Kashmir is an ethnically diverse Himalayan region that was contested territory even before Pakistan and India gained their independence from Britain in 1947. Following the partition of India, the Indian Independence Act allotted Kashmir the freedom to choose the country that they would join. Kashmir’s Maharaja, Hari Singh, chose India in return for its help against invading Pakistani tribesmen. However, war still erupted between India and Pakistan and the United Nations recommended that they handle matters by holding a referendum vote in which the people of Kashmir would choose which nation to join. Unfortunately, neither party could agree on a plan to demilitarize the region for the voting to take place. The UN forced a ceasefire in 1949 and the region became officially divided.
A second War took place in 1965, and another brief conflict occurred in 1999, at which point both India and Pakistan were nuclear powers. Today, both nations claim Kashmir as theirs despite only occupying certain territories. An armed revolt has been steadily increasing in the Indian occupied territory for 30 years, and the Indian government blames Pakistan for backing the separatist militants.
According to BBC News, there were earlier signs of unrest before the official Indian revocation order, including the deployment of tens of thousands of Indian troops to Kashmir, the cancellation of a major Hindu pilgrimage, the shutting of schools and colleges, ordering tourists to leave, suspending internet access and communications, and arresting political leaders. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is a special provision that allows Kashmir its autonomy, which includes the right to make its own laws, have its own flag, and have its own constitution. The article also allowed for rights regarding permanent residency, property ownership, and other fundamental laws. According to an Al Jazeera article on the matter, this allowed the Kashmir government to potentially bar outsiders from buying property in the region and settling there.
The current situation on the ground is one of turmoil according to several residents. The main city is currently a maze of razor wires and steel barricades, with drones and helicopters flying overhead according to reporters for Al Jazeera. Kashmiri resident Zameer Ahmed told the Associated Press “The entire Srinagar city has been knitted in razor wire to seek our resilience and obedience.” This has created a situation that makes Kashmir is currently the most militarized region in the world, with no easy solutions in sight. People with family in the region who live elsewhere have reported that they have not had any contact with their loved ones, and are unable to reach them due to the communication shutdown. Many of them have taken to Twitter and believe that the internet shutdown is an attempt by the Indian government to stop activists from documenting what is actually happening.
Prime Minister Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are employing increasingly nationalistic language and practices, leading many Kashmiri activists to believe that the revocation of article 370 is an attempt by the government to essentially erase the only majority Muslim region in India. They state that PM Modi seeks to make India a Hindu only country by allowing Hindus to settle in Kashmir. Modi, however, stridently disagrees with this interpretation, and the Home Minister, Amit Shah, stated “I want to tell the people of Jammu and Kashmir what damage Article 370 did to the state. It’s because of these sections that democracy was never fully implemented, corruption increased in the state, that no development could take place. The Indian government is also moving to break the region into administered districts: Muslim-majority Kashmir and Hindu-majority Jammu, and Buddhist-majority Ladakh. Senior leader of the opposition party, P Chidambaram, responded to Shah and described the move as a “catastrophic step,” stating “you think you have scored a victory, but you are wrong and history will prove you to be wrong. Future generations will realize what a grave mistake this house is making today.”
Much like Kashmir, the legality of the revoking Article 370 is also hotly contested. One constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap, told the news agency ANI that the order was “constitutionally sound,” and that “no legal and constitutional fault can be found in it. Yet, the BBC reports that another constitutional expert AG Noorani told BBC Hindi that it was “an illegal decision, akin to committing fraud,” and that it “could be challenged in India’s Supreme Court.” However, the Supreme Court has stated that the Kashmir crackdown can continue. An open letter signed by 69 human rights activists and organization, lawyers, journalists, and academics addressed PM Modi over concerns of human rights violations due to the crackdown. They are calling on Modi to revoke the harsh curfew, reinstate communications, release the political rivals that were arrested, and reinstate Article 370. There are no signs, however, that PM Modi will acquiesce to the requests.
-Monericka Semeran, WACNH Intern