On August 5, 2019 the Union Home Minister introduced and the President of India issued two statutory resolutions to render Article 370 and 35A inoperative . On the same day, the Bill for Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019 was introduced in parliament which was subsequently passed and received the President’s assent on August 9. The changes snatched away from the people of Kashmir the little symbolic rights they had (by 1994, 94 of the 97 entries of the Union list and 260 of the 395 articles of the Indian Constitution were extended to the state)  that gave the impression of autonomy. The deployment of additional 45000 troops  in the last few weeks in addition to the existing estimated 700,000 , complete communication blockade by snapping telephone and internet lines and an indefinite curfew ensured that peoples’ voices would not reach the outside world. Still, in spite of all the military repression that followed the announcement, hundreds of people came out on the streets in pockets amidst reverberating chants of slogans such as ‘Main zinda hoon toh – azaadi, Mar bhi gaya toh – azaadi’ (If I’m alive – freedom, Even if I die – freedom).
An estimated 4000-6000 Kashmiris have been arrested under Public Safety Act , which enables the state to imprison anyone up to two years without charge or trial, since the announcement was made. Among the arrested people are not only activists, academicians, local politicians and parliamentary leaders but also include two ex-Chief Ministers of Jammu & Kashmir. The situation for the general population is miserable with inadequate access to food, fuel, other essential items, hospitals, medicines, connectivity, etc. . There have been numerous reports of beatings and torture of people. In one such case, the victim says, “They beat every part of my body. They kicked us, beat us with sticks, gave us electric shocks, beat us with cables. They hit us on the back of the legs. When we fainted they gave us electric shocks to bring us back. When they hit us with sticks and we screamed, they sealed our mouth with mud. We told them we are innocent. We asked why they were doing this. But they did not listen to us. I told them don’t beat us, just shoot us. I was asking God to take me, because the torture was unbearable” . In another instance the victim was allegedly tortured in the army camp with a microphone close by so that the screams could be broadcasted in the village, the intention being to terrorize the villagers so as to dissuade them from protesting against the government’s decision . There has been a steady inflow of metal pellet injury victims, including blinding, at government hospitals. School children, men, women – nobody is being spared in a bid to contain the protests emanating from the anger of the Kashmiri people against intensification of the oppression committed on them. Hospitals are facing severe shortage of supplies and infrastructure to treat patients. When Dr. Omar Salim, urologist at Government Medical College, held a placard requesting government authorities to lift the blockade so that medical supplies could be re-established, he was arrested in 10 minutes. Amidst such kind of repression and lockdown, Kashmir has turned into a virtual prison .
With the transfer of power from the British to the ruling class of the subcontinent in August, 1947, the 565 princely states that comprised of 2/3rd of the landmass of India had to decide which of the two new dominions to join, India or Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of the Muslim majority Kashmir was undecided and instead signed a ‘standstill’ agreement with Pakistan so that services such as trade, travel and communication could continue . In response to an invasion of Pashtun tribesmen with the help of Pakistan army, Hari Singh signed an Instrument of Accession (IoA) with the Union of India with the agreement that India would send troops to fight the invasion. According to the terms of the IoA, India’s jurisdiction was to extend to external affairs, defence and communications. Article 370 was drafted by the Constituent Assembly as part of the Indian Constitution to accommodate the terms of the IoA . Likewise, the princely state of Junagadh, with a Muslim ruler and inhabited by a Hindu majority population, acceded to Pakistan . However, as negotiations progressed, a plebiscite was held in which 99% of the population of that region voted for accession to India; the Union of India took control of Junagadh. A plebiscite was due for Kashmir but never took place as successive governments ignored the demands of the Kashmiri people, including that of freedom from either of the two countries.
On August 14, 1947, Organizer, the organ of the RSS, came out with an editorial which said, among other things, the following: ‘Much of the mental confusion in the present and future troubles can be removed by the ready recognition of the simple fact that in Hindustan only the Hindus form the nation and the national structure must be built on that safe and sound foundation. The nation itself must be built up of Hindus on Hindu traditions, culture, ideas and aspirations….’ – clearly laying out the vision of the Hindu Rashtra . In abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, the same philosophy is reflected. With the path of purchase of land in Kashmir by non-Kashmiris made possible by this change, the intention seems to be to permanently change the demographic distribution in the only Muslim majority state. It was a direct message to the people of Kashmir that their voices don’t matter; it’s only the land mass of Kashmir that is ‘an integral part of India’. Obviously, it also serves the purpose of engaging the core constituency of the BJP in absence of any success in any of its policies otherwise. The timing cannot be more apt as they require diversions from the questions that are constantly being raised on the state of economy, education policy, privatization of PSUs, agrarian distress – the list goes on.
The ruling dispensation has put across a false narrative that the changes will bring about development in the state of J&K, indicating an absence of the same at present. However government data shows that J&K is more developed than most other states of India . With the changes that have been brought in, how the Kashmiri people react to it in the coming days are still to be seen though there are already some indications. Shah Faesal, the 1st Kashmiri who topped the IAS and then went on to resign from the services to join mainstream politics, aptly said that the decisions by New Delhi is “a demise of the political mainstream in the state” and “a slap by the Indian state on the face of all those people of J&K who sought a resolution to the (Kashmir) conflict within the parameters of the Indian Constitution” , reflecting the feeling of the common Kashmiri.