Wider Message of Kashmir
AUGUST 5 marks the completion of a year since the infamous steps were taken in parliament to nullify Article 370 of the constitution that provided for special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir and the damaging legislation which dismembered the state and created two union territories – Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.
At one stroke, the Hindutva rulers reneged on the promise made to the people of Kashmir at the time of the accession that J&K will be accorded autonomy, resulting in the special status provided in the constitution. To further heap humiliation on the people of J&K, their existence as a state of the Indian Union was extinguished.
The triumphalism with which home minister, Amit Shah, pushed through the illegal constitutional amendment and legislation in parliament was an open display of exuberance on having done away with the only Muslim majority state in India.
On this dark anniversary, we must recall that this dastardly deed was done by converting the state into a vast prison – around 40,000 troops were deployed, a statewide curfew imposed, all communications (including mobile phone and television) cutoff, movement outside houses prohibited and a shutdown of the media. Leaders and activists of political parties, except the BJP, and other public personalities were arrested, either under the draconian Public Safety Act, or, detained in their houses without written orders.
In this throttling of democracy and democratic rights, the Modi regime set new records. The internet was shutdown for months. Even after a year, Kashmir has only access to 2G network and not 4G like the rest of the country. The clampdown badly affected the economy and commerce in the state. With the second lockdown due to the pandemic, the livelihood of farmers and ordinary people has suffered crippling blows. Though some leaders and activists have been released, many remain in jail, or, in detention like Mehbooba Mufti. Even some of those released from jail continue under house arrest.
The pandemic-lockdown was utilised to push through measures to redesign Jammu & Kashmir as a union territory. Fresh delimitation of seats for the truncated assembly has been initiated; a new domicile policy has been enforced by which, persons from outside J&K can get domicile status which will enable them to get jobs and buy land. This is the beginning of a project to change the demography of the valley. A media policy has been announced which is nothing but a brazen attempt to intimidate the media and gag journalists.
The attack on J&K, which was initiated a year ago, should not be seen in isolation. It was a precursor to the heightened onslaught on democracy, secularism and federalism initiated during the second stint of the Modi government. The next legislative step after dismantling Jammu & Kashmir as a state was the adoption of the CAA in parliament and the repression let loose against the anti-CAA-NRC protests around the country. The authoritarian regime has been reinforced by the extensive use of the UAPA and sedition law. The use of the Public Safety Act in J&K foreshadowed this. Filing of cases against journalists followed what was done systematically in J&K where two journalists are in jail under the UAPA.
The warning is clear – the secular and democratic forces in the rest of India, the rights of states and secularism will all meet the fate of J&K.
August 5 has been chosen as the date for “bhoomi pujan”, ceremony of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. This date has been chosen deliberately – the demolition of J&K and the building of the temple at the site of the Babri Masjid – are both part of the core agenda of the Hindutva forces. The prime minister is going to lay the first brick in the foundation ceremony of a religious place of worship, thereby violating the secular principle of the State. Thanks to the judgment of the Supreme Court based on dubious grounds, the building of the temple at Ayodhya has been legitimised. The court, which held the demolition of the mosque “as a serious violation of law”, sanctioned the building of the temple, giving primacy to the faith of the majority.
The same Supreme Court has not found the time to give a verdict on the constitutional amendment and legislation which illegally tempered with Article 370 and dismantled a state. This is another instance of judicial evasion.
The onslaught of the Hindutva forces must be fought back squarely. In the case of J&K, we have seen several secular opposition parties unwilling to take a firm stand that the special status and statehood of J&K should be restored. They seek to reduce the matter to only the release of political prisoners and restoration of democratic rights. This is a compromising stand. The fight for democracy, secularism and federalism requires a clear-cut stand – statehood along with special status for J&K must be restored. Not to do so would further diminish India as a secular democracy.
(July 29, 2020)