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India, driven by Hindu nationalism, has no right to repress Kashmir

Locals fear Modi's constitutional change will lead to colonization

| India

On August 5, India's Hindu nationalist government unilaterally announced it would revoke the special status of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, canceling article 370 of the country's constitution.

Home Minister Amit Shah also announced that Jammu and Kashmir would be downgraded from a state to two union territories, thus brought under central government's closer control.

The Hindu public in India celebrated on online social platforms, danced to drumbeats and distributed sweets on roads, applauding their government for what they saw as a courageous, historical and gritty decision.

Since then, India has imposed a complete communications clampdown on normal life. After nearly two months, it is hard to tell what the population of Kashmir thinks: it remains in lockdown, with mobile networks shut off, internet access cut off and political leaders sent to jail.

During the U.N. General Assembly this year, Kashmir became a hotly-debated issue, especially when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minster Imran Khan spoke. Khan talked for more than 20 minutes on the issue of Kashmir, emphasizing the vulnerability of the Kashmiris and the potential bloodbath the blockade could inspire in the region.

Tens of thousands of troops in every corner of the state are taking all measures to restrict communication. Thousands of Kashmiris including children have been arrested and transferred to jails outside Kashmir, making it difficult for their families even to know their whereabouts.

With its actions, the Indian government has forfeited any right to be considered legitimate and sole ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. The revocation of article 370 is the final attack on Kashmir's constitutional authority and autonomy.

Ever since Kashmir's accession to India in October 1947, India has made every attempt to fabricate a narrative which could establish Kashmir as an "integral part" of the country.

Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which gave special status to the region of Jammu and Kashmir, debarred nonresidents of the state from buying land in Kashmir, so for Hindu nationalists in India, it has always been an impediment to the real integration of Kashmir.

In 1965, India under the Congress party ended a crucial part of Kashmir's "special status," replacing its prime minster and sadr-e-riyasat (head of state) with a chief minister and governor respectively, like in other parts of India.

The unwillingness of the Congress party, which has dominated Indian politics since independence, to abrogate article 370 has often been castigated by Hindu nationalists as representation of soft and effeminate character of other adherents of Hinduism.

By contrast, the BJP government now in power projects itself as an avatar of a new India. Led by Modi, this India is fierce, rabid, chauvinist and decisive. Adherents consider Modi a messiah or a divine incarnation and, more specifically, a demonstration of Hindu masculinity, saving India from socialist secular thought.

The revocation of article 370 is going to change the entire political narrative in Kashmir. There is now no scope for pro-Indian local politicians who so far have appealed to voters in Jammu and Kashmir citing their negotiating powers with the government in Delhi. Kashmiri politicians who disagree with the government will be deemed untrustworthy.

What Kashmiris fear most about the abrogation of article 370 is that by allowing Indian citizens to be able to permanently settle, buy land and hold local government jobs -- all forbidden so far -- India wants to change the demographic character of Muslim-majority Kashmir.

There is even a fear among the Muslim population in Kashmir, as reported in the media, that the BJP is gearing up for ethnic cleansing of Muslims and the creation of Hindu colonies in Kashmir.

The other ramification of the cancellation of article 370 will be the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan, both nuclear states. The wider Kashmir region, which was split between India and Pakistan in 1947, has emotional significance for both countries, which see it as part of their founding stories. India and Pakistan have so far already fought two full-scale wars over Jammu and Kashmir.

The hard fact, recorded in abundant academic works, remains that on a daily basis in the Kashmir Valley, which is often classified as world's most militarized region, people are killed, their bodies mutilated, their dignity humiliated and their mental health disturbed by Indian security forces.

Because of the oppression of Kashmir by the Indian army, Kashmiri Muslims have often rejected the legitimacy of India's rule. Kashmiri militants fighting against Indian rule are seen by the locals as symbols of veneration and resistance: every dead militant is seen as a martyr, and every burial of a martyr is nothing less than a spectacle.

In these settings, the Indian state is doing all it can to impede any expression which questions the legitimacy of Indian position on Kashmir.

Revoking article 370 is the continuation of the oppression of the people of Kashmir by the authoritarian Indian state. The move will certainly mean more repressive measures taken by the Indian army installed in Kashmir.

The situation in Kashmir calls for immediate attention by international bodies to alleviate the tension and guarantee the rights of Kashmiri citizens, preventing any move toward nuclear confrontation or worse abuses by the Indian army.

Raoof Mir has a Ph.D. in media studies written on the theme of media and religion in contemporary Kashmir. Asaf Ali Lone is an independent researcher from Kashmir, whose research interests are Kashmir conflict, resistances and marginalities.

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