Often termed as Heaven on Earth, Kashmir has indeed grasped the limelight of the entire global community since the bifurcation of India in late 1947. Keeping aside the historical facts and treaties, this place and its people have been devoid of peace, prosperity, and basic human rights for very long. Religion, politics, and a vicious neighbour turned this place into a war zone. But humans evolved, civilizations flourished and under the shadow of Article 370 and the federal nature of the Indian Union, a prosperous state of Jammu and Kashmir rose leaps and bounds. It was rising and was heading in the same direction of achieving the objectives of a welfare state, as promised in part IV of our constitution until the misery stroked out.
In this republic, the electors shall have the right to recall and criticize their representatives, if so desired, otherwise, the democracy shall become a mockery.
Let’s go back in time and focus for a few minutes in the year 2014. This is one of the years that shaped the future of this great nation. This was not for the first time that historical facts and the constitution were termed to be some useless documents but it was indeed a very maiden attempt by the government and the supreme leader itself to provide flame to those thoughts. This agenda was pushed throughout the tenure of this government and Kashmir was portrayed as a zone of militancy and anarchy, thus pushing a narrative into the minds of people via state-controlled puppets termed as media houses. Thus, this place became a zone of contention and the entire right-winged mob started shouting for the removal of autonomy of this place, in wake of specific demographics of this place, with their reasons being the myths being fed to them by their vicious masters.
On 5th August 2019, like a bad dream, when the whole of the state of Jammu and Kashmir was under an indefinite curfew, Article 370 was abrogated which was directed more towards the ideological sentiments of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) than being a step towards the development of Jammu and Kashmir. The whole rationale behind the idea of abrogating the constitutional provisions and stripping off the statehood seemed to lack merit and evidence and were directed more towards demonizing Kashmir. This was in true sense a misuse of electoral majority and a living example of the increased executive control of the judiciary, where the matter of such importance wasn’t heard as priority.
The ills of Article 370 and 35-A that were sold out while abrogating this provision were irrelevant and had no material basis. Our home minister, Mr Amit Shah in his speech in the parliament with utter confidence claimed terrorism in Kashmir to be an ill effect of Article 370 and 35-A, but even this statement of his lacked material basis and even the numbers and incidents after the abrogation of the Article- 370 conveys a completely different story. Other claims such as blaming it for ruining J&K, stalling its development and preventing proper healthcare and blocking industries seem to lack basic shreds of evidence. The growth rate of J&K in the year just before the abrogation was way above 7%, which was far too high than the national average, which was trying to handle the catastrophic effects of a sudden demonetization and an ill-planned GST during that time.
The aspects nobody talks about is the land reforms in J&K, which happened during the 1950s, which was possible precisely due to the existence of Article 370 and 35-A in the state. Also, there have been no limitations on the private industries to set-up their enterprises on the leased lands, but they have been reluctant only because of the surge in militancy in the area, which in no means is because of the prevalence of Article-370 in the area. Though, I agree that health and education policies in the valley need to be improved (so as they need to be in any other part of this entire nation).
Over time the frequent use of presidential orders – allowed under Article 370 – to extend the writ of the centre to Jammu and Kashmir has considerably weakened this provision of this constitutional provision and its core has been eroded. India has used Article 370 more than 45 times to extend provisions of the constitution to Jammu and Kashmir and almost the whole of the Indian constitution has been extended to J&K. 94 out of a total of 97 subjects mentioned in the union list of the Indian constitution applied to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Also, 260 out of a total of 395 articles and 7 out of a total of 12 schedules completely applied to the state despite being an autonomous entity with its own constitution. Similarly, article 249, i.e., the power of Parliament to make laws on entries in the state list, was extended to Jammu & Kashmir, without a resolution by the state assembly. There was hardly anything left in the article except the shell and was deemed more suitable for the central government today than for the people of J&K. Even while the core of Article 370 has been eroded, it does, of course, do have huge sentimental value for the people of Jammu and Kashmir who would view its abrogation with a great deal of unhappiness.
