Field Notes: A Pall Of Doom In Kashmir


On 9 January, a colleague shared a circular from the Jammu and Kashmir Revenue department with me, directing the deputy commissioners of all the 22 districts in the union territory to start an “anti-encroachment drive plan” in the region and update the higher officials daily about the “state land” retrieved from the “encroachers”.

As men and machinery were deployed to evict people from their lands and homes, social media was flooded with videos of the panic, grief, and fear gripping the embattled Kashmir valley. Suddenly, everyone was checking their revenue documents to see whether they lived on state or proprietary land.

The J&K administration said that poor people would not be affected and action would be taken against "influential people” who misused their positions and encroached on state land. But my reporting for Article 14 showed that the poorest and most vulnerable were among the worst hit. 

On 4 February, I learned that the district administration of Srinagar had demolished a part of a scrap godown in Padshahi Bagh, claiming that the plot, measuring 15 marlas (0.09 acres), was grazing land that had been encroached upon. 

Five Kashmiri business partners and over 200 scrap collectors, including poor migrant workers, depended on the operation for their livelihood. I went to Padshahi Bagh, where I met Slar Ansari, a 40-year-old migrant from Bihar, who said he was devastated and did not know what to do next. 

“I support my family of seven, including three children,” said Ansari. This was my livelihood for many years. I have nowhere to go.” 

Ansari said that even if this was state land, there had to be a more humane way of evicting people. 

I went to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court the next day to speak with a lawyer about whether the demolition drive was legal and what redressal, if any, the evictees had. But fearing reprisal from the state, the lawyer did not want to speak, not even on the condition of anonymity. 

One lawyer agreed to talk with me on the condition of anonymity, but he did not want to be seen speaking with a journalist in a public place, so he called me to his house. 

When I reached there the next day, the lawyer asked me to sit in his bedroom, not in the guest room. I sensed he wasn’t comfortable talking to a journalist in front of his other guests. 

I was sad but not surprised. 

As I write this, another Kashmiri journalist has been arrested under an anti-terror law. 

Read Auqib Javeed’s full story here

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