigued people who are witnessing a repeat of the Dogra rule, when Kashmiris were disempowered subjects of a cruel dynasty.
The current top administrators of Jammu and Kashmir — of whom no one is a Kashmiri — remind me of the century-old Maharajas who used to force corvée on our ancestors. The same feudal lords who shot and killed 22 Kashmiris on 13 July 1931 to crush a popular revolt against their dynastic rule. July the 13th, which was officially celebrated as Martyr’s Day until recently, was axed from the list of public holidays by the same administration.
Although the “Naya Kashmir” phrase was coined in 1944, what it signifies is much older—older by a century. In considering the happenings since August 5th of last year, Naya Kashmir stands for disempowerment. It calls for a state machinery that has the characteristics of a cruel and indifferent monarchy, one that serves those who are in power rather than the people.