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October 11, 2019

Kashmir: working class struggle on the horizon


October 11, 2019

The Kashmiri people continue to face brute force, arrests, torture, abuse and repression. The Kashmir valley has literally been turned into an open prison. More than seven million people have been forced to live like prisoners in their own homes. The heavy presence of Indian forces on the streets gives the looks of a garrison.

The Indian occupation forces continue to deny the democratic, political, economic and basic human rights of the Kashmiri people. The Indian forces are involved in gross violations of human rights and crimes against humanity.

The new normal in Occupied Kashmir is the daily abuse, torture, arrests and humiliation in the hands of Indian occupation forces. Thousands of people including lawyers, teachers, trade union activists, political leaders and activists, journalists and young people have so far been arrested. Even young boys of 9 to 10 years have been arrested and abused. This is collective punishment and imprisonment carried out by a neo-fascist government.

The right of work and free movement has not only been curtailed but also violated. The continued lockdown, curfew-like restrictions and blockades in the occupied Kashmir Valley by the Indian occupation forces has entered into the third month and has forced most of the businesses to close down.

Daily wage and self-employed workers – electricians, plumbers, mechanics and other skilled workers – are facing starvation as they have had no work now for two months. The military lockdown and oppression has confined them to their homes. How can a daily wage worker and street vendor survive without getting work on a daily basis? They don’t have enough money to buy and store food and other daily utilities for their families to survive for weeks.

No work means no money to buy milk, rice and other food items for their families. The poor working masses are facing starvation, poverty and occupation. There is no doubt that all of the seven million Kashmiri people are suffering under occupation and lockdown but unemployed workers and poor families are suffering the most.

The three main sectors of Jammu & Kashmir’s economy – tourism, handicrafts and agriculture have been hit hard. IT companies have already closed down their operations in IOK. The shutdown of telecommunication, internet and mobile phone services have made it impossible for the IT companies based in the valley to operate and keep in contact with their clients. Many call centres have been closed down as a result. Hundreds and thousands of workers in these sectors have lost their jobs.

According to a BBC report, Kashmir’s economy has suffered losses of nearly one billion US dollars in the last two months as a result of the continued lockdown and military besiege. The crisis has hit Kashmir’s already fragile economy. Tourism, the lifeblood of the region, is at a standstill. Thousands of hotels and restaurants have been closed down as there are no tourists in the valley. As a result, thousands of hotel and restaurant workers have been laid off. Hotel owners are saying that they cannot pay their workers so they ask them to go home.

The tourist season was in full swing when the extreme rightwing Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi imposed restrictions and lockdown in the valley after abrogating Article 370 and Article 35-A of the Indian constitution. The tourism season came to a crash when the Indian government issued an advisory, asking visitors to leave just before the abrogation of Article 370 was announced.

The carpet and handicraft business also depends on tourists. Thousands of shawl and carpet weavers have lost their jobs and businesses.

Apples are the lifeblood of Occupied Kashmir’s economy. Nearly 3.3 million people depend on apples and other fruits for their livelihood. This includes apple pickers, packaging workers, farmers and transporters. The apple season provides jobs to hundreds and thousands of workers. The apple season is here in Kashmir valley. But the apples are rotting as the lockdown and restrictions have made it impossible to pick the apples.

Nearly half of the population of the Kashmir Valley depends on the apples and other fruits produced in the valley which is one of the largest apple producing regions of the world. But the fruit industry in Kashmir is facing hard times as the military clampdown has cut links and communication with buyers inside and outside India. There is no transport available for the transportation of apples. According to a Reuters report, Occupied Kashmir produces two-thirds of India’s apples, earning Rs6,500 crores ($903 million) in exports in 2016-17, contributing to a 10th of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employing 3.3 million workers.

The continued military lockdown and curfew-like restrictions will bring more hardships, miseries and problems for the Kashmiri masses. The economy is majorly suffering. The severe economic crisis is affecting the lives of working masses. The conditions are ripe for a massive workers movement in Kashmir against unemployment, exploitation, occupation and repression. The Indian government fears not only a youth rebellion but also a workers movement.

J&K workers have a rich tradition and history of struggles, strikes and massive mobilisation. They organised the first ever general strike in 1967. From 1966 to 1975 there was the golden period of the trade union movement in J&K. Despite the brutal repression, torture, sackings and imprisonments of trade union leaders, several struggles and strikes were organised.

From 1975 to 1977 during the emergency years, the central government in India, led by PM Indira Gandhi, unleashed brutal force against the trade union movement in Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir. Entire leaderships, activists, district committees were arrested, tortured and dismissed from service. They faced systematic repression, torture and sackings starting 1975.

In 1990, 24,000 trade union leaders, workers, activists and members were arrested and tortured during the 72-day long strike. Teachers, government employees, union leaders and activists served six months to six years sentences for organising the strike. Around 400 trade union activists were killed and 300 were disappeared and never returned.

In 2010, nearly half a million state government employees and workers went on strike. The trade unions organised massive rallies and street mobilisation. The battles were fought on the streets of Srinagar and other cities of Kashmir.

Kashmiri workers have faced brutal state force, repression, torture, arrests and sackings for many decades. But they never give up their struggle for a better life and working conditions. They had fought against slave-like conditions and low wages since 1865. A new trade union surge is on the cards.

The writer is a freelance journalist.