Safina Nabi is a writer, based in Kashmir.
Wednesday marks a year since India revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution that had granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir since partition in 1947.
Projecting it as a move that would bring development and peace to Kashmir, India's action has instead disrupted almost every aspect of our culture and politics. Incidences of violence have increased, the economy has slowed dramatically, normal life has become a casualty of political expediency.
Draconian laws such as the Public Safety Act, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and tight internet curbs have resulted in real curbs on the most basic democratic rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. According to local human rights organization, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, or JKCCS, there were 195 so-called cordon and search operations conducted in Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, resulting in the deaths of 165 people.
But in just the first six months of this year, the JKCCS has already documented 107 cordon and search operations resulting in 229 killings, in addition to 55 territory-wide internet shutdowns, and the destruction of 48 properties on the pretext that militants might be hiding inside. The frequent instances of cordon and search operations have led to multiple alleged human rights violations of the civilian population including harassment, detention, and use of excessive and indiscriminate force.
Many mainstream political leaders are still behind bars, while politicians who have been released are forced to maintain a low profile. Some have even signed declarations promising to remain quiet in return for their continued freedom. Instead of a return of full statehood, Kashmir's leaders are demanding the restoration of Article 370. But with the local media gagged, and journalists often being called for questioning by the police, it's impossible for politicians to make their wishes known.
The abrogation of Article 370 has led to the winding up of various commissions, including the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission, and the Women's Commission, and it has plunged our education system into crisis. In the past year, children have attended school for just 10 school days. First came the monthslong school shutdown that followed the action on August 5, then came the winter vacation. Now the lockdown demanded by COVID-19 is keeping schools closed. With an uninterrupted ban on high-speed internet, children are being been barred from the basic right of education.
India wanted us to believe that Article 370 was a hindrance to economic development, but the past year has brought little in the way of growth, with the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry projecting losses of around $6 billion.
The Public Safety Act has significantly helped the security crackdown led to a rise in the number of people being detained, with thousands of activists languishing in jail. The Government of India claimed in Parliament on November 20 last year that "5,161 persons were detained since August 5, out of whom 609 were under detention while the rest were released." But according to a recent communique from the executive committee members of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association to the chief justice of the Supreme Court of India, nearly 13,000 people are still in detention.
Despite little support outside India for the abrogation of Article 370, and strong condemnation of the resulting curtailment of civil liberties, the international community has performed little in the way of action. India repeatedly said that foreign interference in Jammu and Kashmir would end following its decision to scrap Article 370. But now we see China aggressively presenting itself as a third party to the dispute, even entering Ladakh to engage in a series of firefights that have heightened cross-border tensions.
While it seems that India will never accept that the abrogation of Article 370 as a failure, New Delhi will try to maintain that life in Kashmir is normal, and continue to hope that by blocking communication and controlling dissent on the ground, no one will know how much the situation has deteriorated.
It's time that India recognized that the revocation of Article 370 and the splitting of the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been a failure, and immediately resume talks with all stakeholders, especially Kashmiris. India needs to draw on its political will and follow in the footsteps of the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and initiate a process of dialogue with Pakistan to ease the tension and hostility in the atmosphere.
The international community also needs to do more to temper a situation that could so easily result in an open conflict between these two sometimes volatile nuclear powers. By engaging with India more effectively, and encouraging a quiet, backdoor effort at restarting talks with all the key stakeholders, there is a chance that India will cease from committing further violations in Jammu and Kashmir.