"Shops, hotels, schools, colleges, institutes and universities closed, streets deserted was the first sight as we drove out from the airport. To us, it seemed a punitive mahaul that was blocked from breathing freely," begins a report, released by a team of five women who were in Kashmir as part of a fact-finding mission.
"The picture of Kashmir that rises before our eyes is not the populist image...‘We have been caged’ these words we heard everywhere. Doctors, teachers, students, workers asked us, “What would you do in Delhi if internet services were cut off for 5 minutes?” We had no answer (sic)," the report states.
The report titled Women’s Voice: Fact Finding Report on Kashmir, an eyewitness account of the five-member team, states that the experience of people across all the villages of the four districts — Bandipora, Pulwama, Shopian and Srinagar — is the same. The five-member team consisted of Annie Raja, Kawaljit Kaur and Pankhuri Zaheer from the National Federation of Indian Women; Poonam Kaushik from Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan; and Syeda Hameed from the Muslim Women’s Forum. They visited Kashmir from September 17 to September 21.
The state of Kashmir has been witnessing an unprecedented lockdown since August 4, when the special status granted to the state under Article 370 of the Constitution was revoked.
“The Kashmiri people have in the last 50 days shown an amazing amount of resilience in the face of brutality and blackout by the Indian government and the army. The incidents that were recounted to us sent shivers down our spines and this report only summarises some of them. We salute the courage and resoluteness of the Kashmiri people. Secondly, we reiterate that nothing about the situation is normal. All those claiming that the situation is slowly returning to normalcy are making false claims based on distorted facts,” the report says.
A Malayalam translation of the report was presented in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday by a women’s group named Sthree Kootayma. The report was originally released in New Delhi on September 24.
"In Bandipora, we saw a young girl who made the mistake of keeping a lamp lit to read for her exam on the chance that her school may open soon. Army men angered by this breach of ‘curfew’, jumped the wall to barge in. Father and son, the only males in the house were taken away for questioning. ‘What questions?’, no one dared ask. The two have been detained since then. ‘We insist that men should go indoors after 6 PM. Man or boy seen after dusk is a huge risk. If absolutely necessary, we women go outside’ (sic)," the report reads.
The report states that public transportation in the places the team visited had come to a standstill and people — including women who were in labour — were able to go to hospitals because of the restriction on movement.
“Boys as young as 14 or 15 are taken away, tortured, some for as long as 45 days. Their papers are taken away, families not informed. Old FIR’s are not closed. Phones are snatched; collect it from the army camp they are told. No one in his senses ever went back, even for a slightly expensive phone,” the report states.
The report adds, “Women in villages stood before us with vacant eyes. ‘How do we know where they are? Our boys who were taken away, snatched away from our homes. Our men go to the police station, they are asked to go to the headquarters... 'Army pounces on young boys; it seems they hate their very sight. When fathers go to rescue their children they are made to deposit money, anywhere between 20000 to 60000’. So palpable is their hatred for Kashmiri youth that when there is the dreaded knock on the door of a home, an old man is sent to open it. (sic)"
The report has demanded the withdrawal of the army and paramilitary forces from Kashmir with immediate effect, the withdrawal of cases and FIRs filed against people, especially the youth, who are under custody and are in jail since the special status for the state of Jammu and Kashmir was removed. The report also seeks an inquiry into the “widespread violence and torture unleashed by the army and other security forces” and asks that compensation be provided to all those families whose loved ones have lost their lives because of the absence of transportation and communication facilities.
The event in Thiruvananthapuram also discussed further course of action to assist the women in Kashmir.