National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has just deleted a section of chapter on ‘Regional Aspirations’ in Class 12th Political Science text-book. The deleted portions tracing Kashmir’s separatist politics, briefly sketching the complex dynamics of separatism, intra-state politics and urges for peace, is now gone. This will be replaced by a chapter on the voiding of Article 370 and the re-organisation of the state describing it as a step towards inclusion of Indian citizens in stakes in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). On August 5, 2019, the Indian government de-operationalised Article 370, which constitutionally linked Kashmir to India and also guaranteed its autonomy, and bifurcated the state into two union territories, robbing it both of its special status and its statehood.
One year on, the project of systemic erasure of J&K in multiple ways, including the eclipse of its map, politics, economy, society and even the memory of as it existed, is still on.
What democratic purpose did the political and legal alterations, effected by stealth and in defiance of constitutional requirements, while integrating the disputed region into the largest liberal democracy of the world achieve? As the Indian state hollowed out its own democratic commitments by chaining the very people who should have participated in the decision of their future, for the inhabitants the journey of an exponential loss began, their identity diluted and the road paved for their consistent disempowerment – politically, economically and socially. The flaunted benefit is the equal status that Indian citizens will get in the region after integrating ‘J&K’ fully into the Indian Union while its people are reduced to lesser citizens as part of the new rules of engagement.
Until 2019, Jammu & Kashmir was governed by both the Indian constitution and its own state constitution, giving the region the powers to decide its own matters, barring on three subjects – communication, foreign affairs and defence. From 1950s onwards the Indian government began to water down Article 370 from 1953 through a slew of amendments with the concurrence of its own backed puppet regimes in the state and through excessive manipulation of the state’s politics including deposing governments and even jailing the local popular rulers. By 1970s, Article 370 remained a hollow shell as a symbol of pretense of democracy, while it also bestowed to Kashmiris a sense of unique identity, forbidding Indians from outside the state to settle and get government jobs. That was until last year.
The most visible fallout of the diluted and degraded status of Kashmir is that while its hereditary residents will lose their exclusive rights over jobs and ownership of land, its degradation from a state of India to a Union Territory, which brings it under the direct control of the union government, forbids the local political leadership from exercising its agency. This empowers the Indian government to legislate, amend, scrap any law without consulting the representatives of the people and alter the life of the people in many ways. In less than a year, the government has already made more than 100 central laws applicable to the region and revoked or tweaked 100 other J&K laws that are aimed to encourage a demographic influx aimed at not only altering the Muslim majority status of the erstwhile state but also depriving its previous permanent residents of jobs, with the relaxed nature of domicile law, and ending their privileges to own land and invest in business.
Already, all the stone quarrying and sand mining contracts have gone mostly to outsiders and it is feared that Kashmir’s natural resources may be lost to similarly skewed bidding processes, as traditional local bidders neither had the money-power, technological superiority nor the internet access to compete. The almost nine times increase in the bids and investment of machinery will increase the costs for local consumers, shrink jobs and denude the ecology owing to business models based on crass greed.
The Indian government continues to maintain its firm grip on the region through exercise of brute military power and imposition of restrictions, torpedoing the fundamental rights of the Kashmiris in the name of ‘integration’ and ‘national interest’. While media remains gagged and a method of censorship set in place in the form of Media Policy 2020 that empowers bureaucrats to judge any word as ‘anti-national’ or fake and press criminal charges, the judiciary feels compelled to ignore the increasing number of petitions for bail and habeas corpus pleas.
Not to be missed is the psychological impact of Article 370 abrogation. The collective sense of injury, loss, trauma, humiliation and impotency has pushed the people of the region, already carrying the weight of 73 years of armed conflict, to the brink, engendering not only despair but also rage which could find violent expression. Coupled with India’s increasingly hostile relations with its neighbours – Pakistan and China – which are inadvertent party to the historic dispute, this could have dangerous geopolitical repercussions.
The biggest casualty, however, has been the weakening and destruction of Indian democracy and its liberal asymmetric federalism with fears that Kashmir could become a testing laboratory for rest of the country, as the right-wing Indian government inspired by the ideology of transforming a secular, socialist republic into a Hindu nation embarks on a hasty project to bring in nation-wide laws like Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens that reduce India’s minorities, particularly Muslims, to secondary citizens. The Kashmir project that appealed to the majoritarian sensibilities of Indians has emboldened the desire for that project, the brutal methods employed to scuttle the campaigns by criminalizing CAA opponents while treating the hate speeches of the Hindu right-wing with kids gloves are also inspired by Kashmir’s dismal human rights track record.
By integrating a land, and not its people, India has made a tryst with a destiny that is poised to take a dangerous turn.
(Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal is a senior Jammu-based journalist.)