In Case You Missed It: One Year After Kashmir’s Autonomy Was Revoked, Here’s What it Looks Like.
In this series, I cover stories from the previous week that were under-reported, or not reported at all. We can miss important stories because they fall behind predominant, often over reported news — this series attempts to combat those issues, by sharing less mainstream events.
On August 5, one year ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, moved to revoke the constitutionally-protected autonomy of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. A presidential decree dismantled Article 370 of India’s constitution that protected the country’s only Muslim-majority state. Shortly thereafter, thousands of Kashmiri’s were arrested, a strict curfew was enacted, and New Delhi imposed the world’s longest internet blackout. A short year later, while India celebrates 73 years of independence, peace remains a distant hope for those in the hotly contested territory.
Jammu and Kashmir: A Contentious History
Ethnically diverse Kashmir has been a contested territory for over seven decades, even before Pakistan and India’s independence. Under the partition agreement, provided by the Indian Independence Act, Kashmir was free to decide which country to accede to. Kashmir joined India in October of 1947. War erupted shortly thereafter, and at the request of India, the United Nations (UN) intervened, establishing a ceasefire line dividing the region. Another war was fought in 1965 along with a brief conflict in 1999.
Indian-administered Kashmir has been in conflict for over three decades. A long-running insurgency, which India claims is backed by Pakistan, had taken over 40,000 lives by 1989.
Separatism surged after 1989, driven by a mix of economic and political grievances. Kashmir experienced a growing sense of alienation that the Indian government shrouded as a new ‘normalcy’ in the region. Following 2010, quasi-violence, or unarmed collective violence, increased gradually until 2016, when following the death of a young militant, Burhan Wani, spiked unrest.
A long-running insurgency, which India claims is backed by Pakistan, had taken over 40,000 lives since 1989.
Kashmir’s militancy became more localized during this time as well. Cross-border infiltration became more difficult from Pakistan, and locally recruited militants began to outnumber foreign fighters. India’s main focus remained violently suppressing militant organizations in the region. This fueled dissatisfaction, loss of faith in Kashmir’s democratic institutions, and propagandized Islamist recruitment.
Article 370 and 35A Explained
Article 370 was established shortly after India’s independence, in 1949. Essentially, it exempts Jammu and Kashmir from India’s constitution, allowing the region to establish its own laws in almost every area except for defense, finance, foreign affairs, and communications. The autonomous region established its own constitution and had its own flag. Most importantly, it denied property rights to outsiders. In regards to property ownership and citizenship, Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed independence from the rest of India.
Article 35A was enacted by presidential decree in 1954. It extended the 1949 provision, and expanded its power. It granted power to the local legislature to define permanent residents. It banned outsiders from settling in the area, buying land, holding positions in local government, or winning educational awards. Notably, the article specifies that female residents of the region lose their property rights if they marry someone from outside the state. Critics of the article claim it is discriminatory against women.
In the days leading up to Article 370’s revocation, India deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to Kashmir, schools were shut, and tourists were expelled. The ending of Kashmir’s special status divided the territory into two separate unions, both under the direct jurisdiction of New Delhi. One territory, stilled called Jammu and Kashmir, has a state legislature, while the other, a remote mountainous area called Ladakh, falls directly under central government control.
These moves will significantly decrease, if not completely remove, the autonomy in the region. It eliminated the local legislatures ability to set rules for residency, opening up the possibility for outsiders to purchase land in Kashmir. This could significantly affect demographics in the region, compounding sectarian issues.
Why Did India Do it?
The Indian Prime Minister along with the BJP ran on a campaign promise to revoke Article 370 in the 2019 elections. In the manifesto, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated, in reference to removing Kashmir’s special status, “India supports peace, but the country will not hesitate to take any steps required for national security.”
Incorporating Kashmir into greater India, they claimed, was critical to supporting and growing its local economy. Revoking Kashmir’s protections would allow foreign investment and boost the socioeconomic status of the state. Yet, in the past year none of the promised economic objectives were met. Many Kashmiri’s theorize that the move was undertaken to alter the demographic of the only Muslim-majority state in India. At the core, the central government of India believes Kashmir’s special status has resulted in the separatism, radicalization, corruption, and lack of development that has plagued the region for generations.
“India supports peace, but the country will not hesitate to take any steps required for national security.”
Kashmir, One Year Later
Contrary to many predictions, the fallout from revoking Article 370 and 35A has been minimal. Anticipating negative consequences, the Indian government sent troops to manage political violence. But they did so by implementing draconian measures, such as curfews and communication bans. Within the first few weeks under Kashmir’s new system, around 4,000 people were detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a law allowing the Indian government to imprison someone for up to two years without a trial. Among those arrested were some of Kashmir’s most elite politicians, including Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah. While this may have stifled initial unrest, it will only fuel long-term alienation, already a problem in Kashmir, and separatist ideations.
Fahad Shah, a Kashmiri journalist, stated:
In Kashmir, spending time in jail can strengthen a young person’s resolve to get revenge. Many of the jailed, who were never part of any protest, decide to join them when they are released. Others who are taken in for small crimes, such as throwing stones, become radicalized in jail. An internal analysis on militancy from the Indian Army found that 83 percent of local youth who had joined a militant organization had a ‘record of stone-pelting.’
The shutdown of all communication networks in Kashmir has led to a rapid rise of unemployment. Businesses struggle to remain open, and most news coming out of Kashmir is limited. In an attempt to minimize political unrest, the communication blackout inhibits local’s abilities to organize and report on day-to-day life in the region. In addition to negative effects on the economy, the internet shutdown is hampering the government’s ability to curb the growing coronavirus pandemic.
On January 10 of this year, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that India’s indefinite suspension of internet access in Indian-administer Kashmir was an abuse of power. The country’s highest court ruled that opposition to state policy did not justify the massive crackdown. Phone access was gradually restored as of December 31, 2019. But seven million people in the region still lack sufficient internet access.
Many analysts believe the issues in Kashmir are not about ‘if’ but ‘when’ it will eventually erupt. The Kashmiri people view India’s military presence there as an illegal, unconstitutional occupation. Although the year after Article 370’s demise has been quiet, the future may prove to be more volatile as the people of Kashmir regain their strength.