There is reason to fear for the safety of every Kashmiri in India
An Indian army soldier patrols on a bridge during restrictions in Jammu on 5 August 2019 (Reuters)
Earlier today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP government has rushed through a presidential decree to revoke the part of the constitution that gives Indian-administered Kashmir special status, fueling growing Kashmiri fears of a new round of violence in the restive Himalayan region. Kashmiris consider the revocation deceitful and illegal.
Article 370, which has been the basis of Kashmir’s complex relationship with India for seven decades, ensured the state its own constitution, flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications. Moreover, it maintained the territorial sovereignty of the state by giving its permanent residents the right to own property and the right of franchise. By revoking Article 370, the BJP government automatically made it possible for Indian citizens from outside the Muslim-majority state to be able to permanently settle, buy land, hold local government jobs and secure education scholarships in Kashmir.
While the decision came as a shock to many international observers, Kashmiris have been waiting for a move that would irremediably change the disputed region’s already tense relations with New Delhi for weeks.
And now that India, with scant regard to its own constitutional moorings and UN resolutions, has finally announced to the world their intention to annex Kashmir completely and rule its population indefinitely, they are gearing up for a new period of conflict, oppression and bloodshed.
Preparing for the worst
The first signs that the Indian government was preparing to make an unprecedented move on the status quo in Kashmir came on July 25, when the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs announced the deployment of 10,000 paramilitaries and 28,000 extra troops to the state. The government claimed this decision was taken simply to strengthen “law and order measures”. Soon, it has been reported that various other government departments ordered their staff to remain on high alert and also to stock food and water.
These precautionary moves by the central government raised alarm among Kashmiris. The government tried to calm the situation by claiming the reports were “fake news”, but when the annual Hindu pilgrimage in the Himalayas, Amarnath Yatra, was suspended, it became clear to all Kashmiris that something was afoot.
Authorities once again tried to calm the situation by claiming that they decided to cancel the pilgrimage simply because they had intelligence indicating that Jaish-e-Muhammad, a Pakistan-based armed group aiming to unite Kashmir with Pakistan, is planning an attack on the pilgrims. The armed groups active in the state denied any such plans, but the government still airlifted the pilgrims out of Kashmir, using the C-17 aircraft that arrived in the region to bring in the extra paramilitary troops.
Later, it has been reported that tourists and non-local students were also ordered out of the region. Authorities once again denied these reports even as tourists and students were seen being bussed out of the valley.
Having faced similar misinformation campaigns and gaslighting attempts many times in the past few decades, Kashmiri civilians took to social media to disprove the official denials and speculate on the BJP government’s likely intentions. They had no way of knowing exactly what was in store for them, but they knew for sure that the troop deployments and secretive security measures meant that something big and destructive was on the horizon.
With rumours and speculations rife, Kashmiris began to do the only thing in their control: stockpiling resources. People flocked to the markets for rations, medicines, baby food, and gas. They also moved their sick or pregnant relatives closer to the hospitals fearing curtailments.
In a matter of days, all their fears proved right. At 6am on August 5, the government imposed a curfew on citizens and banned the assembly of more than four people. Soon after, the internet and phone lines were also shut down.
And around 11 am on the same day, the BJP government finally revealed what all the secretive preparations were for. Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament that the president had signed a decree abolishing Article 370 of the Constitution. “The entire Constitution will be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir state,” Shah said.
Shah’s announcement was confirmation of something Kashmiris feared for many years: Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government will settle for nothing less than complete annexation of Kashmir and permanent silencing of all Kashmiris.
Since it took power in 2014, the BJP government has been determined to remove Kashmir’s special status. The party’s far-right base has always perceived the Article 370 as a stain on the Indian constitution and wanted rid of it.
Posturing to Pakistan
Today, by revoking this article in its entirety, the BJP government not only pleased its base and undermined Kashmiris, but also flexed its muscles to its archenemy, Pakistan.
Recently, Pakistan has been getting a lot of positive attention on the international arena as a result of the pivotal role it has been playing in the Afghanistan peace talks. Moreover, following Pakistani PM Imran Khan’s first official visit to Washington last month, US President Donald Trump offered to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir - a move that indicates White House is moving away from India’s claim that Kashmir is merely a domestic issue.
All this, perhaps, led the BJP government to feel the need to engage in some posturing.
It has been clear from the beginning that the Indian government viewed the move to revoke Article 370 not only as a move against the Kashmiris, but also Pakistan. When the government deployed thousands of extra troops to Kashmir prior to the announcement, it also increased the number of troops deployed on the Line of Control (LoC) - the de facto border between Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Only on Saturday, Pakistan condemned the alleged use of “cluster munitions” by Indian security forces in firing across the LoC, and said at least six civilians had been killed and 48 wounded in Indian firing since July 19.
All in all, the decision to revoke Article 370 was a crowd pleaser for the BJP. It gave Prime Minister Modi something to brag about in his August 15 Independence Day address, as it reinforced the far-right government’s claim that it is working tirelessly to achieve its vision of a Hindu nation. It also allowed him to demonstrate that he is not scared to engage Pakistan, even when Washington is not by his side.
Since the Hindu nationalists took power in 2014, they slowly herded the people of India towards the far right. Today, thanks to their efforts, discrimination, persecution and even lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other marginalized peoples of the country and the oppression of millions of Kashmiris have been normalised in India.
The revoking of Article 370 is just the latest step in the BJP’s grand plan to transform India into an aggressive and unapologetically Hindu-only nation in which no other identity is welcomed.
Kashmiris were not surprised by this latest aggression by a government that has been attacking them and other minorities of India to evoke the public’s nationalist sentiments for years. Nevertheless, this legal and political attack on the very being of Kashmir, as well as the siege imposed on its people is unprecedented. The Kashmiris will sooner or later respond by taking to the streets. With thousands of troops already deployed across Kashmir to silence dissent, there is every reason to fear for the safety of every single Kashmiri living under Indian rule today.
With that decree, India’s president signed the death warrant of not only the future of Indian-administered Kashmir, but also India’s democracy.
Ather Zia is a poet and a political anthropologist who teaches at University of Northern Colorado Greeley.
This article originally appeared on AlJazeera.com.