Kashmir – A new dawn or the beginning of a dark chapter? Part 2: Opinion

Protests in Jantar Mantar against the abrogation of Art. 370 on 05 August 2019 (Source: Scroll.in)

The passage of these changes has caused an escalation in the discourse surrounding Kashmir. The country and the media have been split down the middle with some either supporting the moves in their entirety as a move towards an integrated India, (or as Amit Shah likes to call it, an Akhand Bharat,[1]) or opposing them as akin to India acting as an occupying force in Kashmir. Senior Kashmiri politicians Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and Sajad Lone were officially placed under house arrest starting on 04 August. Subsequently, Mebooba Mufti was arrested at her home and is now being detained at Hari Niwas in Srinagar in what her daughter calls an attempt to break her spirit. There does not seem to be much space for a nuanced perspective on this issue.

Article 370 was never intended to be a long-term solution – Nehru himself is said to have commented on Article 370 saying, “yeh ghiste ghiste ghis jayega.”[2] It is illogical to have one single state that is able to exercise such a degree of freedom that even the Constitution does not have complete effect. However, Kashmiris argue that since this was the basis of their entry to India, any change would be a violation of the promises made upon accession. The 2018 Supreme Court judgement classifying it as a permanent fixture of the Constitution only serves to further muddy these waters.

The abrogation of Article 370 is a necessary eventuality for Kashmir itself as it would allow the Constitution of India to take full effect in the state. This would ensure the complete application of the Fundamental Rights enshrined therein, something that might actually serve to protect the interests of ordinary individuals against government excesses. Further, the removal of Article 35A opens the doors for an influx of capital in the region and leaves scope for the repatriation of Kashmiri Pandits. In principle, these are all positive developments.

Kashmiri Pandits protesting in Jammu for the dismissal of Art. 35A in 2017 (Source: ANI)

However, it is the circumstances of this legislation that are problematic for the following reasons:

  • Kashmiri stakeholders’ voices have not been considered or heard; in fact, with the internet shutdown and imposition of S. 144, their voices have been stifled. The secret arrests of senior politicians did not help matters.
  • The secrecy surrounding these measures meant that even the Opposition was not given a fair opportunity to challenge their passage in the Rajya Sabha – neither the Order, nor the Bill were circulated among the public for inputs prior to their introduction in Parliament.
  • The influx of military personnel over the past few days was conducted on the basis of a ‘security threat’ in the region. However, now that it is clear that they were sent only to maintain security during the process of passing these bills, it has invariably caused an erosion of trust in the government.
  • The atmosphere of growing militarization in the Valley in the days preceding this decision serve only to further convince the local population of the government’s ill intent, regardless of whether such an intent exists.
  • Fringe voices such as those expressed in this article have been given fresh impetus as the discussion in Parliament surrounding the issue did not once attempt to reassure the people of Kashmir that they will be kept safe from harm.

There may have been several reasons for each of these measures but unless there is a degree of transparency, the result is just the same – an erosion of trust in the government and further alienation of the Kashmiri population. As we sat glued to our TV sets watching proceedings in the Rajya Sabha, there was no access to television in the state. Kashmiris did not even have access to this basic connection to Delhi as they stayed indoors due to the imposition of  S.144 and heavy military presence outside their homes. The coming days will also act as a testing ground for the recent and heavily criticized Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2019 – will the BJP prove its critics right by relying upon the more draconian measures to subdue dissenters?

There is unlikely to be any significant international backlash due to prevailing geopolitical currents and Kashmir does not attract much attention when the rest of the world is focused on Brexit, Iran and Immigration. India has shut down any talks of mediation by US President Donald Trump and this measure has not attracted widespread criticism. Human rights are no longer at the forefront of global conversation and so it is up to India to prove that change will not come at the cost of Kashmiri people. Predictably, Pakistan has rejected this measure, with the Pakistan Foreign Office stating that “Pakistan will exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps.”

The coming days and weeks will reveal how these measures impact Kashmir and India as a whole. In taking such a sudden measure, this government has so far failed to do the essential work of integrating hearts and minds as much as borders. As constitutional law experts debate the legality of these measures, Omar Abdullah has announced that his party, the National Conference, will approach the Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of the Presidential Order.

Whether or not the Supreme Court accepts these measures, Kashmir’s character has been changed indelibly. The nation can only hope that if these steps pass the test of constitutionality, that they are used to improve the social and economic life of every Kashmiri.

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