Doda, Jammu and Kashmir — As the Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir continues to be under the worst lockdown in recent memory, the federal government dropped a bombshell in the Indian parliament by scrapping an article of the Indian constitution that granted special status to the disputed territory.
On Monday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced revoking of Article 370 of the constitution that prohibits the direct application of various laws passed by the Indian parliament to the state and allowed it to have its own separate constitution and flag.
The abrogation of Article 370 also ended Article 35A, which empowered the state legislature to define its permanent residents and confer special privileges and rights to them.
The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which recently won a second term in power, has long been pushing for repealing the special provisions extended to the state. In its parliamentary election manifesto, the party had promised to annul both the articles, if voted to power.
What came as an utter surprise to the already terrified local populace is the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill, which divides the state into two parts – Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh – and brings them under the direct control of the federal government by means of demoting the state to two separate union territories.
The decision to scrap the special provision of disputed territory has caused an uproar among different quarters in India with some terming it as an “unconstitutional” move.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament and a former chief minister of the disputed region, termed the move as “murder” of the Indian constitution while blasting the government decision
“Today BJP has murdered the constitution, they have murdered the democracy,” Azad said in the house.
Bifurcation of J&K requires consent of the elected assembly of the State. Also any amendment thru 370 to the subjects the Union can deal with in J&K, also requires consent of the J&K assembly. Can't be done by just President or Governor's consent. Unconstitutional
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) August 5, 2019
Various legal experts, scholars, and academicians have also come out against the scrapping of special provisions. Renowned scholar and constitutional expert A.G. Noorani termed the scraping of Article 370 as “totally unconstitutional and politically unright.”
“This decision is totally against the constitution of India as the state got special status due to the circumstances it acceded with India,” Noorani told The Globe Post.
He equates the move to assault on the self-respect of every Kashmiri and anticipates terrible effects on the disputed region in the near future.
Manohar Lal Sharma, a Delhi based lawyer has approached the Supreme Court against the decision, citing it as “unconstitutional, illegal and arbitrary.” On Thursday, the court declined his request to give an urgent hearing to the matter.
Jammu & Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM), a newly launched regional political party by a former bureaucrat Shah Faesal is also planning to approach the Supreme Court against the government’s move.
“The legality of this decision is in question,” party’s General Secretary Shehla Rashid Shora told The Globe Post.
“We are in touch with a team of lawyers and we will be shortly moving to the court,” Shora added.
Threat to Region’s Demography
For Kashmiris, the decision is more like a death sentence. Expressing shock and dismay, most of the people termed the move an evil design of the right-wing BJP to change the demography of the region and punish the people of the only Muslim-majority state.
“A move perfectly though out by the right-wing party to turn Kashmir into a settler-occupation and achieve its sinister campaign of getting Kashmir rid of Muslims,” Shahid Lone, a Kashmiri scholar studying in a Delhi based University told The Globe Post.
“Our major and perhaps the only real concern is the demographic threat, which we will resist tooth and nail,” he added.
Ather Zia, a Kashmiri political anthropologist currently at the University of Northern Colorado, said Kashmiris have always feared for their territorial sovereignty being taken away to change the demography of the region.
“Kashmiris are not attached to article 370 as their means of loyalty to staying with India,” Zia told The Globe Post in an emailed interview.
“The Kashmiris are fearful of being dispossessed and made homeless in their own homeland if the designs of the Indian government to alter the demography are carried out. They know that the current government has been focused on firing on all cylinders to propagate settler colonialism.”
Others say the move is “very counter-productive” and will further alienate the Kashmiri youth and contribute to widening the Hindu-Muslim gap across the nation.
“It is going to escalate the conflict further in the valley and it will enlarge the Hindu-Muslim divide in the country,” Ashok Swain, professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University told The Globe Post.
“The Indian government, instead of trying to find a negotiated solution to the Kashmir conflict, has opted for suppression of the conflict through the use of brutal force. This will be very counter-productive,” he added.
Kashmir Under Siege
Almost the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, barring few districts in the Jammu division and Ladakh, are reeling under the strong communication gag after government snapped phone lines and the Internet in the early hours of Monday morning.
A strict curfew enforced by the government has paralyzed the normal lives of the people who are not being allowed to venture out of their homes for the last four days.
“There is army everywhere. People are not being allowed to walk even an inch beyond their doors. Simply put, they have turned homes into prisons,” said an Anantnag resident, who flew to New Delhi on Thursday morning.
“They have blocked everything from phones to Internet we don’t even know what is going on in the neighboring localities,” he added.
Amid tight control by the government to dissuade people from coming on roads to protest the latest decision, media reports have confirmed killing of one protestor who drowned into the Jhelum River after being chased by the paramilitary troopers in Srinagar district. Various reports of casualties making rounds on social media remain unconfirmed due to a total communication blackout in the region.
The federal government has also launched a crackdown on pro-India regional parties who have long opposed tinkering of any kind with the special status of the state. In the last few days, the government has either detained or arrested more than 400 members of regional parities, resistance groups, business leaders and activists.
Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, the former Chief Ministers of the state were first detained and later arrested by the state police, who are currently being held in makeshift jails.
Today the people of Jammu & Kashmir who reposed their faith in institutions of India like parliament & Supreme Court feel defeated & betrayed. By dismembering the state & fraudulently taking away what is rightfully & legally ours, they have further complicated the Kashmir dispute
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) August 5, 2019
“The decision has shocked and stunned us all,” Sheikh Ashiq, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) told The Globe Post.
“I have just arrived in Delhi and I don’t know who has been arrested from my fraternity due to the communication gag in Kashmir,” Ashiq added.
Two districts of Chenab Valley, which falls under Jammu division, are also reeling under a moderate to strict curfew for the fourth consecutive day. The roads have been blocked with concertina wires, manned jointly by the Indian Army and local police. The vehicles are not being allowed to move on the roads forcing people to take the long trudge back to homes, while shopkeepers are being forced to shut their shops.
“I tried to open shop twice to let people stock ration because no one knows how long this is going to take, but the local police forcibly downed the shutter threatening me with arrest,” said Nawaz, who owns a shop in Doda district and wishes to go by his first name.
Restrictions were placed in Kargil district of Ladakh region on Thursday morning after the Joint Action Committee comprising of religious and political leaders, which was constituted in the aftermath of the decision, gave a complete shutdown call. The district administration has imposed section 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) that bans assembly of four or more persons.
Local leaders while castigating the role-played by the federal government termed the decision as against the aspirations of the people, which they said is completely unacceptable to them.
“This decision was taken without our consent in brazen violation of our rights. People from this region want to stay with Kashmir, ” Sajjad Hussain, a Kargil based activist told The Globe Post in a phone call.
“We will ’till the end and resist this division and,” Hussain added.