Modi turning held Kashmir into surveillance state

Srinagar: In Indian Illegal Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K) shopkeepers are spending hundreds of dollars each to install security cameras mandated by authorities in a move activists say is aimed at creating a surveillance state — and outsourcing the cost.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has struggled to quell a decades-old insurgency and strengthen its hold over the Muslim-majority region, where a large number of people do not want to be part of India.

Half a million soldiers are stationed in the region and a 2019 security crackdown has seen unprecedented restrictions on protest and press freedoms. Already there are security cameras on almost every street in held Srinagar, Kashmir’s largest city, and in other towns. But last month, local administrators instructed shopkeepers to install CCTV systems inside their premises — at their own expense — to enhance the police’s ability to watch people’s every move.

The orders say the scheme will “deter criminals, (and) anti-social and anti-national elements”, while outlining minimum standards for camera resolution, infrared capability and range. Always on, the systems should record and store footage for 30 days to be produced on demand from “police and any other law enforcement agencies” without a court order.

Failure to abide by the orders, which took effect in April, is punishable by a fine or a month’s imprisonment. Surveillance system dealers in Srinagar told AFP that meeting the CCTV standards would cost each of Kashmir’s thousands of stores upwards of 40,000 rupees ($524).

Because of the territory’s frequent power outages, shopkeepers also need to pay for battery backups to ensure uninterrupted recording. “The specifications given in the order make it unaffordable for me at a time when business is down,” Bilal Ahmed, who runs an ice cream parlour in Srinagar’s main business district, told AFP.

Ahmed said he was waiting to see whether others would abide before deciding what to do, but many are already installing the systems to avoid potential punishment. “This order is wrong. But if this is what they want, then the government should pay for it,” another Srinagar shopkeeper said while begrudgingly installing a camera system, speaking anonymously for fear of government reprisals.

Rebel groups in IIOJ&K have waged battle against Indian forces for over three decades, seeking independence or a merger with Pakistan, which has fought two wars with India over control of the region.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, and also thousands of Indian soldiers. Only last week a member of the Hindu minority was gunned down. India has long relied on an array of surveillance techniques to avert militant activity and combat dissent against its rule. After 1947, police officers went door to door in IIOJ&K to confiscate radios of households that listened to Pakistani broadcasts. AFP

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