On August 6, the Kashmir Valley woke up to complete pandemonium. Indian military troops circled the streets and there was no internet nor phone line connection. People were arrested without much reasoning offered and there was a sense of complete chaos all around.
It has roughly been one month since the Indian Government abrogated Article 370 of its Constitution, revoking Kashmir’s special status as a semi-autonomous region. Since then, the Hindu Nationalist Government of India put the region under lockdown, suspending all forms of communication, deploying additional troops, arresting all political leaders, dissolving the state legislative assembly and enforcing a strict curfew, the New York Times reports.
This move heightened tensions between India and its neighbor Pakistan, another claimant to the region of Kashmir, which is a Muslim majority area. As Al Jazeera reports, even though both countries claim Kashmir as their own, their rule remains divided over the state, a factor that has fueled over 30 years of dispute.
The state in its entirety includes the Hindu-majority region of Jammu and Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, with a scant Buddhist population of Ladakh region. The recent bill passed by India grants the central government complete control of the region, which is being split into union territories of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, according to the New York Times.
Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, justifies the move as a climax of a seven-decade long struggle for India to establish what was rightfully hers, which has been one of the crux agendas of his political party: Bharatiya Janta Party, roughly translating into The Party of Indian People.
The Atlantic quotes Modi’s 40-minute televised address in Hindi, he stated that it would boost economic development, fight corruption, and end gender, caste, and religious discrimination in the erstwhile state. The voided constitutional provisions had “given nothing but secessionism, terrorism, nepotism and widespread corruption on a large scale” to Kashmir.
Modi’s agenda is to paint the Kashmiri region in such a light that evokes a picture of an unstable backwater drenched in political unrest and violence, incapable to sustain on its own. He argues that corruption destroyed the roots of its economy and integration with India would only be beneficial for the state as it would create opportunities for trade and investment.
While some may argue that Modi’s reasoning is necessary and helps Kashmir in the end, it must be noted the way the bill was executed violated many Kashmiri human rights. The unilateral nature of the decision proved to be very forceful and the heavy military presence suggests an enactment of a coup.
It is rather alarming to note though how enthusiastically some Indians celebrated the annexation of Kashmir. The gleeful messages congratulating themselves for the victory overtook social media in a storm. Some even took to the streets and rejoiced over the reclamation of what is truly theirs. What they forgot, and most analysts forget while dissecting the situation for its political and economic benefits, is the Kashmiri population. The ones who have been plummeted into a black hole of a political playground, helpless and forced to subject to a country that they believed would respect their agreement for special status.
This particular tactic, however, is Modi’s Trump card in every political decision he has made yet: to feed into India’s Hindu Nationalist sentiments. Ever since he was elected into office in 2014, India is shifting toward the political right. Hindutva, an ideology that establishes Hinduism to be the most superior religion and the Hindu way of living to be the purest one, has become more rampant in the mainstream. Hence, it has become extremely easy to sway the Hindu majority into extreme political statements.
It is easy for the Indians who support Modi to languish in their living rooms as they hit retweet to “Mera Bharat Mahan” or “my India is the greatest” while Kashmiris suffer in isolation. For them, Kashmir is a land, not an identity or a population. Their plight is a necessary evil for India’s growth and nothing more. Protests in Kashmiri Valley have been short-lived, quickly mashed under the fire of pellet guns and tear gas. Casualties have been suppressed by the authorities and quickly swept under the rug by strict media control.
Al Jazeera reports, that while the government claims that the situation is returning to normalcy in the disputed territory, official figures accessed by Al Jazeera show since August 5, there have been 588 incidents of stone-throwing, 458 of which were reported from the main city of Srinagar where many old parts of the city are still under restrictions. There is no saying in the extent of this issue and the human rights abuses taking place. “Official figures show that 3,500 people have been arrested and 350 of them have been booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a law that allows lengthy detentions without trial. The figures say that only 135 people have been wounded in the last month.”
The bottom line is, India could have executed this process more constitutionally. Bilateral agreements with the state’s legislative assembly should be negotiated. The fact that the Indian Government chose to forcefully occupy the region and exert its power is nothing short of brutal.