On Monday August 5, the Indian government announced its decision to divide and replace the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir into union territories, essentially erasing it. The announcement came alongside plans to revoke Article 370, which guaranteed certain conditions for the state of Kashmir: the ability to govern autonomously in all areas except defence, communication and foreign policy.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced the presidential decree without consulting Kashmir’s state legislate, while keeping Kashmiri citizens under a communications blackout: cutting phone, internet, and TV access. Prominent Kashmiris (including leading politicians like former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah) were placed under arrest. 10,000 extra military personnel were deployed to the region with a further 25,000 ordered to arrive this week while tourists from other parts of the country were directed to leave.
Kashmir is a Himalayan region bordering China, Pakistan, India, and Tibet, with around two-thirds of it controlled by India, and the other third by Pakistan. It has long been the subject of territorial dispute, and separatist insurgency and resistance against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir has raged for 30 decades. This recent move by the government has surprised political commentators, people on the ground, and the rest of the world, as the complex, turbulent relationship between Kashmir and India lies in a state.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
“It is simply another form of colonisation for us,” Muzzammil Ayyub Thakur, the executive director of the Justice Foundation, tells Dazed. “Even our assumptions (of what is occurring inside the state) aside, the way they’ve revoked Article 370 means any protection we had, even though it was temporary, is now out the window.” A spokesperson for the South Asian Solidarity Group, who organised recent protests and vigils in London, echoes Thakur: “It’s very similar to (how) Palestinians have been pushed into corners of what was once the whole of their country.”
Kashmir has always been a hotbed of unrest. Cyril Radcliffe, who had never visited South Asia, was entrusted with creating the arbitrary borders that are found today during the partition of British India in 1947. Partition would displace 14 million people, killing close to an estimated 2 million in six weeks and start a 70-year feud between two nuclear super-powers in Pakistan and India. Kashmir, whose semi-autonomous state is complex, found that the root of its problems lay within these borders. The tension the region still feels is found in the decision by the Kashmir’s Hindu ruler, Hari Singh, deciding to join India instead of Pakistan in 1947, despite the state predominantly Muslim. “Article 370 was the one link between Kashmir and India,” Hafsa Kanjwal, the assistant professor of South Asian history at Lafayette College tells Dazed. “It was put into place by the Indian leadership to bring Kashmir in (to India) at the time.”
Ever since its inception, Hindu nationalists have rallied against these laws. During the recent 2019 election campaign, the BJP – a right-wing, Hindu nationalist party – ran on the platform promising to revoke Kashmir’s “special status”. After being re-elected, they succeeded in doing exactly that on Monday. After 72 years, Kashmiris abroad are unsure whether relatives at home are even aware that their state has been abolished. “Everyone is concerned because there is no communication with Kashmir,” Thakur explains. “Nobody has any information about their families. My family live in far-flung villages where electricity only comes an hour a day. I’m not even aware if they know if the article has been revoked let alone if they’re dead or alive.”
WHAT IT’S LIKE ON THE GROUND
The government has huge powers over the Internet in Kashmir, with the ability to shut it down pretty much instantly. Experts believe the ongoing communication shutdown of the internet and phone networks is to deter protest and militant attacks, as well as give Kashmiri people the opportunity to put pressure on the state to change.
There is a very real fear of ethnic cleansing spreading among Kashmiris abroad. “Immense amounts of oppression, that’s what’s at stake here,” Kanjwal confirms. “India is not far off from China and what China is doing to the Uyghur people. These different states, they learn and borrow strategies from each other and they use this war on terror and islamophobia narrative to construct their Muslim populations as the other, as the enemy.” Thakur elaborates further, adding, “We think it will be similar to what the Israelis have done with the West Bank. Colonial settlements are going to be found.”
A current of dread is also running through the marginalised of India. “Beyond Kashmir, this shows how the government in power now is a Hindu nationalist fascist country,” Dr Mehroosh Tak, the co-founder of Kashmir Solidarity Movement says. “If they can do this to Kashmir, they can do this to any other region, locality or marginalised group in India. This government clearly works for a specific section of the Indian population, not all of them. And that specific section has hegemony in the region over media, of thought and views and that’s what the majority of India is buying into.”
With the larger Indian population able to buy up land in Kashmir, the massive economic inequality that already exists in the country (the richest 10 per cent own 80 per cent of the wealth) will make it easy for even middle-class Indians to go into Kashmir and purchase land at cheap rates. Kashmiris eventually will have no choice but to sell the land they proudly call their own, slowly ensuring the eradication of their nation. A sliver of hope still flickers that despite the communications blackout, resistance will hold strong. “At the end of the day, when it comes to your nationality, when it comes to your nationhood, people will revolt,” Thakur insists.
WHAT PEOPLE NEED TO BE DOING TO HELP
At this time, education on the issue is a must: to really understand what’s happening on the ground is to read it from Kashmiris themselves, to then see how that plays out within global trends like settler colonialism, violence and peoples rights to self-determination. “The diaspora has not really shown solidarity for Kashmir over the past 70 years of this occupation,” Kanjwal explains. “Even people who are progressive on other issues avoid or ignore Kashmir.” Helping change the media narrative around Kashmir will be crucial.” The region is only in the news when disaster hits, but ethnic cleansing, genocides and settler occupation occurs over time, slowly.
“People should write regularly, write op-eds, they should challenge and push back against news pieces that unfairly represent what’s happening on the ground,” Kanjwal says. Most importantly, especially for those in any kind of power, is to put pressure on elected officials and international organisations. “For so long, India has been able to do what it wants in Kashmir because no one has really spoken out. If more people speak out and India realises that it can’t just get away with things then hopefully, potentially something could change.”