The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
How Indian liberals' ignorance about Kashmir fuels Modi's rightwing agenda Open in fullscreen

Basharat Ali

How Indian liberals' ignorance about Kashmir fuels Modi's rightwing agenda

Protesters from different groups demonstrate near the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, Pakistan [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 August, 2019

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Comment: Outside of Kashmir, Indian liberals carry many misconceptions about the state, which has allowed Hindu nationalist leaders like Modi to carry out their agenda unchallenged, argues Basharat Ali

It has been over two weeks and I have had no contact with my family in Baramulla, north of Srinagar in Kashmir.

The entire valley is under a communication blackout and an unprecedented military clampdown is in place. The restrictions are so tight that reporters have to send their stories and photos to Delhi on USB drives.

There is no news from Kupwour in the north or Kulgoum in the south. The valley is currently living in the dark ages. Cable TV is down. Local newspapers like the Greater Kashmir and Kashmir Reader last updated their websites on August 5.

On that very day when Kashmir went into a complete radio silence, India turned a part of divided Kashmir under its control effectively into a colony by amending the Article 370 of its Constitution.

This article provided the state of Jammu and Kashmir a notional autonomy in that laws passed by the Indian parliament were not directly implemented there without the consent of an elected government in the state.

The government of India used its own selected representative, the Governor, as a proxy to give the consent, an act which the leading constitutional experts have called "patently illegal".

In a blog I wrote for Dawn in May this year I highlighted four important trends the Modi government was likely to move ahead with in his second term.

The very first of them was BJP's plans for the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. I was a little circumspect then in categorically stating that they will do it, citing legal and political challenges.

Now it is clear that no legal impediment can stop a majoritarian government high on power in doing what they want to do even if that means sending an entire population back to the dark ages; denying them access to the outside world; closing down schools; and denying people movement on the roads.

Now it is clear that no legal impediment can stop a majoritarian government high on power in doing what they want to do even if that means sending an entire population back to the dark ages

In India a large section of the population, including journalists, academics, business leaders, and Bollywood celebrities, are convinced that the abrogation of Article 370 was a necessity as it would pave a way for the development of the region and also put an end to the "terrorism" there.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Data produced by economist Jean Dreze shows that Kashmir does better than Gujarat  which is projected as a model state in India on a number of indicators, including life expectancy at birth, percentage of the rural population living below the poverty line and others.

After decades of failed promises, India's assault on Kashmir's autonomy invites a bleaker future
Read also: After decades of failed promises,
India's assault on Kashmir's autonomy
invites a bleaker future

Another section in India, particularly the liberal class including Congress, is outraged at the way these changes were brought in the Indian Constitution.

They say that the abrogation of Article 370 was done in an undemocratic way. This concern comes less from the government's decision of ripping Kashmir of its autonomy and more from the fate of Indian democracy as such.

Given the numbers BJP has right now, they can bring about any changes in the Indian Constitution without any resistance and realise their dream of a Hindu Rashtra.

Indian people would then be exposed to the reality Kashmir has lived with for the last seventy years. 

They didn't raise much of their voice when the government was deliberately fuelling war hysteria in Kashmir, now obviously in preparation of the decision to revoke Article 370.

Last time people in Jammu and Kashmir saw a war-like hysteria break around them was after the Pulwama attack in February this year in which 40 Indian Central Reserve Police Forces personnel lost their life.

The hysteria returned to Kashmir last month although there were no obvious indications of any Pakistan-India standoff.

Additional companies of Indian paramilitary were deployed in Kashmir by the end of July and immediately after that non-Kashmiri students at the National Institute Technology, tourists, and Amarnath yatra pilgrims were asked to leave Kashmir.

Their return to their homes was facilitated by the government which said there were intelligence inputs of a possible terror strike from Pakistan.

Everyone was in danger except for the people of Kashmir. Everyone needed to be protected except for the people of Kashmir. Every life mattered except for the lives of Kashmiris.

Everyone was in danger except for the people of Kashmir. Everyone needed to be protected except for the people of Kashmir. Every life mattered except for the lives of Kashmiris

That has precisely been the conduct and reality of Indian democracy in Kashmir for seventy years which the Indian liberal class now thinks is under threat. The people in Kashmir have paid life and limb to call out the farce and fraud of Indian democracy and fought for a life of dignity and freedom. Indian liberals are only seventy years too late.

Kashmiris anxious after Indian-imposed blackout leaves their families incommunicado
Read also: Kashmiris anxious after Indian-imposed
blackout leaves their families incommunicado

"What is happening in Kashmir?" people asked then and no one had any clue about anything. It may have been business as usual for the Governor Satyapal Malik led administration but the developments which fed the hysteria, placed in the continuum of BJP's policies towards Kashmir ever since it took power in 2014, suggested there is something simmering beneath the veneer of normalcy.

At 11:00 am on August 5, India's Home Minister, Aamit Shah, rose up in the Parliament and ended all speculations. He made an announcement which was no less terrifying for the people of Kashmir.

Article 370 was history; 35A was history. Kashmir's own flag and Constitution, a history. Everything the Kashmiri pro-India politicians had to sell "idea of India" to the people in Kashmir was history.

Anticipating a response against such a move, the Indian agencies were well prepared to deal with a mass uprising. People expected a bloodbath, immediately.

But there was "calm", so to speak. There was silence. A journalist tweeted, "One thing I understood after visiting Srinagar today is that the anger is very different this time. People are carefully (almost consciously) brewing this anger. They are still in mourning but the release of this anger (when?) could very well be catastrophic."

No one can predict the outbreak of an uprising with certainty. But there will be a response.

How soon and how violent, only time will tell us. For now, the Eid-al-Adha went by without speaking to my parents. And that is the minimal cost Kashmiris have to pay for wanting to live a life with dignity.

Basharat Ali is a Research Scholar at MMAJ Academy of International Studies in New Delhi, India

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More