Source: Wikimedia Commons
In 2003, India’s then-prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee stood up in a Parliament session and stated, “The gun can solve no problems. Issues can be guided by the three principles of insaniyat (humanism), jamhooriyat (democracy), and kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s legacy of amity)." This was said in regards to the conflict in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. He claimed this despite being a co-founder of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), the same political party Narendra Modi belongs to and the party which fought for the removal of Article 370. However, Vajpayee’s words solidified a thought in the minds of many Kashmiris, that Delhi had a plan which welcomed a dialogue with them.
Article 370, is the constitutional tie that solidified Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India in 1947, wherein it was given a certain autonomy, allowing the state's Constituent Assembly to have the freedom to make its own laws in all matters except defense, communications, foreign affairs and currency which were solely dealt with by the Central Government. It gave the state its own constitution and flag even. However, the Article has been diluted several times since 1947 by several governments across the political spectrum. Before August 5th 2019, Article 370's provisions had already been heavily reduced, yet it did protect local citizens in several ways, by preventing other Indians from purchasing land in the state, applying for government jobs in the region etc. Nevertheless, the Article's ideological impact cannot be contested.
In 2014, Narendra Modi revived this phrase in the minds of the general public, and later, after the revocation of Article 370, the constitutional link between India and the state of Jammu and Kashmir was unilaterally (though some suggest unconstitutionally) removed. This link had previously provided for semi-autonomy. However, the phrase is still echoed by Pro-India politicians, who now use it to call out the BJP government’s draconian actions in Kashmir.
The state of humanity, democracy, and Kashmiri amity seems to be far from what many had envisioned.
Insaniyat (humanism) after 370
Freedom House’s ‘Freedom in The World Report’ in 2017 scored Indian occupied- Kashmir as 50/100, suggesting it is ‘partly free’. This followed the killing of the militant Burhan Wani by security forces, in the wake of which there were multiple protests, subsequent usage of violence to suppress demonstrators, and internet blackouts.
However, as of 2021, the score has fallen 23 points and it is designated as ‘not free’. The ground reality portrays a more dismal image. For instance, the use of pellet guns to disperse protestors has left many young individuals visually disabled. Militancy still continues to be a major hurdle, as it was before the removal of Article 370. With an increase of 44% in fire exchanges between militants and the military, residents have had problems with the security forces on multiple accounts.
After an encounter killed three alleged militants in December 2020, their families began demanding their bodies. However, according to a new policy by the government, bodies of those with militant links would not be returned nor identified but buried in a designated grave. The former CRPF Director General told the Print, “Due to the pandemic, we stopped handing over the bodies of militants to their families. These were sites where tension would invariably brew, and incidents of stone-pelting and militant recruitment would take place.” This was apparently done to prevent large gatherings.
The families of the alleged militants claimed that they were simply laborers, who had travelled from Rajouri to Shopian District, in search of work. Eventually, the authorities did a DNA test, which proved their innocence. Previously, the military had claimed that they were terrorists. A court of inquiry has been made into this matter.
Locals are also losing their residences to gunfights. An encounter in Shopian in June last year led to the burning down of four houses and their belongings. One of the residents claims the government forces directed him to search his own house, after checking first and finding nothing he was told to search again and found militants hiding in the room. As they left, they opened fire. This was denied by the Senior Superintendent of Police who claimed, “We don’t do anything that puts the life of any civilian in danger.” A month prior, in the capital of Kashmir, Srinagar, locals claim that during a 14-hour shoot-out, around 19 houses were damaged.
Jahmooriyat (democracy) in the Naya (new) Kashmir
Democracy has always been the cause of precarious situations in Kashmir. The onset of militancy in the Valley was due to the disputed state elections of 1987, in which the victory of the National Conference, a mainstream political party in Kashmir, was said to have been manipulated by the Central government. In the 2000s, the State Assembly was dissolved multiple times and Governor’s rule was established, often arbitrarily.
As soon as the revocation of Article-370 was passed, almost all mainstream leaders were sent into house arrest, under the draconian Public Safety Act, a law that allows preventative detention without having to appear in court for up to two years. Tanvir Sadiq, a former spokesperson of the National Conference and advisor to Omar Abdullah, former chief minister, wrote an account of his detention, on the day of the revocation.
