KASHMIR ONE YEAR ON: DEMOGRAPHY CHANGE AND SETTLER COLONIALISM
The revoking of Article 370 and 35A by the BJP-led Indian Government on 5th August 2019, kicked off a year of unprecedented constitutional modification with a gusto of demography change and essentially a transformation of Indian so-called ‘democracy’. With their mandate strengthened in the April 2019 elections, the BJP, under the leadership of Modi, has been more emboldened, more invigorated and more motivated to push ahead with its far-right nationalist ambition.
In fact, when Modi, in the build up to the April 2019 elections proudly stated that
‘Nationalism is our inspiration, economic development of the poor and backward sections our philosophy’
his vision and his ideology for a far right Government were clear for all to see. Even language such as ‘developing backward sections’ is riddled with hurtful and injurious semantics which encourage tiered approaches to society. When, even in trying to whip up the electorate to vote for him, Modi and BJP weaponize language in such a way, is it any wonder at all that the past year, which started with the removal of special status for Jammu and Kashmir has seen the most polarizing Government initiatives in India in generations?
What Has Happened in India this year?
Soon after the wind had settled on J&K’s status change, the BJP Government turned its attention to other controversial issues that would lead the country further into populist territory.
By August 31st 2019, the final NRC had been prepared and 1.9 million people in Assam were effectively ‘declassified’ as citizens of India. In November 2019, the decades old dispute over the Babri Masjid in Ayodyha was heard and the Supreme Court ruled that the Mosque should be destroyed and that the site should be converted into a temple to memorialize the birth place of Lord Rama. Truthfully, any outcome for an issue which has caused such severe communalism in India was likely to be argued down by either side, but the BJP had made a manifesto promise to convert the site into a Hindu temple. In fact the conversion of the Babri Masjid into the Rama Temple is due to start on August 5th 2020. It is definitely not a coincidence that such a communally charged issue will be revisited on the same day that marks one year since the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir. They serve the same purpose - to invigorate the nationalist rhetoric amongst an electorate that has been frenzied into believing that far-right policy and otherisation of communities is the way forward to develop the world’s second most populous country.
Similarly, as part of its election promise, the BJP also vowed to introduce the Citizenship Amendment Act. In December 2019, it did so and with it came nationwide protest and dismay. The CAA changes the relationship that India has with its Muslim and ethnic population – a tiered approach to granting of refugee status and asylum based on ethnicity and religion not sitting well within the framework of a utopian secularist experiment that is India. The CAA protests led to the Shaheen Bagh movement – a female led sit-in in Delhi. As the situation in Delhi became more and more politicized, state violence, crackdowns and racially motivated targeting by police towards the public was reported throughout the world as the Delhi Pogroms of 2020.
How Has Life Been Affected in Kashmir?
Whilst Article 370’s revocation reduced the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, it is Article 35a’s reversal which lays way for the biggest intended change to Kashmir. Until last August, Article 35a gave Kashmiris a sense of advantage and recognition as the indigenous population in their occupied territories. It prevented citizens from other Indian states from buying land, claiming Government jobs and integrating into the fabric of society through education and culture.
The change of this legislation now means that virtually any Indian citizen, can now apply for ‘domicile’ status and effectively have the same rights to Kashmiri soil as Kashmiris. Domicile status can now be obtained by presenting ration cards, education records, employment records and the like to authorities. Previously, one could only get domicile status through a Permanent Resident Certificate issued by the Government of Jammu And Kashmir. Now however, a PRC is no longer enough to claim domicile certification. Since the 2019 downgrading of Kashmir’s status, 33,000 people have applied for Domicile Certification of which 25,000 have been granted the certificate.
If there was at all any question of anti-Muslim chauvanism and communalism, one only has to look to similar process of certification in Assam to see that there is a targeted and deliberate approach to this domiciliary certification procedure. Whereas in Assam the largely 1.9 million Bengali muslim population now have an onus to prove their domiciliary status and hence gain Indian ‘citizenship’, in Kashmir, non Kashmiris can apply to become part of the community. Whereas authorities in Assam have been told to check and re-check each application up to five times before granting domiciliary, in Kashmir, the authorising administrators have been threatened with fines if they do not process applications within 14 days. Whereas in Assam, Bengali Muslim residents are made to feel like they are excess to population, in Kashmir, any new residents from outside Kashmir are being encouraged to a ‘Naya Kashmir’ (New Kashmir). The 1980’s and 1990’s saw a massive rise of securitization and militarization across Kashmir and it was through the power and might of the overwhelming military numbers that the Kashmiris were subordinated further. In 2020, it is this idea that is being pedalled from the far right corners of society of a need to develop and progress in areas like Kashmir that are garnering more public support, more investment and essentially wresting more and more control away from the Kashmiris into the hands of the central government. Military occupation is being replaced by settler colonialism.
Since the August 5 siege of 2019, the majority of children have only received an average of 10 school days. 10 days in the past 365. Whether it was the month long siege at the beginning, or city wide curfews, the winter lockdown, the COVID lockdown, 10 days is unfathomable anywhere else on the globe.
Since August 5 2019, there has been a blanket ban on 4G internet coverage. Only because of the Coronavirus pandemic has 2G internet been switched back on as a means of information perusal. Strangely enough however, Jio, a Reliance owned company has recently rolled out high speed 5G internet to consumers in Kashmir. Whilst those who are now more connected than they ever were, there is also growing concern, that this 5G rollout actual simply increases the level of cyber surveillance that the state can now enact on unsuspecting civilian populations.
