Kashmiris in India are still suffering

Ather Zia

On August 5, 2019, in the wake of the Indian gov-ernment’s move to revoke the parts of the constitu-tion that give Indian-administered Kashmir special status, I penned an article for Al Jazeera titled There is reason to fear for the safety of every Kashmiri in India.

In the two years since, my worst fears have come true. After revoking Articles 370 and 35-A of the constitution, which ensured the state limited autonomy and territorial sovereignty, the Indian government put Kashmir under an intense military siege.

It deployed tens of thousands of troops to the state, started arresting anyone daring who voiced their dissent, imposed curfews, shut down the inter-net and phone lines.

This suffocating military siege and communications blackout lasted so long that Kashmiris could not comprehend when it ended – if it ever did – and the COVID-19 lockdowns began.

Of course, the erosion of Kashmir’s territorial sovereignty and the rights of its Indigenous resi-dents did not start with the revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A.

Indeed, no Indian government has ever fully honoured the constitutional promises made to the Kashmiris under the auspices of the UN.

Over the years, while paying lip service to the constitution, they gradually eroded the already lim-ited autonomy of Kashmir and the rights of Kash-miris through presidential decrees, statutes, and legal verdicts.

In this context, what happened two years ago in Kashmir was nothing but the completion of a dec-ades-old Indian settler-colonial project to “legally” annexe the state.

Now, with no constitutional im-pediments, the Indian state is free to impose outright settler-colonial policies on long-suffering Kashmiris with impunity and erase their identities.

And Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu na-tionalist BJP government has no intention to waste any time. In the last two years, India’s settler colo-nialism in Kashmir has been on steroids.

After revoking the constitutional clause that for-bade non-natives from permanently settling, buying land and holding local government jobs in Kashmir, Modi’s government swiftly introduced a fast-track process through which non-local Indians who fit certain nominal criteria can obtain domicile status in the state.

Furthermore, it ordered local bureaucrats to complete such applications in just 15 days and announced that those causing any delays to the process would face monetary fines.

As a result, a large number of non-native Hindu Indian citizens obtained residency in the predomi-nantly Muslim region in a short period of time.

Many Kashmiris rightfully perceive this policy as an effort to alter the demographic makeup of the state, and decry it as “demographic terrorism”.

Today, while there is still a salaried class of na-tive Kashmiris, almost all top positions in the state’s bureaucracy are filled by non-local Indians. The situation is the same in the police force and the judi-ciary.

The erstwhile state of Indian-administered Kashmir, bifurcated and demoted to a union terri-tory since August 5, 2019, is now being governed by an unelected “governor”.

Manoj Sinha is a for-mer BJP minister and a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right Hindu na-tionalist organisation – with strong ties to the BJP – that aims to create an ethnic Hindu-majority state in India.

With an army of non-local bureaucrats, police officers, judges and other officials at his service, Sinha is governing the region with no meaningful input from its native population.

Historically, one of the Indian state’s primary policies in Kashmir has been to cultivate a cadre of Kashmiri client politicians inherently loyal to it.

Since the late 1940’s the Kashmiri political firma-ment has been replete with such characters who work to ensure Indian hegemony by weaponising electoral politics and exploiting people’s need for basic governance.

The complete removal of Kash-mir autonomy in 2019 appeared to have left these client politicians with no real purpose or role.

To remain relevant, they formed a rag-tag front to an-nounce their commitment to helping Kashmir regain its autonomy and statehood – but mostly failed to convince the local population of their “noble” inten-tions.

Recently, Modi summoned these same charac-ters to New Delhi to once again use them as pawns in his efforts to create the illusion of a new “democ-ratic process” in Kashmir.

This was done mainly to appease international anxieties around the dire situa-tion unfolding in the Valley.

The Modi government has been under intense international pressure, espe-cially from the United States, to restore democratic processes and rights in Kashmir.

By talking to Kashmiri politicians who claim to represent the population, the Indian state hoped to create the im-pression that it is still committed to upholding de-mocratic principles.

Ather Zia is a poet and a political anthropologist who teaches at University of Northern Colorado Greeley.

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