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Kashmir: Mainstream academia, civil society sections 'never stood up' for people's rights

Counterview Desk

India’s top civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), calling abrogation of Article 370 a year ago “arbitrary”, has vowed solidarity with the “resistance” of the people of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), even as calling for intensifying the struggle to “end oppression, militarization and corporate loot.”
Calling abrogation of Article 370 “blatantly unconstitutional”, NAPM* said in a statement, “While mainstream Indian academia and even sections of civil society have not adequately stood up for the rights of the Kashmiri people, the media and the culture industry have objectified Kashmiris and misrepresented the India-Kashmir equation. The courts have often betrayed the Kashmiris too.”

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August 5, 2020 marks the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which took away the political autonomy of the only Muslim majority state in the country, severely jeopardized the future of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and struck a massive blow to Indian federalism. While the government is busy claiming the ‘positive impact’ of the move in terms of ‘success in the war on terror’, ‘development of the state and integration with India’, the reality is quite different.
The step last year was marked by an unprecedented communication blockade, huge increase in militarization and surveillance, curbs on the media, and arrest of political leaders and human rights activists. The combined effect of these was a severe downturn in economic activity, leading to untold hardships for the people of the valley.
Once the pandemic started, the additional lockdown meant inadequate access to medical facilities and covid-related information, which in turn complicated the already existing mental health issues caused by the enforced isolation. Far from facilitating ‘integration’, the move has alienated Kashmiris from India more than ever.
Article 370 is a constitutional recognition of the conditions mentioned in the Instrument of Accession that the ruler of Kashmir signed with the Government of India in 1948. The Schedule appended to the Instrument of Accession gave the Indian Parliament power to legislate for Jammu and Kashmir on only defence, external affairs and communications.
Kashmir is not the only state for which there have been special provisions put in place either during the early years of the republic or later. Under Article 371-A, Nagaland has a special status, and no Act of Parliament is automatically extended to Nagaland unless its legislative assembly so decides in matters of the religious or social practices of the Nagas, Naga customary law and practices, ownership and transfer of land and its resources. BJP’s tampering with special provisions specific to regions is integral to the Hindutva project of one nation, one religion, one culture.
Concerning J&K, Article 370 had been tampered with right from its inception, in both letter and spirit. By the Presidential Order of 1954, almost the entire Indian Constitution (including most constitutional amendments) was extended to Jammu and Kashmir. Ninety-four out of 97 entries of the Union List applied to Jammu and Kashmir even before the abrogation last year.
Politically, there is a long history of betrayal of the Kashmiri people by successive Indian governments. The plebiscite promised at the time of accession was never held, and the Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah was imprisoned for 11 years.
Democratically elected governments in Kashmir have been dismissed and elections rigged to put in place pro-India governments. Once the repeated betrayals led to the rise of militancy, Kashmir has faced brutal military oppression – rapes, murders, disappearances and constant surveillance.
The mass rape at Kunan Poshpora, the hanging of Afzal Guru to satisfy the “collective conscience” of India for the 2001 Parliament attack (despite only circumstantial evidence of his involvement), and the pellet gun attacks in the first term of the Narendra Modi government, are blots on the India-Kashmir relationship. Despite these betrayals, Article 370 helped to retain the fragile historical specificity of the relationship.
While mainstream Indian academia and even sections of civil society have not adequately stood up for the rights of the Kashmiri people, the media and the culture industry have objectified Kashmiris and misrepresented the India-Kashmir equation. The courts have often betrayed the Kashmiris too. The abrogation of Article 370 was blatantly unconstitutional.
Last year was marked by an unprecedented communication blockade, huge increase in militarization and surveillance, curbs on media, arrest of political leaders and  activists
Article 370 could not have been deleted without the consent of the Kashmiri people. Yet, Indian courts have failed to strike it down. At present, 23 petitions challenging the abrogation are pending in the Supreme Court. Over the last one year, petitions have challenged the constitutionality of the restrictive orders suspending internet, tele-communications and movement. While Indian courts have accepted that bars on free speech and movement would violate fundamental rights, these bars have not been struck down!
J&K, alongside Ladakh, now stare at an uncertain future, and so does India. The revocation of Article 35-A alongside Article 370 threatens to open Kashmir up to large scale land acquisition by the Indian Army and by big corporates in the name of ‘security’ and ‘development’, thereby undoing the historic land reforms of 1950, which helped retain the socio-economic indicators of J&K higher than many other states in India. The isolation, restriction, surveillance and state repression show no signs of ending.
The suspension of the political rights of the people of Ladakh is also unacceptable. As far as India is concerned, not only is the move a blow to the federal imagination, it also threatens to de-stabilize the geo-politics of the region and the whole of South Asia in turn. Alienation of a whole people in a region which is ridden with border conflicts does not bode well for the future of India’s much-emphasized “national security” concerns.
National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements salutes the resilience and resistance of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and stands in unflinching solidarity with them.
  • We unequivocally condemn the moves of the current dispensation which has brutally eroded the political autonomy and long-standing aspirations of the people of the region.
  • We urge the Government of India and the country’s institutions including the higher judiciary to work towards restoring the special status of J&K, de-militarize the region and fulfil the old promises made by the Indian State to the Kashmiri people.
  • The true litmus test of India’s democracy, (or the lack of it), in many ways, lies in our respecting the democratic rights of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. 
  • We call upon the citizens of this country to reflect on the history of brutality and betrayal in the region and stand with the people of the valley towards a peaceful and just future for them. 
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*Click here for signatories

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