“Well, for someone who wants complete azadi for Kashmir, this Article [370] doesn’t mean much to me,” said a resident of North Kashmir’s Baramulla town who asked to remain unidentified. “On the one hand, it seems to give special status to the state but whatever has been happening the last 30 years is horrific. Nearly 90,000 people have died. What kind of special status is that?”

The man was speaking during a brief window of mobile internet connectivity on the afternoon of August 5, shortly after Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government was going to hollow out Article 370, repeal Article 35A and was also planning to redraw the map of the state. If all goes to the government’s plan, Jammu and Kashmir division will become a Union Territory with a legislature, while the Ladakh division will be a Union Territory without one.

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution guaranteed special status and autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, which has its own constitution. Originally, under this provision, the Centre’s legislative powers were restricted to three subjects: defence, foreign affairs and communications. Article 35A gave Jammu and Kashmir the power to define permanent residents of the state and grant them special rights and privileges, including the right to own land.

As the Union government prepared to revoke Article 370 this weekend, Kashmir fell under a pall of silence. Politicians from regional parties, including the People’s Democratic Party’s Mehbooba Mufti, the National Conference’s Omar Abdullah and the People’s Conference’s Sajad Lone, were placed under house arrest. On Monday evening, both Mufti and Abdullah were arrested.

At midnight on August 4, phone and internet connectivity was blocked. Only a few connections worked intermittently on Monday.

“Today’s decision has exposed two things,” said the resident of Baramulla. “One, that Kashmiris and their emotions don’t matter to India. Two, it was proved beyond doubt that it only acts as a democracy in Kashmir. In reality, India is a hegemonic occupation that’s there to suppress the people here. This decision and the subsequent lockdown in the Valley shows beyond doubt that India and its so-called democracy are failing miserably in Kashmir.”

‘Existential threat’

Kashmiris outside the state, already alarmed at being unable to reach families in the Valley, were overwhelmed by the decision. It was, they said, an existential threat, not only to the state but to Kashmiri identity.

This year’s Lok Sabha polls in Kashmir had been cast as a battle for that very identity as Valley-based parties made the preservation of Article 370 and Article 35A their main election plank. Addressing rallies in South Kashmir, the heart of the local militancy that has gained ground over the last few years, Mehbooba Mufti had asked for votes saying she would protect the rights of Kashmiris in Parliament and safeguard its minority identity from outside forces that would demolish the two Constitutional provisions.

These fears had now come to fruition. “It is a murder of the Constitution and a direct assault on the identity preserved by the Constitution,” said an Kashmiri academic from Srinagar, who is based in Delhi. “It is related to the existence and identity of Jammu and Kashmir, which has a Muslim character.”

The Union government’s decision on Monday was an attempt to change the demography of the state, he felt, a process that had its roots in Partition and the massacre of Muslims in Jammu in 1947, killing thousands and forcing thousands more to flee overnight.

security personnel stand guard along a deserted street during restrictions in Jammu on Monday.Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

A student from Sopore in North Kashmir felt it was a threat to an identity. “We Kashmiris are a distinct ethnicity,” said a student from Sopore in North Kashmir who is based in Delhi. “Now our existence is in danger, it is not only about being a Muslim.”

Kashmiri identity, for him, spanned religions. “A truth that nobody ever bought: I as a Kashmiri never hated Kashmiri Pandits, I never wanted them out of my state,” he said. “They are my people.”

Completing the accession

Faith in Article 370 as a provision to guarantee the autonomy and distinct identity of Jammu and Kashmir had dwindled long before the government scrapped it.

“In my opinion, this Article was only on paper,” said the student from Sopore. “It was a scarecrow, an illusion for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. They were made to believe that they still have some special provisions whereas in reality, the government of India used Article 370 as a gateway to make desired laws in the state, because our so-called state government was always happy to be pro-Parliament over pro-assembly.”

Over seven decades, he felt, the government had actually used Article 370 to render all special provisions hollow and ensure the complete accession of the state, one of the many princely states that joined the Indian Union in 1947. It made way for provisions of the Indian Constitution to be applied to Jammu and Kashmir through presidential orders with the concurrence of the state assembly.

“As per the Treaty of Accession, external affairs, defence and communication were supposed to be under the direct control of government of India, but that was not enough,” said the student. He was referring to the Instrument of Accession, signed on October 26, 1947, signed by Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir, which governed the terms on which the state joined the Indian Union. “Full control, without any resistance was always the motive of the state of India, keeping in view the geopolitical importance of Jammu and Kashmir, which will now be achieved by scrapping the article.”

Union Territory status for Jammu and Kashmir would ensure consent to Central policies that the elected assembly of a full-fledged state might have resisted. “It is an attempt to disempower people, putting them directly under Delhi,” said the academic from Srinagar. “The Jammu and Kashmir police will now be under Delhi. Without law and order in your control, you just have basic administrative functions.”

It would be used to push through unpopular policies, they felt. “Now, an NRC like in Assam can be enforced in J&K, which otherwise would face resistance by state governments for electoral benefits,” said the student. Assam’s NRC, or National Register of Citizens, is meant to be a roster of genuine Indian citizens living in the state. It is currently being updated through a contentious process, which the state’s minorities say is biased against them.

The unravelling

At the same time, for some Kashmiris, the Centre’s decision snaps the only thread binding Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian Union, leaving the state’s status open to question.

“For me, it nullifies the very basis of accession, which took place under certain conditions,” said the academic from Srinagar. “It opens up a Pandora’s box and goes back to pre-October 26, 1947, when the Maharaja was forced to accede. There is no state there.”

With the disappearance of special status, which held Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian Union, the region was in the international limelight once more. “This is not just a bilateral issue but an international issue under Chapter VI of the United Nations charter. You cannot ignore the existence of those articles.”

Activists and supporters of Hindu Sena celebrate on Monday after the Center decide to revoke special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir. Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP

Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter provides for the “pacific settlement of disputes”. Resolution 47 of the United Nations Security Council was passed under the chapter and adopted in April 1948, in the aftermath of the first border war between India and Pakistan. It prescribed, among other things, the resolution of the dispute through a plebiscite.

After the Simla Agreement of 1972, India resisted the intervention of the United Nations, insisting it was a bilateral dispute.

“For years, we have chosen the Gandhis and Nehrus, existing under the impression of secularism,” said the academic. “Now we will have to see what happens.”

‘There will be a reaction’

Kashmiris both within and without the Valley fear trouble ahead.

“Right now, Kashmiris are worried,” said the resident of Baramulla. “There’s fear and there are apprehensions. I am concerned about the reaction that this decision might provoke. Kashmir may again plunge into a cycle where peaceful protestors will be met with bullets and pellets.”

The academic from Srinagar said he was expecting “a grim reaction”, even if the lockdown and security mobilisation had ensured a deathly calm for now. “As of now there might now be a reaction, they might want to tire out the population with curfew for two or three weeks, with no food and medicines,” he said. “But there will be a reaction. You can’t expect to tire out a population so that they won’t react.”

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