Independence Day in Kashmir, minus Kashmir
The first Independence Day celebrations in Kashmir after the scrapping of the state’s special status had everything but Kashmir in it.
The absence of the Kashmiri flavour from the official event in Srinagar reflected the popular anger at the amendment to Article 370 and challenged the government’s “all is well” narrative.
It also made the words of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti — who had said that none in Kashmir would hold up the Tricolour any more if the article was abrogated — sound prophetic.
Most Kashmiris have traditionally stayed away from Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations but till now, these events had some local participation.
During previous agitations, the government could mobilise students and artistes for these events, while the leaders of the pro-India parties too would bring in their supporters.
Many of these politicians, including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba, are in detention while those who are not too chose to stay away.
Some BJP leaders were sighted at the Srinagar venue where governor Satya Pal Malik delivered a speech, with national security adviser Ajit Doval by his side.
A few hundred people witnessed the parade, and most of them appeared non-local. There were no local schoolchildren or artistes to render cultural events.
Most of the chairs outside the VVIP enclosure were empty, resembling scenes from the early 1990s when most Kashmiris boycotted these events.
The government had to rely on security force personnel and artistes from Jammu and Ladakh, or those from outside the state, to enthral the crowd. They played Punjabi, Dogri and Ladakhi songs. One Kashmiri song was played too but the participants were outsiders.
The only face-saver for the government was the presence of a Kashmir police band and a few local officers. A couple of local women, apparently working for the event behind curtains, stayed away from the main venue, hid their faces and refused to speak to reporters.
Kashmir continued to be under lockdown for the 11th day since the government’s August 5 decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
Government spokesperson Rohit Kansal said the day had passed off peacefully and claimed there were celebrations in other districts. The information blockade made it impossible to collect details from the other Valley districts.
Kansal said the state would be on the path to economic prosperity, As a “happy coincidence”, the first-ever night flight from Srinagar to Delhi took off at 7.15pm on Thursday, carrying 150 passengers.
In his address, governor Malik assured people their identity would not get diluted with the abrogation of the special status. There are fears that the Centre would try to change the region’s Muslim-majority profile.
“I want to assure the people of Jammu and Kashmir that their identity is not at stake and neither has it been tinkered with,” Malik said.
“The Indian Constitution allows many local identities to flourish. If one travels from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, one finds a series of languages, cultures, religions and societies. Nobody should be worried that their identity would get finished (owing to) the measures of the central government.”
Malik said the new arrangement would allow all the local languages of Kashmir to flourish.
“The occasion can be used to promote the state’s cultures, values and languages. In the new system, there is an opportunity to succeed for the Kashmiri, Dogri, Gojri, Pahari, Balti, Sheena languages. Those who are not represented will get representation,” he said.
Choppers were seen hovering over the city through the day. Most of the roads were deserted as tens of thousands of security force personnel enforced the restrictions on travel and assembly.
The governor also claimed that the militant groups had been subdued.
“There has been a drop in terrorist recruitments. Stone-throwing incidents after Friday prayers have almost stopped. The youth who had gone astray are returning to the mainstream,” Malik said.