August 5 2019 proved to be a dark day in the history of Kashmir, the consequences of which will unfold and shape lives for decades to come. The newly re-elected Modi led Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India introduced a bill to revoke Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian Constitution which allowed greater federal autonomy to the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Not only this, the bill also proposes the bifurcation of the state into two union territories — Jammu & Kashmir being one and Ladakh being the other. These historic changes were undertaken while the government imposed a strict curfew on the Kashmir valley with internet and phone services cut and over half a million troops deployed, making Kashmir the most heavily militarized area in the world.
Article 370 and 35A are (or were) the main pillars upon which the accession of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) to India took place in 1948. The pact between Raja Hari Singh, the ruler of J&K at the time, and the newly formed Union of India, was one based on greater autonomy for J&K. Thus Article 370 held that the bulk of the Indian Constitution will not apply to J&K, and that the state will have its own Constitution. Article 35A allowed the state to define ‘permanent residents’ who could own property in the state and avail of government resources, giving further autonomy to the state.
The bills have since passed both houses of Parliament and await the assent of President Ram Nath Kovind — but a formality given that he was a BJP nominee. The entire decision making process circumvented the people of J&K completely on whom an information embargo has been imposed. India, which is already seen as an occupier in Kashmir by people who have borne military repression for decades, has finally turned into a colonizer of the state and on August 5th began the official annexation of Kashmir by India.
As with most other things, it is important to look at the history of Kashmir in order to understand the significance and context of these recent events.
A Brief History
According to legend, Kashmir (originally Kashyapamar) is named after the sage Kashyapa who reclaimed the valley from a lake. In actuality though Kashmir was settled by Vedic/Indo Aryan tribes in the late Vedic period (1000-600 BC). Buddhism came to Kashmir under the rule of Ashoka in the 3rd century BC (with continued presence in modern day Ladakh). Kashmir was ruled by various Hindu dynasties before it was invaded by Tatars and the Shah Mir dynasty came to power in the 14th century CE. By the time Kashmir was brought under Mughal Rule by Akbar in 1586, the majority of the population was Muslim.
The decline of the Mughal empire and the parallel rise of British imperialism in the Indian subcontinent did not bode well for region. Kashmir was attacked by Sikh armies from Punjab in 1826 , who were subsequently defeated by the British. The British then proceeded to consolidate and sell the entirety of J&K to the Dogras, Hindu rulers of the region of Jammu. The Dogras were harsh rulers who increased the tax burden on the local population, leading to harsh living conditions for the majority.
Discontent against the Dogra rulers grew in Kashmir especially in the 1930s and for the first time in centuries there was a rise in the political consciousness of the Kashmiri Muslim population as a Kashmiri nationalist movement emerged. This rising political insurgency was heavily repressed by the Dogra rulers who wanted to convert J&K into a Hindu priestly state. The majority of the population1 of J&K at the time was Muslim, with a powerful Hindu brahmin minority2, and less powerful Buddhist, tribal and Sikh populations.
In 1947 the transfer of power was finalized and the British departed from the subcontinent after a century of anti-colonial struggle. The poorly constructed Radcliffe Line created the countries of India and (East and West) Pakistan on its either sides with India slated as the home for the Hindus of the subcontinent and Pakistan as the home to its Muslims3. However, there continued to exist over 500 princely states in the subcontinent which had retained some degree of autonomy during the British rule. The Indian State gave these princely states three options — to join India, to join Pakistan, or to remain independent4.
Difficulties arose in princely states in which the ruler and the population belonged to different religions5. The Maharaja of Kashmir at the time opted to join neither India nor Pakistan (as he too was presiding over a largely Muslim population) but signed a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan6. At the same time there was brutal repression of pro-Pakistan Kashmiri Muslims and over half a million were massacred. At this time, the Muslim residents of Poonch in Kashmir rose up against the exploitative taxation policies of the Maharaja and declared independence or azaadi.
