Beyond Article 370: Liberating Jammu & Kashmir from a prejudiced global audience

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Ganesh Puthur
The state of Jammu and Kashmir had been at the crossroads between India and Pakistan ever since the partition of British India in 1947. The erstwhile Muslim-majority Kingdom, ruled by a Hindu dynasty wanted to remain as an independent nation without acceding to any of the newly carved out republics. But due to the brutal invasion of Pakistani tribesmen, the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir signed the ‘instrument of accession’ with India. Kashmir had greater autonomy even after the accession, since only matters concerning their ‘defence, foreign affairs and communications’ were left for the Indian union to decide. Article 370 along with Article 35A of the Indian Constitution gave special privileges to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The state had a separate constitution, official flag, citizenship laws and different set of fundamental rights.
Article 370 was supposed to be a temporary provision. But only after seven decades of its incorporation to India’s constitution, on 5th August 2019, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government decided to eliminate this contentious article. The state of J&K was later bifurcated to make Ladakh a new Union Territory (UT) along with J&K becoming a UT with legislative assembly. Massive restrictions were imposed by the security forces in J&K due to the fear of backlash from the public. However, this move has reduced violence and terrorism in Kashmir. Massive anti-terror operations were carried out by the security forces and they successfully eliminated the top brass of various terrorist organisations. The government also took measures to curb the flow of money which aided Islamic fundamentalism in the valley, hence sterilising the separatist movement in Kashmir. But still, a section of the global community is reluctant to accept the draconian terrorist infrastructure in Kashmir.
A false narrative is developed of Hindu India subjugating the Islamic heritage of Kashmir. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Turkish President Erdogan are routinely using international platforms to create this ‘illusion of truth’. India has so far kept its promise to remain a secular nation. In India, no community is given undue privileges or patronage. Due to militancy, the economy of Kashmir never kicked off. The state relies on the huge amount of money transferred by New Delhi to Srinagar. The two political dynasties of Muftis and Abdullahs controlled J&K throughout these years. Rampant corruption and New Delhi’s desperate attempts to keep local politicians happy with monetary contribution resulted in poor administration and under-development of Kashmir. The state of J&K had three different parts, Hindu majority-Jammu, Muslim majority-Kashmir and Buddhist majority- Ladakh. The political dynamics of J&K was centred on the Kashmir region since it contributed a majority of representatives to the Legislative Assembly. The ‘delimitation’ process mandatorily prescribed by the constitution was deferred multiple times by successive state governments.
During all the turbulent times of feud between Pandit Nehru and Kashmir’s elected head Sheikh Abdullah, J&K remained peaceful. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism and separatism from the 1980s resulted in violence and bloodshed. Many young men from Kashmir crossed across Pakistan’s border, received training from ISI and came back to the valley to do Jihad against the Indian state. Kashmiri Pandits were targeted by the militants, their women were raped, properties were confiscated and temples were destroyed. Kashmiri Pandits fled the valley in 1990s due to the fear of further persecution. This incident never gets included in any of the present-day discourses on Kashmir.
Connecting Kashmir to the newly propagated notion of ‘Islamophobia’ delivers rich dividend to certain personalities from the Muslim world. Why these people are hesitant to complain about China’s ethnic cleansing of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, Turkey’s witch-hunting of Kurds and Pakistan’s atrocities on non-Sunni minorities? While global media houses including Turkey’s TRT news and Qatar’s Al-Jazeera are being vocal about Kashmir’s Islamic identity, the real history of Kashmir needs to be brought to the public domain. Even though Muslims forms 98% of Kashmir’s population, the Hindu and Buddhist heritage of Kashmir can’t be undermined. Multiple Islamic invasions from the 14th Century had resulted in the forceful conversion of Hindus and damage to temple structures. In the due course of time, efforts were made to slowly erase the Hindu history of Kashmir. Villages having Hindu names were systematically renamed to suit the Islamist agendas of Kashmir centric political outfits. Certain communities including the West Pakistan refugees were not considered as the subjects of J&K state due to Article 35A. They didn’t have the right to vote in assembly elections and were deprived of all basic facilities that the people of J&K were entitled to.
Abrogation of Article 370 has to lead to Kashmiri parties abandoning their agenda of soft-separatism which used to please their hardliner vote bank. Since the central government has discretionary powers in the UTs, political parties can no longer cash on anti-India propaganda. The central government can now directly launch schemes in J&K, hence stopping any wastage of public money by the local politicians. The separatist outfits Hurriyat Conference and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front had been systematically made to cease their operations. The gross injustice committed by the Pakistan government to its subjects in the ‘Occupied Jammu-Kashmir Region’ fails to get global attention. Hundreds of videos and testimonies are out there in the public domain, where the civilians of PoJK protests against the Islamabad and ruthless suppression of dissidents by the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan had been using Kashmir as a battleground to implement their doctrine of ‘bleed India with a thousand cuts’. Young people were employed by the proxies of ISI to pelt stones at the Indian Army. In retaliatory firing, ‘protestors’ had also faced casualties. What is being projected by the media is the Indian Army using pellet guns and tear gas shells against ‘the poor people of Kashmir’! The disturbing images of stone pelters, locals rescuing terrorists and Army personals being attacked are all ignored by international media. All the restrictions imposed by the government in Jammu & Kashmir are aimed at stopping the proxies of Pakistan from converting Kashmir into a geo-political warzone with Chinese support. What the global community should do is to look Jammu & Kashmir issue at a larger framework and not with myopic eyes.
(The writer is currently pursuing Post Graduate degree in History from the Department of History, University of Hyderabad, India)