Hours after the Modi government moved a surprise resolution in Parliament to end Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on Monday, protests broke out in at least three Indian cities.
Students, activists and lawyers gathered behind barricades manned by the police at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. They held up protest banners, one of which said: “Stop making Kashmir into a prison.” Another said: “Indian brutalities in Kashmir must stop.”
Late Sunday night, the government had placed Kashmiri political leaders under house arrest, partially suspended mobile internet services and closed down schools in the Valley. On Monday morning, along with the resolutions seeking to end the state’s special status, it also introduced a bill that bifurcated the state into two Union Territories.
Protesting against these decisions, activist Harsh Mander said: “Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have interpreted their second mandate in the election to alter and destroy the Constitution. They have flexed their muscles further since the Opposition is powerless.”
He added: “I see us hurtling as a nation completely opposed to the imagination of India written into the Constitution.”
Economist Jean Dreze, who participated in the same protest, said that the resolution would lead to the “further isolation of Kashmir”.
One of the protestors in Delhi was Sharika, a clinical psychologist from Kashmir, who had not been able to contact her family in Anantnag since August 4. “This is not democracy,” she said. “This is more like an occupation.”
In addition to Delhi, protestors gathered in Bengaluru and Bhopal to voice their dissent against the government’s moves. Some even asked the government to revoke the resolution, which was later passed in the Rajya Sabha, along with the Bill.
An unexpected move
Many protestors in Delhi said they were not surprised by the government’s actions.
“I think it is what BJP ideologically wanted to do in the first place,” said Ram Rahman, a photographer. “The government with their majority will now ride over Parliamentary procedure.”
But Gautam Mody, general secretary of New Trade Union Initiative, said he was taken aback at the developments. “This government is just determined to shock and awe to polarise people,” he said.
Other protestors said they suspected the government was trying to distract citizens from the failure of its economic policies. The Indian economy is facing a slowdown as auto manufacturers reported a dip in sales and household savings declined sharply over the past five years.
“They cannot do anything else because the economy is in such bad shape,” said Poonam Kaushik, a social worker.
Said Mander: “As things get worse in the economy, we will see more of this cultural assertion and muscular Hindu nationalism. And we are supposed to fill our stomachs with it.”
Most protestors agreed that the implications of the government’s actions went beyond Kashmir.
“This is a very dangerous step for the whole country,” said Rahman. “Kashmiris have been saying that they are ruled completely from Delhi and that they have no voice of their own. And now their voice has been completely taken away. If it becomes a Union Territory with a Lieutenant Governor then they have no say at all.”
Other protestors also questioned the role of Opposition parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party, Biju Janata Dal, YSR Congress Party, Aam Aadmi Party, which supported the resolution in the Rajya Sabha.
“There is a total lack of conviction in the Opposition,” said Mander. “It shows how Right-wing thinking is common across most parties. They do not believe in the values of the Constitution.”