Soon after, Pashtun tribesmen from the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan invaded Kashmir with the aid of rebels from Poonch in an effort to release the native population from Dogra rule. The Maharaja of Kashmir sought military assistance from India to ward off the attack and agreed to the accession of Kashmir to India provisionally, until the will of the people could be ascertained.
The war that followed lasted for the year of 1948 and was ended through a ceasefire mediated at the United Nations. As per the terms of the ceasefire, Azaad Kashmir and Gilgit & Baltistan came under the administration of Pakistan, and Jammu & Kashmir (including Ladakh) remained in Indian control, though India continues to claim the entire territory as its own. A plebiscite was recommended by the UN to determine the will of the Kashmiri people but one was never undertaken by the Indian State. Instead in 1949 the Maharaja of Kashmir gave way for the creation of the national government of Kashmir under Prime Ministership of Sheikh Abdullah, leader of the National Conference Party. Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues became part of India’s Constituent Assembly.
Thus when the Constitution of India came into force in 1950, it contained Article 370 which gave special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir such that no other article of the constitution (except article 1 proclaiming J&K to be a state of the Indian Union) was applicable to J&K. Instead J&K was to have its own constitution. J&K was also given powers under Article 35A to name ‘permanent residents’ of the State, a concept mirroring dual citizenship, such that only permanent residents of J&K were allowed to purchase land in the state and avail of much of the state’s resources. This gave greater federal autonomy to J&K than to other states, though similar provisions were also made for other states with strong secessionist movements (such as several states of the Indian North East).
As the J&K Constituent Assembly convened, demands for Kashmiri independence remained strong among the National Conference even as the Indian state sought to expand control over Kashmiri legislature. Relations between the state and centre deteriorated and in 1953 the government of Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed and subsequently Sheikh Abdullah was arrested on the orders of Prime Minister Nehru. By Presidential Order, large parts of the Indian Constitution were made applicable to J&K. By 1975 J&K had a legislative structure like other states and the leadership of the National Conference, in a bid to remain politically relevant, merged with the Congress and gave up the demand for plebiscite.
Even as the Indian State expanded control over J&K, its neighbors moved in on the region. China gained control over parts of Ladakh called Aksai-Chin after the Sino-Indian War of 1962, and Pakistan also ceded some territory to China in 1963. Pakistani influence however was by far stronger and India and Pakistan went to war in 1965 over Kashmir. India won both in 1965 and in 1971 against Pakistan, the latter causing the creation of Bangladesh. However tensions between the countries remained high, especially over Kashmir7.
Jammu & Kashmir saw various unstable governments in the 1970s and 1980s, several instances of Central rule, along with the increasingly popular notion of exclusion from the idea of development espoused by the Indian State. These decades also saw the rise of militancy and armed resistance in J&K8. There was also a steady movement of Mujahideen from Afghanistan into the region in the aftermath of the Afghan-Soviet War, and India claim that many were armed and funded by Pakistan in a bid to seize the region. Tensions exploded in 1989 and what followed were years of a war-like situation in the valley in which thousands of Kashmiris were killed, ‘disappeared’, abused by Indian armed forces, and many women were raped. India imposed the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir which protects the army from legal scrutiny into its ‘excesses’. Direct confrontation ebbed in the late 1990s only to give way to increased insurgency in the 2000s.
Tensions have risen a few times in the last few years with 2008 and 2016 being years of significant civilian protest and state repression. In 2016, following the encounter of Burhan Wani, a 22 year old rebel militant, thousands poured into the streets in Kashmir at his funeral. The procession was met with violence from the Indian armed forces and in the consequent cycle of protest and state repression, over 100 Kashmiris died, 17,000 were injured and 117 were to lose their eyesight due to injuries sustained from colonial-era pellet guns9. The blinded were as young as 5 years old. As of 2018 over 70,000 Kashmiris, civilians and militants, have been killed since 1989. Sexual violence (particularly gangrape) has been used as a strategic tool by the Indian armed forces in various instances such as the Kunan Poshpora mass rape in which over 30 women were raped by the Fourth Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army, and the accused were subsequently acquitted10. International organizations have repeatedly raised concern over human rights violence and the brutality of torture employed by the Indian armed forces11. Curfews are frequent, movement in J&K is often restricted and schools remain shut for months on end. This is ‘normalcy’ for about 5 million Kashmiris.
