Indian government abolishes Kashmir's special status, announces bifurcation

Kashmiri woman protestor dares a policeman to stop her from moving ahead during restrictions imposed in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Administered Kashmir. Photo by Ieshan Wani, used with permission.

The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, issued a constitutional order on August 5 to revoke Article 370 of the Indian constitution that gave special status to the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. The move by India's BJP-led government, which would end seven decades of autonomy of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, is sparking political unrest, protests, and opposition.

Amit Shah, India's Home Minister and chief of right-wing ruling political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an affiliate, enforced the presidential decree to end the special status accorded to the region under the Indian constitution. The Home Ministry also seeks to pass a bill that would bifurcate the Jammu and Kashmir region into two separate union territories ruled by New Delhi. Integration of the disputed territory of Kashmir was one of the pledges made by the BJP in the April-May general elections.

Article 370 of India's 1949 constitution gave significant autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. Any law passed by the Indian parliament could only be applied in the region after approval by the state governments. The August 5 decision of scrapping Article 370 brings Jammu and Kashmir under Indian law, as well as nullify Kashmir's constitution, flag, and laws pertaining to property and inheritance.

Internet shutdowns

During the lead-up to the decision, internet shutdowns were reported. The government has flown tens of thousands of armed force personnel into Kashmir, fearing a repeat of the February 2019 suicide attack in Pulwama, which killed more than 40 Indian soldiers, ahead of India and Pakistan's Independence day celebrations in August.

Meanwhile, local Kashmiris, who have borne the brunt of incarcerations, mass rapes of Kunan Poshpora and injuries through pellet guns for seeking a referendum as mandated by United Nations, are being subjected to curfews and internet shutdowns since August 5. According to tracker this is the 51st internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir in 2019.

Before the decision, India placed prominent politicians under house arrest and deployed thousands of armed force officials which some locals called the start of a long night for Kashmir.

Seven decades of dispute

The valley of Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence in 1947. For the last thirty years, Indian-administered Kashmir has faced an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives. Modi's BJP had in its election manifesto promised to repeal Article 370, but only after consultations with all stakeholders. But experts have pointed out that Article 370 had been continuously violated during Modi's second term.

India and Pakistan have fought five wars over Kashmir. India's neighbour Pakistan, also a stakeholder in the Kashmir issue, has asked New Delhi to reverse its August 5 decision.

Wajahat Habibullah, a former senior bureaucrat in Jammu and Kashmir, has told Indian news agencies:

“This is a completely regressive step. You are reducing the power of the people…if you are making it (J-K) a UT, then it comes under the direct rule of the Union government. I think particularly at this time when the state is in the grip of unrest, it is an unwise decision. How? How does it change the border? How does it change anything? Does it change the borders at all or increase the deployment of forces? How will it change anything, it makes it worse.”

Meanwhile, India's opposition led by the Indian National Congress staged a walkout of the parliament on Monday. Leaders from local political outfit Trinamool Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, along with Congress leaders Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, protested against the government's move terming it a “catastrophic step.”

The former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti tweeted:

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan said:

Journalist Aditya Menon questioned the move:

Journalist Priya Ramani wrote:

Phillip Bennion, EU Parliament member, said:

It's basically like England walking into Scotland with troops and getting rid of the Scottish Parliament and arresting all the Scottish nationalists. This is just not acceptable.

Author Krishna Partap Singh said:

Journalist Shivam Vij warns Indians to be worried about the government's decision:

It was a midnight coup at 11 am. The ensuing darkness is ominous. This could just be the beginning of a long night for the democracy in India. The Modi government will just decide to do whatever it likes to the Constitution, to laws and regions and territories, and people’s lives. And, it will get away with it.

The New York Times editorial board wrote:

The United States and China must not allow Kashmir to become a pawn in their ongoing disputes; on the contrary, the United States, China, the United Nations and other powers with influence over India and Pakistan must urgently do what they can to prevent India’s folly from escalating into a perilous and unpredictable regional crisis.

Journalist Iftikhar Gilani wrote:

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the situation in Kashmir.

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