A five-member civil society delegation led by former Union minister Yashwant Sinha today wrapped up its four-day visit to Kashmir terming it as very successful, but asserted that the situation in the Valley after the abrogation of Article 370 was not normal.
The delegation, known as Concerned Citizens' Group (CCG), also termed the curbs by the police on their movement in different parts of the Valley as a "deliberate ploy" by the government to hide the ground reality.
It warned that the situation will deteriorate further if the Centre does not change its behaviour pertaining to Kashmir.
"After talking to various groups of people and individuals, I have come to the conclusion at the end of our visit that the situation is not at all normal." Mr Sinha told news agency PTI.
Asserting that the Centre's decision of stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and bifurcating it into two Union territories has caused a "huge psychological problem", Mr Sinha said an atmosphere of fear was prevailing in the Valley.
The region's inhabitants had not expected the enormous move by the Centre that resulted in people being numbed and now that numbness has been replaced by a great deal of fear, the former Union finance minister said.
"There is a prevailing atmosphere of fear here. Even those who came to see us in the hotel were harassed by security forces and they told us very clearly that they will not like their names to be revealed because they were not sure what kind of future they will face," he said.
Asked about the detention of several mainstream political leaders, including sitting Member of Parliament Farooq Abdullah - whom he talked to over the phone, Mr Sinha accused the Centre of "destroying a significant buffer" in the Valley and creating a vacuum as people have no one to go to with their grievances.
He termed as very "unfortunate" and "painful" the detention of Abdullah, a political representative elected by the people.
"They have destroyed a significant buffer which was there and they have created a vacuum..there is nobody to talk to," Mr Sinha said.
He claimed that since the group was not allowed to carry out with its programme that involved travelling and meeting people in the towns and villages in the districts outside Srinagar, it was an indication that the government wanted to hide the ground reality from the rest of the country.
The group, which arrived on Friday on their first visit to the Valley after the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, met several delegations and individuals during their stay before leaving for Delhi on Monday afternoon.
The group members were asked by the police not to move outside Srinagar as the situation was not conducive and there was a threat of an impending terror attack, which Mr Sinha termed as "a deliberate ploy" by the government to restrict their interactions with common people.
"We have come to Kashmir at the height of militancy when the situation on the law and order front was really far from normal. We travelled around in taxis, went to the districts, met people, there was no threat," he said.
Mr Sinha asserted that the Central government has maintained that Article 370 was responsible for terrorism in Kashmir and now that it has been four months since Article 370 was abolished, people are being told that terrorism is still there.
"So, either the first part is true or the second part is," he said.
However, he added that the visit was still very successful.
"I will describe my visit as very successful because even as we were not allowed to visit, for instance Pulwama or Shopian, but people from Pulwama and Shopian met us here. We met Panchayat representatives, Bar Association members, farmers, youths, we met a very large cross-section of the people," the former Union Finance minister said.
When asked if he foresees the situation as returning to normal in the Valley in the near future, Mr Sinha said it would depend on the Centre's behaviour on the Kashmir issue.
"It is difficult to say when the situation will return to normal, but much of it depends on how the Government of India will behave. If there is no change in its behaviour, then there will be no change in the situation here and if there is any change in the situation, then it will only deteriorate further," he said.