There was a picture in the papers yesterday. A woman in a hijab, clutching an infant is hurrying down the deserted streets of Srinagar while security personnel, armed to the hilt, look on. Their eyes follow her every urgent stride as she keeps her head down and carries on.
To me, this image summed up, the unfair and dismal situation Kashmiris find themselves in while the “rest of India” (as claimed by the BJP) rejoices the abrogation of Article 370.
“The common man in Srinagar is rejoicing…” said Jitendra Singh, Union Minister, MoS, Northeast region.
“Article 370 was removed so we could embrace the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Home Minister Amit Shah.
Srinagar is in a state of emergency; internet and communication lines are down, emergency services at a standstill, elected representatives are under arrest and no one, including Mr Singh, has any clue how much the common man is suffering right now.
Yet, India rejoices. Politicians distribute sweets, there are fireworks, tweets proclaiming PM Modi’s ‘strength’ are mixed with chants of “Bharat Mata ki jai!” Someone has even started advertising real estate in the valley.
India has won Kashmir. Kashmiris be damned.
Let’s consider the facts. Article 370, that gives Jammu and Kashmir its separate status, ties the state and its people to India – basis certain conditions that were established for historical and cultural reasons. It wasn’t a thorn in the flesh of the rest of India as the government would have us believe. It didn’t make Kashmiri lives easier with the common people facing violence, pellets, rapes and mysterious disappearances for the last several decades.
Even though Article 370 was listed as a temporary provision [Article 370 (3)], its abrogation can only be done in consultation with the constituent assembly of the state. This is established in the constitution and has the support of leading jurist AG Noorani (Author of the book ‘Article 370’ and one of the most respected voices on the subject). The Supreme Court even recently surmised that the Article is a permanent one and cannot be abolished without the recommendation of the state’s representatives.
Despite this established fact, Amit Shah has cunningly circumvented this by first, getting the president to order an amendment to Article 367 and redefine the definition of the term ‘Constituent Assembly’ to mean ‘State Legislative Assembly’ and then claim that since the State Legislative Assembly is dissolved, the parliament can legislate on the matter.
No due process was followed. Nobody (and certainly no Kashmiri) was consulted.
Will the abolition of Article 370 make Jammu and Kashmir a safer place? The data-backed answer is no. There were 222 terrorist incidents in 2014 when the BJP assumed power. The number steadily increased over the years and stood at 614 last year – the highest it has ever been. What is the abolition of Article 370 going to do that the ruling government could not?
If anything, this move is dangerous considering the worsening security situation in the region and the growing anti-establishment sentiment, bound to be exploited by separatists and Pakistan-backed terror outfits.
It is clear that this move was political, communal and downright unconstitutional.
The ruling BJP, which came to power on the Hindutva rhetoric and muscular nationalism, is continuing its pursuit of power by preparing the ground for the next round of state elections. Kashmir is just a pawn that furthers their popular narrative. With the help of a pliant media, the government has managed to divert attention from serious issues such as the worsening economic situation and agricultural distress to the Ram Mandir and Ayodhya.
It is disappointing to see the bevy of political parties such as the AAP, BSP, YSR Congress, TDP and the AIADMK support this trampling of the Kashmiri identity to garner political mileage. History will not remember them kindly.
As far as “embracing Kashmiris” claimed by the home minister is concerned, this is highly doubtful. Let’s not forget that innocent Kashmiri students were attacked in various parts of India, post the Pulwama attack earlier this year, triggering a mass exodus. I don’t recall this outpouring of love for Kashmiris then.
Social media is abuzz with people hailing this “kick-ass” move by Modi that “put everyone in their place.” I believe these are largely the privileged elite who can’t imagine life without Netflix, leave alone basic human rights. The others are not surprisingly the bhakt brigade who are willing participants in the BJP’s dream of making this country a Hindu rashtra.
As India finds itself in one of its darkest moments, let’s stop the gloating over this ‘trophy’ we’ve won. A government has wrested a land from her people by force. Imagine what they could do to other parts of this country. Let that ominous thought sink in for a moment.
Now, spare a thought for the Kashmiris. For the woman with her child in Srinagar, for the nameless lakhs of people in the valley living in the shadow of fear with no right to self-determination.