by Sahir Gani
The revocation of the special status has only deepened anxieties in Kashmir.
What would George Orwell have made of the Kashmir situation in 2020? Orwell’s prophetic work on extensive government over-reach, mass surveillance and repressive regimentation of all persons and behaviours has resonance to the life in Kashmir today.
In Kashmir, the state exists in a kind of sadomasochistic relationship that pins down an entire population to perpetuate its power. Since August last year, the government has embarked on a mission to perpetuate drastic changes in the predominantly Muslim majority region. The policies that the government is implementing since the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status last August will bring tectonic shifts in the Kashmiri society.
On the first anniversary of the abrogation is approaching, here is a look back at the various policy-changes it has brought about in Kashmir.
The demotion of Jammu and Kashmir from a state with a so-called special status to a union territory gave direct control to the BJP-led government in the centre, through its appointed Lieutenant Governor. It practically limits Jammu and Kashmir legislature’s autonomy awarded-to it through Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.
The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization order 2019 dis-empowers the state legislature of Jammu and Kashmir from defining “permanent residents” and their rights, as was guaranteed under Article 35A. The reorganization order is another step by the Government of India to possibly settle non-indigenous in the Valley by changing the domicile laws.
Under new domicile law imposed amid the pandemic, non-natives who have resided for a period of 15 years in Jammu and Kashmir are now eligible for domiciliary rights. It is a case of forced demographic change.
According to an analysis by Newsclick, ” 17.4 lakh people can certainly acquire domicile rights, which constitute roughly 14% of J&K’s population of 1.23 crore in 2011″ when the last census was carried in the region. Today, the numbers could be, perhaps, even higher.
According to newly introduced Education Policy 2020, – “the government intends to give “due preference” to what it calls “reputed players” in the education industry who are willing to set up private universities in J-K.
The government says that it will facilitate the allotment of land in Jammu and Kashmir and coordinate with the concerned departments for the required approval and clearances to facilitate the process of setting up of new private educational institutions.
Now, the private players from outside the Kashmir will be incentivized to set up educational institutions even when local initiatives—for example, the Transworld Muslim University—have long been scuttled.
The new education policy possibly aims to whitewash local history and rewrite the textbooks to represent an obfuscated narrative suited to the present dispensation’s ideological moorings. The Narendra Modi government in New Delhi has been accused of “saffronising”, education- particularly by editing history textbooks and more recently omitting passages on democracy, secularism and the pro-freedom movement in Kashmir.
The policy of harassment and, intimidation of journalists for highlighting people’s issues has frequently been reported in Kashmir but with the introduction of New Media Policy the government seems to have given this policy of intimidation an official sanctum.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration approved the new media policy stating that it was meant for “effective communication and public outreach”. The policy, however, also outlines the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) – the nodal agency to disseminate government handouts- to “examine” the content of print, electronic and various other forms of media for “fake news, plagiarism and unethical or anti-national activities”, and take legal action against individual journalists or news organisations.
The new media policy has rendered Jammu and Kashmir newspapers into government pamphlets. The new policy has been described as an attempt “to kill journalism”, and a “remnant of the colonial era”. It is indeed an attempt to control the narrative and throttle the freedoms of the press. This is akin to state censorship where the government will decide what to publish and what not to.
In the end, marching backwards
The BJP’s promise for the abrogation of regions semi-autonomous was that the complete integration of the erstwhile state with the Indian Union will usher in a new era of peace and development in the economically starved region.
Almost a year has passed since the unilateral move to redraw new political map of the restive Valley, peace is not only elusive but fragile to say the least. A recent report by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a local human rights group, documents that Kashmir saw 229 killings in the first half of the 2020- which includes 143 militants and 32 civilian deaths.
What is happening in Kashmir during lockdown? Kashmir is witnessing the longest internet blackout in any democracy. On 5 August, this year, also marked a year without high-speed internet in Kashmir. The human rights violations here are alarming now but the current dispensation is furthering its ideological agenda in the pretext of enforcing a lockdown to contain the pandemic.
The revocation of the special status has only deepened anxieties in Kashmir. Locals fear an increased level of violence if there is an influx of outsiders into Kashmir. Even though the conflict in Kashmir is rooted in territory and ethnic identity, it has a strong psychological dimension as well.
As tensions continue to rise in Kashmir after 5 August, fear has, once again gripped the valley of Kashmir. The mental health burden of this militarisation is reflected in the general psychology of the already anxious population.
So what did the Government of India achieve with the revocation of the Kashmir’s special status? A complete abrogation of democracy and an unconscionable suppression of civil and democratic rights. The killings and the dehumanization of the indigenous people, extraction of mineral resources in the guise of development. Democracy has been denied to Kashmiris for the last seven decades but today Kashmiris are facing an existential threat.
(The author is a Research Scholar at the Central University of Kashmir. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)