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No Kashmiri to Hear Governor’s Independence Day Assurances on Safeguarding Identity

More than half the chairs in SK Stadium, the main venue for the Independence Day celebrations, were empty this year as the state’s last Governor, Satyapal Malik, unfurled the tricolour.

Aakash Hassan | News18@Aakashhassan

Updated:August 16, 2019, 3:54 PM IST
No Kashmiri to Hear Governor’s Independence Day Assurances on Safeguarding Identity
Security forces personnel stand guard next to concertina wire laid across a road during restrictions after the government scrapped special status for Kashmir, in Srinagar on August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Srinagar: Coming after the government's decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir's special status and bifurcate the state, Independence Day celebrations in Srinagar were reflective of the grim conditions in the Valley. Most of the roads in Srinagar and other towns remained desolate; fanned by paramilitary troops, the Army and Police.

No one, except those with passes issued by the authorities, was allowed to travel towards SK Stadium, the main venue for the Independence Day celebrations.

More than half the chairs in the stadium were empty as the state’s last Governor, Satyapal Malik, unfurled the tricolour. The event usually sees the attendance of artists and students from across the Valley, who showcase their cultural identity through performances.

The stadium remained largely empty on Thursday as there were no attendees from Kashmir. Along with the dozen CRPF personnel, the spectators only included 50 students and artist from across the Jammu area.

“We came to Kashmir on August 11 and since then have remained confined to our hotel rooms,” said Kajol, a college student from Jammu, who participated in the dance show donning an embroidery-worked feran.

There has been an absolute ban on internet and the phone services in Kashmir since August 5, the day when the government moved to revoke Article 370, which conferred special status on J&K, and bifurcated the state into two union territories—J&K and Ladakh.

Restrictions have been also been imposed across Srinagar and other parts of the Valley effectively confining most of the populace to their homes. Schools, colleges and other educational institutions remain shut. They will reopen in phases starting Monday.

In the past years, students from the Valley’s schools and colleges would be called in to perform at the event. However, due to the prevailing situation and the communication gag, no student was invited. It wasn't just the absence of students from the Valley, even those from Jammu felt something amiss in this year's celebration.

“We keep coming for such events but it is for the first time that we felt lots of things are missing. There are only a few shows today,” said Priya Rajput, a college student from Jammu’s Kathua area. The students and other artists haven’t been able to contact their families in all this time. “Our family knows that we are in safe hands but it is still very difficult since you have no means of communications,” Rajput said.

The Independence Day ceremony in SK Stadium was unusual in many ways. Only police officials were seen in the stadium’s sitting area, which earlier would be buzzing with local politicians. No mainstream politicians, except a few workers from BJP, were present at the venue.

In the previous years, all the incumbent and former ministers and legislators would have been invited. This time, however, even the three former chief ministers of the state remained absent from the ceremony since they remain in detention.

Among the dignitaries present at the ceremony were chief guest Governor Satyapal Malik, his advisors and National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, who has been in the Valley since August 6. Despite, Governor Malik emphasising in his speech that ‘Kashmiri identity will be safeguarded', there were hardly attendees to perform the Rouff, a Kashmiri style of dancing that is commonplace at such functions.

This Independence Day also marked the last time that the flag of Jammu and Kashmir was raised alongside the tricolour. With the revoking of Article 370, the flag will stop being used from October this year.

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