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Everything inside the latest crisis in Kashmir, explained

Kashmir deserves better than constant state repression, and the world needs to know what is going on.

Kashmir, the most militarized region in the world, is under lockdown.

Kashmir residents have been cut off from the rest of the world. Phone and internet services are blocked,  some cable television networks have been blacked out, and curfew-like conditions have been imposed by the Indian government in the Indian-administred territory of Kashmir. Fahad Shah, a Kashmiri journalist, reports that people are unable to go to hospitals or reach out to their family.

Meanwhile, India has deployed an additional 38,000 troops to the region, asked foreign journalists and tourists to leave and has placed local leaders – including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – under house arrest in the wake of a controversial legal decision.

Historical Context

Kashmir – a Himalayan zone to the north of India and Pakistan – has faced immense violence for the last seven decades.

In 1947, the British partitioned the Indian subcontinent between the nascent states of Pakistan and India, marking the end of the British Raj, and the integration of Muslim-majority areas into Pakistan and Hindu-majority areas into India.

However, the subcontinent’s princely states – which enjoyed some measure of autonomy under colonial rule – were left to make their own decisions about joining either of the two nations.

Maharaji Hari Singh, the ruler of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, was in a unique position as a Hindu ruler of a Muslim-majority state and did not immediately make a decision.

An attack on Kashmir by Pakistani forces eventually led him to decide to accede to India. This triggered the first India-Pakistan war over Kashmir. The region would eventually be split between three countries – India, Pakistan, and China.

[image description: a map showing Kashmir with Pakistan, India, and China's territorial claims marked] via BBC News.
[Image description: a map showing Kashmir with Pakistan, India, and China’s territorial claims marked] via BBC News.
India has always maintained a brutal military presence in Indian-occupied Kashmir and has been credibly accused of forced disappearances, sexual violence, and torture in the region; all these methods employed to subdue the Muslim-majority region’s demands for independence.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has faced criticism for the alleged sponsoring of Muslim militant factions in the region.

India and Pakistan (both now nuclear powers) have gone to war over Kashmir two times, with a spike in tensions over the region occurring as recently as March that led many to fear the start of another war. Less than four months after that alarming situation, the government of India has attempted to strip Kashmir of its autonomy.

Article 370 and Article 35A

On August 5th, Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah announced in the Indian parliament that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had abolished Article 370 of the Indian constitution. The Article in question granted Kashmir a great deal of independence. Much of the autonomy guaranteed by this Article served as a compulsory prerequisite to Kashmir’s accession to India; and Article 370 could only be abolished with the will of the Kashmiri people.

The article grants Kashmir the license to function mostly outside the Indian constitution, with the Indian government controlling only finance, defense, communications, and foreign affairs. Kashmir could draft its own laws and its citizens enjoyed special benefits in the region not granted to outsiders such as permanent residence in the area, the ability to buy land, and run for government office.

Modi and his right-wing Hindu nationalist ruling party, the BJP, has also attacked Article 35A, which was introduced to the Indian constitution in 1954 and says that only the Kashmiri legislative body has the right to define permanent citizens of Kashmir.

The abrogation of Article 370 presents a legal challenge to Modi’s government. The article states that it can be dissolved with the order of the Indian Prime Minister and the consent of the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir (which was dissolved in 1958).

In its absence, Modi’s decision is sure to be contested by his critics in the Supreme Court, although the BJP government insists that it is sound and must be implemented straight away.

Another bill introduced by the BJP is being debated by the Indian parliament. Termed the ‘Jammu and Kashmir Re-Organisation Bill’, it proposes that Indian-occupied Kashmir be split into two parts: Jammu and Kashmir (with a local legislative body) and Ladakh (with no local legislature).

The reaction

Modi’s decision was followed by wide-spread anger and protest in Kashmir, as well as in the Indian parliament itself where the announcement of the decision was followed by jeers and boos by the BJP’s rival party, the Indian National Congress. Ghulam Nabi Abbas, the opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha (lower house of the Indian parliament) opined that the BJP has “murdered the constitution” and “murdered democracy”. (Translation mine)

Pakistan has been swift in condemning India’s move, with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan vowing to take the matter before international bodies like the UN and the Pakistani army releasing a statement about standing with the residents of Kashmir. China, too, has condemned the “unilateral” Indian decision.

Despite US President Donald Trump’s recent comments about wanting to mediate in the Kashmir dispute, American officials have not taken a hard stance on the issue, simply commenting that they are watching the matter carefully and that India regards its decisions as an internal policy matter.

Erasing Kashmir

Scholars and activists studying the Kashmir region have expressed concern that India’s latest moves leave the door open for possible ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Hafsa Kanwal, a South Asian history professor at Lafayette College, writes in The Washington Post that India’s abrogation of Article 370 is an attempt at a settler-colonial project in Kashmir, similar to Israel’s colonies in Palestine.

If Kashmir is not able to stop outsiders from settling in its territory, the Indian government will try to shift the demographics of the state from Muslim majority to Hindu majority.

Ajai Shulka, a defense analyst in India, shared similar thoughts with Al-Jazeera, noting that Modi and the BJP are pandering to their right-wing Hindu nationalist base in trying to strip Kashmir of its legally guaranteed autonomy.

This is unsettling and should terrify anyone, especially considering that Kashmiris are yet again having their voices stifled by an increasingly authoritarian India.

At a time like this, it is critical that all those concerned about the situation should amplify the voices of Kashmiris.