As It Happens

Kashmir in 'absolute blackout' as India imposes lockdown, says journalist

Ahmer Khan has flown out from his hometown, Srinagar, to Delhi, just so he can report on what is happening in the state of Jammu and Kashmir following the Indian government's controversial decision to strip the state of its autonomy.

Indian government shuts down internet and phone lines after stripping the region of its autonomy

India has stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy and imposed a strict curfew on the state. (Rakesh Bakshi/AFP/Getty Images)
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Transcript

Wednesday marked the fourth day of a lockdown in the northern Indian territory of Kashmir. 

The Indian government has cut internet, mobile, and landline phone connections to the outside world as part of a stunning move to take greater control of what had been a semi-autonomous state.

Earlier this week, the central government revoked a key article of the Indian constitution that had been in place for 70 years, upending the basis of Kashmir's complex relationship with the rest of India.

Ahmer Khan is a freelance reporter from the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Khan spoke to As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay about the controversial move and what the mood is like on the streets of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Here is part of their conversation.

Ahmer, what is life like for people in Srinagar and the rest of Kashmir ... under this lockdown?

Entire Kashmir is under lockdown. Seven million people are under lockdown. Strict restrictions have been put in place by the government of India.

Thousands and thousands of troops are on the streets asking people to not get out or you'll be shot dead.

There are many reports of protests and unfortunately two people have been killed. But media has not been allowed to cover it because government has put very strict restrictions on the press people.

So, yes, it's really terrible right now.

Freelance journalist Ahmer Khan says the lockdown has created an 'absolute blackout' in the capital city of Srinagar. (Rakesh Bakshi/AFP/Getty Images)

You left Srinagar earlier today. You're now in Delhi. So you can tell people what exactly is happening back in Kashmir. So tell me what kinds of things you were seeing. Are people having any ability to go to work, to go get groceries, to go get water for their families?

No, no, no. There's no question of getting groceries and water. It's an absolute blackout.

As soon as you get out of your house, you'll be shot or you'll be beaten or you'll be abused. So there's no way out.

You can't call. You can't use internet. You can't have any sort of communication with anybody. You can't meet your family or friends.

 

And so, in your family, for instance, how much food and supplies and water do they have to last? Like, how long can they go?

The government has said that we have essential stock for next two months. But how would you distribute the food? 

In 2016, we faced a similar problem and we had curfew for six months straight and people couldn't go out to have all their essential items. 

There are medical emergencies. There are babies. There are many other problems. So it's really hard to say how people manage.

I could only see my family today for 10 minutes. Only 10 minutes. It was really hard. But that's how it is.

Indian security personnel stand guard as they stop traffic following a military lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir. (Mukesh Gupta/Reuters)

And given that there are such strict rules right now, how did you even get out of Kashmir earlier today?

I must tell you, I really begged them. I have literally begged each and every security personnel over there, Indian forces there.

I did show them my travel tickets. And then, even though I show my press card, I was abused after saying that I am from press. It doesn't really bother them. It was really hard. Trust me.

And so given what you've just said, what is the mood like in Srinagar and in Kashmir?

People are really angry. Many, many do not know that Article 370 has been revoked by the government of India, I believe.

The amount of anger out there — it's like a volcano and it can erupt any time. 

You just mentioned Article 370, which is part of the Indian constitution. It's a provision in the constitution. Tell me what it is and why it's so important.

Article 370 is a special status given to Kashmir Valley, basically.

When India and Pakistan got their freedom from British rule, Kashmir was a princely state. It was never part of either of the countries.

The prime minister of India signed a document with the prime minister of Kashmir and said [it] will only accede with India on the condition of having a special status and India could manage only three parts.

But they have broken the trust of 70 years.

 

The Indian government says it's well within its rights to do this — to revoke the state of Jammu and Kashmir's special status. Some constitutional experts say the central government cannot do this without the say of the state government. Where are those leaders in all this? 

Mainstream politicians in Kashmir are under arrest right now. Almost 100 people have been arrested over the couple of days.

None of them can speak to media because they're barred from speaking to media.

Before the curfew, there was an all-party meeting where they said that whatever Delhi does it will be aggression towards the people of Kashmir.

Why do you think Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is doing this now? What do you think it's trying to achieve?

He wants to show that he's a powerful leader to his majority of people. Because, of course, he won the majority in recent elections.

And also, it was in the manifesto. When he released a manifesto before the elections, he said that [he] will revoke Article 370.

Ahmer, as you said, Kashmir has been put under curfew before, but never before has this special status been revoked. This is new territory. And, as you also said, there's a communications lockdown. There isn't a lot of information getting out from Kashmir. So what do you want the rest of us to know about the situation in Kashmir right now?

Kashmir is one of the longest disputed regions in the world and the most militarized region in the world as well.

It doesn't really matter to a lot of people around the world. But it's a small, tiny region in South Asia, which could be a flash point for nuclear arms [for] two neighbours to fight over.

It's a small, small place, but they have always been threatening each other that way.

We believe that if people around the world have a sense, that India should be asked to sit at the table with Pakistan and the rest of the countries in South Asia and resolve this issue.

Written by Ashley Mak and John McGill. Produced by Ashley Mak. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.