However, even after a year and a half and the release of several leading politicians, inexplicable restrictions are still placed on them. In February this year, former Chief Minister and People’s Democratic Party’s President Mehbooba Mufti released a video on her Twitter account in which a paramilitary truck was parked in front of her house, allegedly due to security threats. Mufti says that she was to attend a party meeting at the time. Similarly, on the anniversary of the revocation of Article 370, Omar Abdullah, also a former Chief minister, tweeted that he along with his father (a serving Minister of Parliament) and his sister were also not allowed to leave their homes, once again, with no official order served to them.
The Freedom House report also scored Kashmir 0/4 for political freedom and free and fair elections, both of which are the primary pillars of any functioning democracy. After a year, The Central Government decided to hold District Development Council Elections (DDC) or municipal elections, to instill grassroot democracy in Kashmir. But these too, were marred with violations. Given less than a few months' notice, opposition parties were caught off guard and the People’s Alliance (PAGD) consisting of seven local, pro-370 parties did not even campaign. Congress Party members claimed that they had been denied security details to begin campaigning, a necessity in the Valley , where pro-India politicians are often targeted by militants. Sajad Lone, also a politician and PAGD spokesperson stated, “Security is being used as a pretext to impede electioneering.”
This was in response to candidates having been picked up and taken to ‘secure’ locations to ensure their safety. The election results proved that the PAGD had won more seats, by a huge margin of victory from the BJP. Yet, when the District Development Council were electing Chairpersons, the BJP began establishing its control. In certain districts where the PAGD had a majority of the seats, the chairmanship went to the BJP candidate. In this interview, Omar Abdullah claims that winning candidates were whisked away to the state’s capital on the pretext of security threats, and then pressured to defect to the BJP. India’s parliament does have an anti-defection policy, however, that was not implemented in these district elections.
In February this year, these elections were proclaimed as the restoration of democracy in the region, to the foreign envoy from European and African nations. Yet the claims of election fraud raised by the opposition politicians and civil society were not looked into.
Kashmiriyat (amity) in the Valley, today
In the early 90s, as radical Islamist terror groups began to strengthen in Kashmir, many Kashmiri Pandits fled the region, fearing for their safety. During the British colonial rule in India, Kashmiri Muslims had been oppressed while Pandits in the Valley were still provided considerably more rights and freedoms. Hence, tensions have arisen between the two groups. Kashmiriyat was meant to symbolize unity and amity between the two communities, a slogan used in the movement against colonialism and their princely proxies in Kashmir.
However, the use of the BJP’s divisive politics in the region and their general pro-Hindu narrative could further endanger the lingering peace between the two religious communities.
Just a month after the abrogation of Article 370, Union Minister G Kishan Reddy, who belongs to the BJP, stated that around 50,000 temples have been closed down in Kashmir over the years, proving this by conducting a survey. However, a Kashmiri Pandit leader, Sanjay Tickoo claimed that Kashmir has only ever had 4000 temples.
Unemployment has always been said to have been a factor for alarm in Kashmir and was something the Modi government had promised to solve by bringing development into the Valley. However, after a year and a half of internet blackouts, 2G networks, and great restrictions of public movement, the unemployment rate reached a whopping 22.4% in August 2019.
Public sector jobs in Kashmir are now open to all Indians. This was one of the reasons why locals had wished to protect Article 370, it protected their access to government jobs, a huge source of employment in the region where the private sector has been crippled due to instability. As we can see now, Kashmiris are now being side-lined from such opportunities, a similarity to the colonial times when many citizens (but especially, Kashmiri Muslims) were denied government posts too.
But the rampant, Islamophobic disinformation was only amplified when the Central Government scrapped the Roshni Act, a bill implemented in 2001 which allowed farmers with small holdings, to take ownership of State land at a subsidized fee fixed by the government.
The BJP claims that this act was implemented to change the Hindu demography of Jammu, as they would be denied holdings. The far-right, pro-Hindu media began using the term ‘land jihad’ to describe the bill, which the government then, deemed unconstitutional.
But reports emerged after the removal of the act, stating that non-Muslims in Jammu had benefited the most from the policy. Of the 75,575 acres of land to be distributed, around 95% were allotted to the Jammu region and in the same districts, Muslims have said to receive less than 3% of the allotted land. After a month of animated television anchors screaming the phrase ‘Zameen (land) Jihad’, a stay was put on the order by the Supreme court once the data contradicted the BJP’s narrative.
In a region that already has a history of communal tensions, such kinds of disinformation, and divisive policies only widen the rift.
As most data suggests, Kashmir’s problems have only been exacerbated since the removal of Article-370. But with that, the Centre’s promise to Kashmir has also been hollowed out as it continues to implement policies that endanger Kashmir’s democracy and its citizens.