‘We, The People’— Does the Revoking of Article 370 Promise Better Relations with Kashmir?

In the past week, a flurry of unanticipated headlines has flooded the news, leaving a sizeable amount of the population in enthusiastic support of the Modi Government’s move to abrogate Article 370 and 35A and turn the state into two separate union territories—Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir. Undoubtedly, this is yet another tick can be made beside the manifesto checklist of the BJP.

Journalists, political activists, student protestors however, comprising a small voice in the overall rejoicing population of a unified India, have expressed immense concern about the government’s move. Major grounds of contention remain in the communication and press blackout in the state, in the revocation of the Article without due approval from the state in question and in the unnatural hike in military presence in what is already the most militarized region in the country.

The country has been brimming with debate for the entirety of past week. The people of Jammu and Kashmir have been left out of this process of discourse entirely, something that most proponents of the government’s move would say is only for the best for the long-term future of Kashmir. The presence of terror groups, other forms of anti-state militants and of course Pakistani interference have been cited as viable reasons for the communication blackout and intense militarization, and the absence of a functioning legislative assembly has been pushed as a justification for the unilateral decision taken by the government.

Outside of pure political discourse however, are the people of Kashmir, who have faced years of conflict and violence, and have been worn tired in being pulled between torture from militants on one side, and state authorities on the other.

Under the Congress rule

That Kashmir prospered when the country was under Congress rule would be a grossly mistaken assumption. Ever since the years following the Independence, the importance of Article 370, and the autonomy it sought to provide to Kashmir has steadily declined. Mohammad Ayoob, in an article in The Hindu notes, “The process of its erosion began in 1953 with the removal of Sheikh Abdullah from the office of Prime Minister of Kashmir by the Jawaharlal Nehru government on suspicion that he harboured secessionist tendencies. To stay in power, Abdullah’s successors, especially Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed and Mir Qasim, were more than willing to see the Centre expand its tentacles into the State by successively amending or distorting Article 370.” He goes on to outline how even Sheikh Abdullah’s return to power in 1975 was only by the acceptance of a watered-down version of the article, and the National Conference’s alliance with the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s proved this. Further, the 1985 elections were also allegedly rigged to deny seats to the Muslim United Front who were projected to have a significant number of seats.

The Congress’ attitude towards Kashmir then, was on one level only a superficial promise for the conservation of its special status while really just being a part of larger appeasement politics. Under its regime, some of the worst human rights violations occurred in Kashmir.

State clampdown under President’s rule (1990-1995)

Most of the significant massacres in Kashmir occurred between 1990-1994. Following the dissolution of the Farooq Abdullah government in January 18, 1990 after an attempted insurgency against the Indian government by the JKLF, Presidential Rule was imposed in the state. What followed was one of the worst periods of strife in the state, with JKLF and other militancy attacks on various wings of the army, and retaliatory human rights violations by the army. Sadly, facts and figures have reduced the suffering of Kashmiri civilians to gross understatements, and Army chiefs have categorically denied the intensity of human rights violations at various points in time.

The sacrifice of the Army in protecting the country and its people can never be put into words. However, this should never be a reason to ignore the dark reality of the atrocities meted out by them against Kashmiri civilians. Incidents of massacre include the Gawadkal massacre (1990), wherein 51 civilians were killed by CRPF troopers during protests, in addition to arrests and molestation of women; and the Hawal massacre (1990) wherein indiscriminate firing by paramilitary forces at the funeral procession of Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq killed 60 and injured hundreds. In January 6, 1993, one member of the BSF was killed by Islamic militants in Sopore, and the BSF personnel responded by massacring 55 civilians in Sopore. In the Bijebhera massacre, the BSF was accused of arbitrarily firing and killing at least 37 civilians, while killing several others.

Perhaps the worst of all is the Kunan Poshpora incident of 1991, wherein between 23-1oo Kashmiri women were raped by the soldiers of the Indian Army after they went into the village for a search operation of militants. Till date, this has been strongly dismissed as fabrication. No prosecutions occurred after the incident and the investigation by the government deemed this claim to be “worthless”. Yet, several eyewitnesses and victims reported this to be true, and a documented interview made into a film called Ocean of Tears was deliberately stopped from being broadcast. In 2013, Natasha Rather and Ifrah Butt were among 50 women who petitioned in the Supreme Court to reopen investigations. In an interview to Al Jazeera, Rather outlined the struggle of Kashmiri women after such incidents, …the result of militarisation is that [Kashmiri women] dread men in uniform. We won’t enter a park, if we see them sitting even far away, or walk down streets where there is an army bunker.”

Terrorism and militancy post 1996

Notably, after this immense suppression in the state by the Indian government, militancy saw an immense spike after the long-drawn period of Presidential rule till 1995. Many innocent lives were claimed and steadily anti-state sentiments rose in Kashmir.

Farooq Abdullah came to power after elections in 1996 in the state, yet even under him there was little respite for civilians. The notorious genocide and brutal driving out of Kashmiri pandits by Islamic militants occurred between 1996-1998, and isolated incidents of violence were carried out against them. The state reeled with deaths of pilgrims and civilians, bombing of state legislative assemblies and perpetual disarray and violence in the state.

Even under successive regimes post the 2000s, terrorism and militancy only grew, with steady interventions from Pakistan. In fact, there has never been any cease in violence since 1996 in Kashmir, prominent terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul-i-Mujahideen have flourished and propagated violence. Since the conflict began, some 50,000 individuals, including more than 7,000 government security personnel and 20,000 militants, have been killed, and more than 100,000 individuals have been displaced during the conflict.

The BJP government

After Omar Abdullah left the Chief Ministerial Post, the PDP was in power from 2016-2018, until the government fell because the BJP withdrew support from its alliance.

The above historical context was only a feeble attempt to provide an idea of the immense turmoil Jammu and Kashmir has been in. The greatest victims of this turmoil have undoubtedly been its inhabitants. Subjected to appeasement or corrupt politics, they have been trapped in an endless cycle of government violence and anti-state militancy. Notably, Seema Kazi, in Gender and Militarization in Kashmir says, “Sordid and gruesome as the militant record of violence against Kashmiri women and civilians is, it does not compare with the scale and depth of abuse by Indian State forces for which justice has yet to be done.”

In this context, the BJP government’s move to remove Article 370 without any consultation from civilians is not only a democratic error but also one that alienates those who have been alienated for decades—the people. So often we are eager to build narratives of national unity and integrity that we blur out and downplay the violence that has been integral to politics in Kashmir. For years, the governments in power have sat in a privileged position and made decisions for an entire people whilst completely ignoring what is good for them. The last time a Union-centric move was imposed in Kashmir under the President’s rule was for five long years since 1990, and peace has never come since then. Today, the military saturation and unilateral move by the centre is dangerously reminiscent of the same.

Most of us support the unity of Kashmir with the rest of the country because intrinsically we believe it will do them good. We believe the government is entitled to make a decision because ‘Kashmir humara hai’; after years of Congress mismanagement, the BJP can finally restore stability. Yet, Kashmiris have once again been ousted from having a say in their own future. While I have the privilege of writing this article and voicing my opinion, very few people from Kashmir have the same. We are naïve enough to believe Kashmiris will welcome a nation that has for years been directly and indirectly responsible for violence and instability in their lives. We could have given Kashmir and its people their own right to decide their future before integrating them, but we didn’t.

No amount of idealistic celebration of national integrity can plaster the divisive reality of human pain and suffering. But of course, we can, and will, as we always have, choose to believe otherwise.

Picture Courtesy- Washington Post, One India, The Kashmir Scenario

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