Kashmir is therefore a high stakes issue in the politics of the subcontinent. Within J&K there is scattered support for India, more for Pakistan and for Azaad Kashmir; there are secularists and Islamists; militants and those engaged in parliamentary politics. Most are disillusioned by the promises of the Indian State and have been adversely affected by the presence of Indian army in some way or the other —either the loss of a family member or harassment by the armed forces.
In the rest of India, there is a small section which supports Kashmir’s right to self determination in toto — these are branded secessionists and anti-nationals. More numerous are those who support self determination but cannot stomach an Islamic government in the region and prefer Indian secular rule for Kashmir. By far the majority of Indians simply view Kashmir as Indian land, as the crown jewel of Mother India which must at all costs remain part of the Indian polity and which must be better integrated into India.
For this section of the population, who reside largely in the Hindi speaking north-central part of the country, and who have least experienced the pitfalls of diversity which the Indian State is supposedly built on, Kashmiri claims for self determination, both armed and otherwise, are terrorist activities which need to be clamped down. It is this section that has thrown its full weight behind the Modi led BJP governments and its narrative of a superior Hindu civilization in the subcontinent which must be protected against foreign (read Islamic and Western) invasion.
BJP has maintained a hard position on Kashmir since its very inception12. The vision of the RSS, which is the ideological parent of the BJP, is to bring back the glory days of Hindu civilization through a unification of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh into Akhand Bharat (Undivided India) of which Jammu & Kashmir (including Pakistan administered and Chinese administered Kashmir). RSS leaders have repeatedly claimed that while their notion of a Hindu civilization (Hindutva) does not require the extermination of minorities, Muslims must integrate into and adopt Hindu culture in order to stay in the subcontinent. In fact from 2014 onwards the RSS organized several functions for ‘ghar wapsi’ (home return) to bring Muslims and Christians back into the Hindu religion13.
For this section then, Kashmir with its 98% Muslim population is an anomaly for the Hindutva project and must be assimilated. Articles 370 and 35A are seen as hindrances to this assimilation, as they do not allow mainland Indians (read Hindus) to settle in Kashmir. More than hindrances, these articles are seen as the privilege of Kashmiris to remain insulated from the rule of law and democratic rights that the rest of the country supposedly respects — a dark joke in times when the government in power is systematically targeting all oppositional voices and movements and openly encouraging the persecution of Dalits, religious minorities and tribals.
With their second historic electoral win on the back of this ‘idea of India’, the BJP government got the mandate it was looking for to break the deadlock in Kashmir14.
Scrapping Article 370 and 35A — What It Means
On August 2nd, the government called back Hindu devotees on an annual pilgrimage to Amarnath in the state of J&K and increased military deployment by 25,000 men, citing possible terrorist threats. Tourists were asked to leave the state. Subsequently political leaders in Kashmir were placed first under house arrest on August 4th and then were properly arrested. Telephone and internet services were cut, curfew was imposed as well as Section 144 which bans the gathering of more than four persons.
With such preparations, the Home Minister announced the bill for the revocation of Article 370 and Article 35A and the complete integration of J&K into India. The move strips J&K of any special status it had remaining, pertaining to the determination of ‘permanent residents’, a move which limited migration into the state. Instead, the state will now be bifurcated into two union territories — Jammu & Kashmir, which is to be a union territory with a legislative assembly, and Ladakh, which is to be a union territory without an assembly. Essentially a union territory comes under direct administrative and legislative control of the central government, and Kashmir has already been brought under the judicial control of the Supreme Court — the move therefore reduces Kashmir’s autonomy compared to other regions, let alone preserving it. This seems like grim justice for a people who have for over 80 years now demanded the right to self determination.
