On August 6, Article 370 was abrogated. The Constitution of India was extended to Jammu and Kashmir. All the provisions, all the safeguards, all the pitfalls, everything that you and I enjoy and suffer is now theirs too.
It is also the day that Jammu and Kashmir lost its special status, statehood, and got bifurcated into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Many leaders in the former state have been taken into custody, including two former chief ministers – Mehbooba Mufti, and Omar Abdullah. Section 144, which bans the gathering of more than four people, has been applied, and internet connectivity has been cut. While Home Minister Amit Shah has promised that statehood would be restored once normality is restored, it is anyone’s guess as to how long that would be.
For many it is a day of joy – a day when Jammu and Kashmir is part and parcel of India. For others, like those in Ladakh, it is joy because their long-standing demand of being a union territory has finally come to be. For Kashmiri Pundits, it was a day that provide some balm for the wounds, caused by their forced exodus from their land, by terror groups. And, for many Kashmiri Muslims, it was a day their world fell apart. All reactions are true. All are real. And all exhibit the varied emotions that this decision has brought about.
While the integration of Jammu and Kashmir into the rest of India was long overdue, should it have been done without the consent of the people who live there, or their representatives? One of the key criticisms even by those who support the abrogation of Article 370 is this lack of consent, and the abrogation of procedure along with Article 370. After all, the government governs with the consent of the people. And, any major decision regarding their future should be consultative. It is this consent that has been breached. And, it is a bad precedent vis-à-vis the role of the centre and the states. In a federal republic, the relationship between the centre and the states is consultative, not unilateral. But that stands nullified with this unilateral decision.
With the shutdown of internet services, it is difficult to tell how the vast majority of the people in the valley are reacting to these events. But from the little information that is trickling out the sense is that of betrayal. And, this is what the government of India has to address. There needs to be a massive confidence-building exercise. The abrogation of Article 370 should not mean the indiscriminate resettlement of citizens of other parts of India in the newly carved union territory. What most Kashmiris fear is that their culture and way of life will be overwhelmed by others. And, this is the fear that the government needs to allay.
The opportunity offered by the abrogation of Article 370 is the ability for Indian business to invest in the union territory, without the need for a local partner. There needs to be a Marshall plan for Jammu and Kashmir. A plan that rebuilds the state that is reeling from decades of terrorism and military presence. It needs industry, and jobs that wean away the young from the streets, and from the lure of militants. And, this is the promise of integration. But, it is a promise that can only be delivered with a lot of effort, and patience.
And, finally, what is needed is empathy and grace. The Indian state isn’t the victor and the people of Jammu and Kashmir are not the vanquished. People need their dignity, and their own sense of self-respect. The government would be wise to tell its own supporters on social media to cut down the crowing and glee at the distress of the Kashmiris. And those in Kashmir, who are distressed about their loss of uniqueness also need to realise that other states without an Article 370 have managed to retain their uniqueness and individuality without it being swamped by ‘outsiders’. Indeed, that in India, there are no outsiders.
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences.
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First Published: IST