PARADISE LOST

PARADISE LOST

Shafi Rather

Jammu and Kashmir was a princely state during the British East India Company rule as well as the British Raj in India from 1846-1947. The princely state was created after the first Anglo-Sikh war. At the end of British Rule in India, Jammu and Kashmir acceded to Dominion of India on October 26, 1947. India and Pakistan went to war over it and Pakistan Administered Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan passed to the control of Pakistan while the remaining territory remained under Indian control as the Indian administered state of Jammu and Kashmir (Now UTs of J&K and Ladakh). This led to the rise of the Kashmir conflict.
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was the basis of Jammu and Kashmir’s relationship with India and it allowed the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir some autonomy – its own constitution, a separate flag, and freedom to make laws. As a result Jammu and Kashmir had its own laws related to permanent residency, ownership of property, etc. As per these laws no Indian living outside Jammu and Kashmir could purchase property or settle here.
Just before 5 August 2019, there was a suggestion that something drastic was going to happen to the region. After a series of advisories from Govt of India, thousands of additional Indian troops were deployed to Kashmir valley, the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage was cancelled, schools and colleges were closed, tourists were ordered to vacate, telephone and internet services were suspended, a large number of people were detained, and curfews and lockdowns were imposed.
No pundit was able to analyse the situation accurately. The whole region was in the grip of fear. On 5th August, Home Minister of India, Amit Shah, astonished everyone by announcing that the Govt of India was revoking Article 370 and Article 35A and split the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.

Was it legal?
Article 370 (1) gave the power to the President of India to nullify the Article anytime but only in concurrence with the recommendation of Govt of Jammu and Kashmir. As there was no government for months in Jammu and Kashmir, the order was passed in consultation with the Governor of the state. As per Article 155 of the Indian Constitution, the Governor of a state is appointed by the President of India and he works as an agent of the Union Govt. Hence, in case of abrogation of Article 370, the decision was unilateral as the Union Govt consulted only itself and thus violated the principles of Article 370(1).

Public Perception
Because of fear and all means of communication suspended, the reaction in the region was reduced to silence. The scrapping of J&K’s special status was done without the consent of its people and it created a feeling of deception among the masses. Although Article 370 had been diluted from time to time and reduced to a fig leaf, but it had symbolic and emotional significance for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. People now fear for their identity as abrogation of Article 370 will bring outsiders to the region that will lead to cultural and demographic changes.

What has changed on the ground?
Jammu and Kashmir no longer has a separate constitution and all Indian laws are applicable to the region. People living outside the region can now obtain domicile of Jammu and Kashmir and be eligible for government jobs as well as ownership of land and property.
The Union Govt has said that abrogation of Article 370 will bring development to the region. Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament, “I want to tell the people of Jammu and Kashmir what damage Article 370 and Article 35A did to the state. It is because of these sections that democracy was never fully implemented, corruption increased in the state, and that no development could take place.” The Union Govt also said that abrogation of Article 370 will help in curbing militancy in the region. The Union Govt has constituted a Delimitation Commission for redrawing parliamentary and assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir. The commission will function without any local participation from Kashmir as three National Conference Lok Sabha MPs who were nominated by the Govt of India as its associated members have dissociated themselves from the commission.
Because of violence and political instability which emerged during the 1990s, no major industrial development has taken place in Jammu and Kashmir. Many entrepreneurs from outside already started their industrial units in Jammu and Kashmir during 1980s but because of the prevailing situation those units shut down or are lying sick. Experts opine that the abrogation of Article 370 would hardly induce any non-local investor to start an industrial unit in Kashmir unless the ground situation improves. According to a report by a civil society group of prominent Indians, including Madan Bhimarao Lokur, former judge of the Supreme Court of India, Professor Radha Kumar, former interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir, since the abrogation of Article 370, local youth have not stopped joining militant ranks and encounters between militants and Indian forces have not stopped in the region. Mobile internet is available at low 2G speed as 4G mobile internet service is still banned for over a year now.
Abrogation of Article 370 has led to internationalisation of the Kashmir conflict despite India’s claim that Kashmir is its internal issue. The United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC) has held closed-door meetings twice on the situation in Kashmir. The US Congress has passed two resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir, condemning New Delhi’s decision. US President Donald Trump offered to mediate on the Kashmir issue if asked by both India and Pakistan. Senator Bernie Sanders has strongly criticised the Indian Govt’s handling of the situation in Kashmir. China and Russia have asked India and Pakistan to settle the dispute in accordance with the UN Charter and Security Council’s resolution on Kashmir. Sensing some dent in its global image as a liberal democracy, India invited foreign diplomats of various nations for official visits to Jammu and Kashmir.

What Locals Want?
On August 4, 2019, an all-party meeting was held at Gupkar Srinagar to deliberate upon the situation that was prevailing in the state. It was unanimously resolved that all the parties would be united in their resolve to protect and defend the identity, autonomy and special status of Jammu and Kashmir against all attacks and onslaughts. As of now, local politicians seem to have backtracked from the Gupkar declaration as they haven’t done anything substantial against the August 5 decision. Instead, they are pressing for restoration of statehood and holding of elections.
Common people see no benefit in restoration of statehood if all the laws passed by the Govt after 5 August 2019 are not repealed. People are concerned about the cultural identity of the region and have apprehensions about the new Domicile Law and amendments made to the Control of Building Operations Act, 1988, and Jammu and Kashmir Development Act, 1970, giving powers to the Cantonment Board and the Armed Forces to carry out construction activities beyond the cantonments. Local people opine that these laws will lead to the demographic changes in the Muslim-majority region and will threaten the cultural identity of Jammu and Kashmir.
For decades the local people have aspired for peace and prosperity in the region. Because of continuous violence in the region for the last three decades, the people of Jammu and Kashmir are suffering the worst. People of Jammu and Kashmir want all the stakeholders to shun arrogance and sit together to find a permanent and peaceful solution of Kashmir conflict.

The writer is a teacher. msrshumlaran@gmail.com

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