Home Minister Amit Shah stressed that revoking Article 370 and 35A is entirely in the interest of the Kashmiri people because the state has lagged behind in development15. By revoking Article 35A, any citizen of India can now purchase property in Kashmir and therefore has greater incentive to invest in Kashmir. The Home Minister therefore foresees the growth of employment opportunities for Kashmiris brought about by greater capital mobility. The aim of the government is to impose the Modi Model of Development on the state of Kashmir. This is premised on creating welcome conditions for capital, weakening labor laws and restructuring fiscal expenditures to minimize ‘wasteful’ expenses on health, education etc and maximizing support to corporations. Such development policies are sure to prove disastrous for Kashmir as they have for India — unemployment was at a 40 year high in 2018 even as signs of an economic slowdown manifest16. It must also be remembered that perhaps because of the greater autonomy enjoyed by Kashmir so far, it performs far better than PM Modi’s home state Gujarat on crucial indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy rate, and percentage of people below the poverty line17.
Reactions to Recent Events — Too Many and Not Enough
By placing J&K in an information blockade, the ruling party ensured that no Kashmiri is part of the decision making process on the very future of the Kashmiri people. Kashmiris in the valley have been unable to communicate between themselves or with the rest of the world, and Kashmiris outside the valley have been unable to contact their families for a week. The Indian government maintains that J&K is peaceful under curfew and that no shootings have occurred; Indian media repeats the same narrative. But international reportage shows thousands (according to some reports 10,000 were on the streets of Kashmir on August 9th) protesting in Kashmir and the army using pellet guns to clamp down on protestors18.
Non Kashmiri Indians on the other hand are busy celebrating their newfound control over Kashmir — real estate companies have already started advertising property in Kashmir, and jokes are being made on the possibility of getting ‘Kashmiri brides’. The narrative centers on finally abridging the privileges of the people of Kashmir and introducing them to democracy and ‘Indian’ values. At the same time, major business houses such as the Ambanis, who have a close relationship with the BJP, have indicated upcoming investments in Kashmir19. Recent reports have also suggested that large oil reserves exist in northwestern Kashmir20 — never good news for a people in need of ‘democracy’.
Many political parties in India have come out in support of BJP’s move, including some leaders of the Indian National Congress as well. By contrast, the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-PL) came together in joint protest and called a nation wide strike against the move on August 7 2019. The CPI-M has condemned the move, calling it “an attack on democracy, secularism and Constitution itself.”21 Thus there has been protest in the streets and #StandWithKashmir trends on social media, but it is dwarfed by overwhelming support by the majority of mainland Indians.
It is alarming that most Indians oppose Kashmiri self determination for fear of an Islamic State but have no qualms supporting the BJP, whose parent body advocates for a Hindu nation in which minorities must assimilate or perish, and Narendra Modi, under whose Prime Ministership there has been a sharp rise in mob lynchings of minorities and communal violence with minimum interference by the State. Instead the narrative and attitude adopted is strikingly similar to that of our British colonial masters who denied self rule to India because of India’s perceived inability to govern itself. And by revoking Articles 370 and 35A, India has gone back on the political agreement upon which the accession of Kashmir to India was based. Indian rule in Kashmir has turned into an annexation, and given the emphasis on and euphoria around the changed property laws, a settler colonial project seems to be a not too distant possibility. The parallels with Israel and Palestine are looming22.