Is the BJP closer to its pipe dream?
As he clearly stated, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is guided by his political manifesto of ‘Nationalism is our inspiration, economic development of the poor and backward sections our philosophy’. It seems however, that this is a little different from the forefathers of India of Pandit Nehru, Maulana Azad and Ghandi. Whereas the Congress leaders waxed lyrical about India being home to a secular population where one and all could claim to India, Modi’s BJP claims that nationalism is their inspiration. Where the BJP promise in manifestos about economic developments, the statistics of the day point towards the increasing unemployment figures even before lockdown. Where the BJP pedals developing society, it is also the Government of the day which victimises and leaves the poorest echelons of the working class without support during the height of the Covid pandemic. Images of migrant labourers being washed down like vehicles or animals are symbolic of India’s approach to its labour market in 2020.
Kashmir, its siege, its demoralising abrogation of special status, the violence the region has seen, the way that the demography is being permanently altered - all of these seem to be a litmus test of where India finds herself in 2020. Amit Shah, the Home Minister said as much when the decision to remove the status of Kashmir was announced last year. He said at the time, ‘Jaan de denge iske liye’ - (We will give our lives for this land.)
And he is right; India has done so. The altercation between the Chinese paralimatries and the Indian paramilitaries in June 2020 show the explosive nature of the geopolitics that sees China and India confront each other on a border between two of the most persecuted population on the planet, the Kashmiris and the Uyghurs. India’s recent courtship with Trump’s USA has come at the expense of accord with the Chinese who themselves are cosying up with an ever reliable friend in Pakistan. Between the three countries, India, Pakistan and China, the occupied territories of Kashmir are becoming carved up, domiciled and colonised beyond recognition.
Pandit Nehru said in a statement to the Indian Parliament on 7th August 1952, ‘We are not going to impose ourselves on them by the point of the bayonet’. It is a very far cry from the cyber securitised, militarised and now one year long abrogated occupied territory formerly known as Kashmir.
A Brief History of Kashmir
Britain’s colonial rule in India ends on 15th August 1947 following years of anti-colonial action headed by Congress and Muslim League. All states and princely states are given an option to accede to Pakistan or India – the two new nations after Partition. Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad had not acceded by this time. Kashmir at the time is a Princely state and is administered by a Maharaja. Kashmir set to become the most dispurted territory bewteen India and Pakistan.
22nd Oct 1947
Pakistan sends soldiers into Kashmiri territory leading to the Maharaja of Kashmir to call for Indian assistance on 24th Oct and the subsequent accession to India by the Maharaja on 26th Oct 1947
31st Dec 1947
India refers Kashmir case to UN Security Council after 15 months of fighting
1st Jan 1949
India and Pakistan agree to ceasefire in Kashmir
5th Jan 1949
UN resolution passed and agreed to by India and Pakistan that future of Kashmir was to be decided by a free and impartial plebiscite by Kashmiris. One of the conditions of the plebiscite was that both Pakistan and India had to retreat their military forces from the region. Neither does so.
Indian Constitution which was in force from 1950 gave Kashmir two special status’ – Article 370 (which essentially prohibited the Indian state from enacting or holding full authoritative power over the Jammu and Kashmir state) and article 35A (which granted privileges of land ownership, Government employment positions, access to education and to elect or be elected only to Kashmiris and did not include ‘Indian’ citizens from other states). Jaharawal Nehru (Prime Minister of India) through the 1950’s expresses his commitment to the ‘Plebiscite’ solution to resolving the issue of Kashmir. Modifications to Article 370 are made in the latter part of the 1950’s as Pakistan’s military aid from US alter and further antagonise the relationship between Pakistan and India.
1962 India China War
1962 India China war sees Aksai Chin region of Ladakh occupied by and controlled by China. A Line of Actual Control (LAC) is established on the China frontier while a Line of Control (LOC) demarcates Pakistan occupied and India occupied Kashmir
1980's - 90's
A long period up until the late 1980’s saw control and power of the state shift continuously from a pro India Kashmiri leadership to Federal power. Elections in 1987 were thought to be rigged and India accused Pakistan’s ISI of infiltrating militants into Kashmir. Massive securitization of Jammu and Kashmir see’s more than 600,000 Indian military personnel enter the state and Kashmir is seen as the most militarized state in the world. 1999 – India and Pakistan fight a limited war along the LOC in Kargil
India and Pakistan agree to the first ceasefire in 14 years
Feb 2015 - Feb 2019
Feb 2015 – the BJP alongside the PDP of Kashmir agree to a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir state – the first time that the BJP has a mandate in Kashmir. Feb 2019 – following bombs which kill 40 people, Pakistan shoots down Indian fighter jet in retaliation and following a tense standoff which nearly results in full escalation, finally agrees to release the captured fighter jet pilot back to India. Ahead of the country wide elections of April 2019, BJP in their manifesto, vow to revoke Article 370 and 35a of Indian constitution and strip Kashmir of its special status. It is estimated that more than 100,000 have been ‘disappeared’ or killed in ‘encounter’ operations since 1989.
Aug 5 2019
August 5 2019 – BJP formally revoke Article 370 and 35a of Indian constitution. Jammu and Kashmir is no longer a ‘state’ and is instead broken into two ‘union territories’. The entire state is forced into a siege and the COVID 19 lockdowns perpetuate the harsh conditions imposed on the Kashmiri people.