Cost Of Struggle – OpEd


The Government of India revoked the special status, or autonomy, granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir. The decision made on 6th August 2019 was a much anticipated move in wake of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had long opposed Article 370 and revoking it was in the party’s 2019 election manifesto.

The article allowed the state a certain amount of autonomy –and a certain level of Identity — its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make limited laws. As a result, Jammu and Kashmir could make its own rules relating to permanent residency, ownership of property and fundamental rights. It could also bar Indians from outside the state from purchasing property or settling there. However, Foreign affairs, defense and communications remained the sanctuary of the central government.

Nonetheless, Jammu and Kashmir was scraped of this special status Identity that it had and now with the abrogation of 370 Kashmir will no longer have a separate constitution but will have to abide by the Indian constitution much like any other entity being part of a state. And with that all Indian laws will be automatically applicable to Kashmiris, and people from outside the region will be able to buy property there hence seriously challenging the existing demographic character of the Muslim-majority region by allowing non-Kashmiris to buy land there. which are vital to the promise of plebiscite if it ever happens to decide the destiny of Jammu and Kashmir. 

The government says this will bring development to the region. They argued that its existing Identity needed to be scrapped to integrate Kashmir and put it on the same footing as the rest of India. The government, while justifying its move, regarded Article 370 the “root cause” of terror in the Valley which ultimately hindered the economic and social development of the region.

One of the prominent development followed by the article 370 revocation is the number of forces deployed in Kashmir has increased manifold since 2019. However, despite the Valley being saturated with security forces the deep sense of insecurity prevails among the residents. The only difference is that now even a mere slogan raised to highlights the atrocities done in Jammu and Kashmir against the Muslim majority is landing people in jail under the stringent Public Safety Act and the anti-terrorist law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the nationalist leaders, whose entire political capital was based on a number of shutdown calls and protests, have been pushed into oblivion in order to curb the voices raised for the Identity of the region. Such is the security paranoia that no local resident is even allowed to walk or drive when Yatra convoys move under a tight security. 

Since the whole focus is on security, governance has taken a back seat. The claims of development and investment do not match the reality on ground. The disconnect between the people and the union territory’s administration is only widening by the day. Days after the revocation of 370, the government promised to fill 50,000 vacancies in various government departments within three months; but four years on, the job promise has proved to be just that – a promise – and it is thousands of job-seekers in Jammu and Kashmir who had to pay a price, after the entire recruitment process was cancelled, rather than punishing the officials involved in mishandling the process. Though the revocation of J&K’s constitutional position and statehood was celebrated by BJP to end corruption, misgovernance but the recent expose and cancellation of recruitment lists after protests over massive corruption in exams is just an indicator how corruption is alive and thrusting.

Ironically, without an elected government which is a true representative of the locals, democracy appears to be a distant dream. Kashmir has lost all its social spaces. It has been denied of its special status. It has been robbed of its struggling identity, Trade unions, rights bodies and civil society groups have vanished. There is no indication if and when assembly elections will be held, even after the controversial delimitation exercise was completed in May to reconfigure constituencies.

The last four years have also seen the marginalization of mainstream politics in Jammu and Kashmir. Like other sections of society, mainstream political parties are now accused of being part of the separatist or terror eco-system. While people in the Kashmir Valley are stuck in an environment of fear and punishment, Jammu is witnessing large protests on governance problems, employment and corruption. 

Forced demographic changes would create an atmosphere ripe for communal violence between Muslims and Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir that risks escalating further. On the other hand, the undemocratic and unprecedented act of taking away Kashmiri’s identity has serious implications for the regional peace and any miscalculation may lead to beginning of a new bloody freedom fight that might result into unprecedented violence in the valley.

Shaikh Moazam Khan

Shaikh Moazam Khan is an Islamabad based expert of strategic affairs.

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