India has therefore completed the full circle from being colonized, to independent, to becoming colonizer. The ethno-fascist political project of the RSS, which is based on the subjugation of non-upper caste Hindus, women, and religious minorities, especially Muslims and tribals, has completed this turn with the broad support of the mainland population of India, and by paying no heed to the Kashmiri people themselves. It is nearly certain that this move will lead to a surge in armed resistance — already parents are reporting missing sons. Kashmiri land and resources however are now up for sale and the Kashmiri people open for exploitation by people from the mainland. This is a dark chapter in the history of the ‘world’s largest democracy’, and one which will have far reaching internal and external consequences, though ‘peace’ or ‘progress’ do not appear to be on the cards.
1 At this point, the region of Jammu comprised largely of Hindu pandits and Sikhs along with tribes such as Gurjars and Bakerwals, Kashmir was home to Kashmiri Muslims (largely Sunni), Poonch comprised of Muslims, Ladakh was home to a Buddhist population and Gilgit and Baltistan were populated by Shi’a groups, though closer to Ladakh than Kashmir.
2Of which the Dogras were a part, and so was the Nehru family, the first family of the Indian National Congress which has given three Prime Ministers to the country.
3 The migration that followed the partition, as Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were uprooted from their homes and forced to move across the border, is said to be the largest single migration in human history as 15 million were displaced and a million died in communal violence.
4 Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, a key leader of the Congress (the largest party of the time which spearheaded the Independence movement) was tasked with dealing with the princely states and he succeeded in bringing most of them under Indian rule, by diplomacy or by threatening princely states with blockade. This earned him the name ‘Iron Man of India’. Notably, Sardar Patel was a Hindu nationalist who favored a Hindu majority nation over a secular one. It is said that Gandhi favored Jawaharlal Nehru over Sardar Patel primarily because Gandhi did not trust the future of India’s Muslims with the latter. Sardar Patel has remained a beloved figure of Hindu nationalists to this day and has been co-opted by the BJP. Recently, a gigantic statue of Sardar Patel, called the Statue of Unity, was constructed in Gujarat by the BJP government — the tallest statue in the world.
5In Junagarh, where the largely Hindu population was ruled by a Muslim king, the ruler, who had decided to join Pakistan, was ‘persuaded’ otherwise by India which imposed a blockade on the state, following which a plebiscite was conducted in the state on the question. In Hyberabad, where the Nizam (at the time the richest person in the world) ruled over a mixed population and wished to stay independent, the Indian military fought and defeated both the Nizam’s army and a communist uprising among the peasants of the region which was aimed at the Nizam.
6A Standstill Agreement assured no military intervention for a year by both parties.
7In 1999 the two countries went to war at Kargil in J&K over Pakistani incursions into Indian administered territory. In 2001-02 the countries were in a nuclear standoff, throwing the future of the subcontinent into danger. Border skirmishes and stand offs continue, with both countries in a deadlock over the control of Kashmir given the continued support for Pakistan among sections of the population of the valley, including militant groups.
8 It should be noted that several states had strong secessionist movements throughout this time, including Tamil Nadu, Punjab, and several states of the North East. These movements, some as old as independence itself, were often armed and were resolved mostly through military intervention by the Indian State, notably the Khalistan movement in Punjab. Many states, again especially in the North East, are still under the Armed Forces Special Provisions Act which allows armed forces complete legal immunity and essentially a free hand.
14 In fact it was only in February 2018 that the Pulwama attack took place, in which over 40 Indian armed personnel were killed by a Kashmiri militant youth. India blamed Pakistan for a role in the attack and skirmishes persisted, leading to a standoff in which Pakistan abducted an Indian pilot. The entire episode led to a heightening of tensions in the subcontinent and given the run-up to the elections, the episode became a nationalism contest with news channels and social media baying for war and claiming PM Modi as India’s national hero and savior. The episode resulted in heavily swinging public perception in Modi’s favor and against the people of Kashmir, who were painted as terrorists or terrorist supporters.
22It is useful to note that though India has historically supported the Palestinian struggle, under Modi India and Israel have become close allies. India is the largest buyer of Israeli military weapons.