The reduction of Jammu and Kashmir and the humiliation of Kashmiris was made possible by the failure of every check and balance of Indian democracy. But the most egregious, debased outcome, shorn of legal fig leaf and political justification, reveals itself as a lust among many Indian Hindus for Kashmir’s women and its land.
Delighted Indian men – the same ones who claim a Muslim man marrying a Hindu woman is proof of a love jihad – exult at their victory, seven decades in the making they say, and within a day of the takeover turn their attention to Kashmiri women. A Bharatiya Janata Party legislator urges Indians to marry those “white women”.
A BJP minister from Goa says he will buy land in Kashmir and build a house. The BJP-run government in Maharashtra – India’s richest state – says it would like to build and run tourist resorts. Social media overflows with triumphal mocking and discussions on how to buy land, once forbidden to outsiders (not under Jammu and Kashmir’s discarded constitutional provisions but by a 173-year-old law set in place by the province’s former Hindu rulers).
It is all so nakedly and narrowly opportunistic that a BJP leader and deputy chief minister of the erstwhile state says the local unit of the party will suggest that New Delhi institute, well, restrictions on buying land.
As stunned expat Kashmiris try desperately to contact loved ones incarcerated and incommunicado in the giant jail amid India’s dismantled crown, there is no hiding the delight around them. Television anchors and many media, instead of questioning the manipulation of the Constitution and its safeguards, celebrate the military occupation, the confinement of a people and the arrest of even those Kashmiris who believed in the Indian union. Constitutional lawyers approve the dubious dismemberment of Jammu and Kashmir and the removal of its special status, glossing over the legal deception and doublespeak involved.
Section 370 of the Constitution was indeed meant to be temporary. It could indeed be removed – with the approval of Jammu and Kashmir’s constituent assembly, which was replaced by a legislative assembly, which was this year replaced by one man, a governor who provided fraudulent assent on behalf of those millions confined to their homes at the point of a gun. Even so, parliament had to approve the removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special ties to India and its transformation from a state to a Union Territory, the first such demotion in India’s history. That it did with alacrity, even without a government majority in parliament’s upper house.
A slow de-democratisation
Aided and approved by vast swathes of the media, the Opposition, the administration and the Indian people, the Kashmir deception is the most impressive feat yet achieved in the slow, gradual process of dimming the lights of India’s democracy.
India has been set on course towards the darkness for some time. Successive Congress governments deliberately allowed India’s democracy to be clouded by the continuation and deployment of laws – old and new – meant to be used by a ruler against the ruled.
We did not complain enough when thousands suffered the wrongful use of vaguely worded laws: against terrorism, criminal defamation, information-technology misuse and sedition, the last of which has been freely used over the years against sloganeering students, villagers protesting power plants and cartoonists.
We did not complain enough when thousands were bunged into jail without trial –Kashmiri rioters, tribals who happened to get in the way of security sweeps, wrongly accused terror suspects (mostly Muslim) and human rights workers. We did not complain enough about police torture methods that alienated many more than they convicted, about courts gradually corrupted and compromised, about media increasingly beholden to power instead of questioning it.
It now appears that, perhaps, we did not want to.
The advent of social media greatly accelerated the progression of de-democratisation. Narendra Modi and the Hindutva hordes weaponised those media, successfully urging millions of Indians to embrace their dark side. Many are self-radicalised, believing every bit of fake news that turns them against neighbours and friends. In doing so, they confirm that a large part of this country is willing to be led away from the light of justice and freedom and into a growing, uncharted darkness.
The fate of Kashmir is but one stop in what is likely to be an unfolding journey into that darkening house where more supposed triumphs await. There is a temple to be built, more minority rights to be dismantled and more concessions to be wrested for the coming glories of Hinduism. The darkness does not matter: there is a god-like great leader – or two – who leads the way.
So, we do not complain, when lynch mobs roam the land, when they are felicitated and their victims face the brunt of the law. We are the lynch mobs, happy to virtually or otherwise string up those who oppose, disagree or seek debate with us. Reconciliation and togetherness are terms of abuse in the new India, the language of the weak and those without power or majorities.
We approve, it appears, of the dimming of the lights in the house of Indian democracy, as long as we prosper – or even if we don’t – as long as our prejudices reign and the rights of others are suppressed, as long as our lives are illumined by fake news, fantasy and false gods.
Samar Halarnkar is the editor of IndiaSpend, a data-driven, public interest journalism non-profit.