With curfew all around the place, people being forced to stay locked inside their homes and censures prevailing over press and journalists, the Indian population living over there is caught between rock and hard place. Instead of providing those with support, the government machinery and the entire nation have been hell-bent on naming them as terrorists, and every discussion to be held over the development and peace of Kashmir always gets restricted to the religious blame game. Now, after the removal of Article 370, the new normal has been way too harsh on people of the state. Draconian laws, with provisions discarding investigations before dismissal of any employee, has been applied. Now, if any superior of yours feels that your truth is anti-Indian, you can be just dismissed from your service without any judicial inquiry being probed into the matter. Press is being controlled and censorship of the content being reported is happening. A recent example being the editor of Kashmiriyat, being arrested under preventive detention provisions for reporting the ground reality.
New measures and a new media policy is coming into effect making it placing more restrictions on the journalists and reporters in the valley to share the truth and ground reality of the region. This policy gives immense power to the J&K administration to punish any newspaper reporting to be anti-national and fake and strike it from official empanelment. Avenues to voice dissent are being cut off and their abilities are being controlled and new provisions are being imposed on them having overreaching consequences.
Apart from these institutional and moral damages to the structure of the nation, economic losses have been immense. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce has pegged the economic losses in the region at $5.3 billion dollars. Also, about half a million jobs have been lost since August. The education facilities have been tormented apart by the frequent curfews and the privilege of online studies has been snatched from them because of the crackdown on basic internet facilities in the state. The tourism industry has collapsed and apart from the corona crisis, a crisis of livelihood has struck the people. And, if this wasn’t much, a crackdown upon the basic citizenship laws of the state has brought a new crisis in front of them- a fight to save their demography.
These people who think of all states having just one kind of relationship with the centre are neither aware of Indian diversity, nor have they read various provisions of Article 371(A to I) as applicable to states other than J&K. The provisions of autonomy have been extended not only to J&K but to various other parts of the Union of India, so as to let people maintain their cultural heritage, religious or social practices, and ownership of their resources. We are an asymmetric federal polity and autonomy is indeed an indispensable part of this union working peacefully. Another misconception about Article 35-A undermining the unity of India seems like a Whats App University forward. The U.S.A has the provisions of dual citizenship, but has it been an obstruction to national unity? Also, J&K is the most securitized state of India and these logics of danger to unity seem to lack material evidence.
Preamble of the Constitution of J&K, never claims to have sovereignty like the Constitution of India, but rather there is a categorical acknowledgment about the object of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution which is “to further define the existing relationship of the state with the union of India”. The focus is on the part in bold and italics, which clearly mentioned the nature of autonomy and its objectives. Though, I personally feel that the laws needed to be revamped, with Article 35-A in itself needed to be looked upon to do away with its discriminatory provisions. But such laws are prevailing in many other parts of the country and introspection of those laws is the need of the hour rather than abrogation.
Politics, militancy and a wave of separatism in wake of some vicious political and religious propaganda have been hurting Kashmir for very long. But it’s high time we understand that the problems of Kashmir aren’t some basic problems with any other place. The issue has always been about complex historical grievances, politico-ethnic demands, religious radicalization, and Pakistan’s unrelenting interference in Kashmir Valley. And these problems cannot be just solved by pouring money into the place and betting all your options on development. The bond between New Delhi and Srinagar needs to be strengthened and focus needs to be on winning the hearts of people, rather than elections.
But will any of these optimistic things ever be discussed by our policymakers? They will be forgotten as soon as elections are over. But words would retain their power. Words will offer meaning to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth, and the truth is that there is something terribly wrong with that place and this country, isn’t there? And where we once had the freedom to object cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression, to think and speak as we saw fit, we now have sensors and surveillance coercing over conformity and soliciting submissions. But again truth be told, if we’re looking for the guilty, we need only to look into the mirror. These 365 days won’t be forgotten, yet we’ll never lose hope. Justice will prevail and we’ll see it one day.