Why the Indian government did what it did
A week ago, the conjecture was put to rest when India’s home minister, Amit Shah, announced in parliament that Article 370 has been removed. The abrogation of Article 370 has been a long-standing issue. Meant to be a temporary provision, it had over the years taken on an amoebic permanence because of a lack of political will.
As a result, this provision was used to perpetuate rights violations in the state of Jammu and Kashmir as well as fuel separatist sentiments. Politics in the state has been controlled by a handful of families from the valley who have grown in wealth and influence. These dynasties have controlled the destiny of the state and their rule has led to a feeling of exclusion amongst the people of Ladakh and Jammu. In the valley their political opportunism and back and forth power arrangement, has created a disenchantment with mainstream politics.
In most of the commentary that surrounds Jammu and Kashmir, the focus is primarily on the valley, which has witnessed unrest and violence in the past few decades. However, the disquiet amongst the other regions of the state, namely Ladakh and Jammu, which harbour resentment against successive central and state governments for what they perceive as step brotherly treatment (with reason) has been ignored.
When Amit Shah announced that Ladakh would be a separate Union Territory, the move was welcomed vociferously by the region. The young parliamentarian from Ladakh made a rousing speech in parliament that captivated the nation, which for too long had forgotten its existence and special needs, as the valley (which comprises 7 per cent of the area, took up all the mind space because of the violence).
What one also heard in the words the Ladakh MP spoke was the pain of being denied an identity, the subjugation of cultural roots and the access to platforms on the nation’s stage. In that moment, for the first time in over 70 years, things had changed, and the nation was listening.
Another demographic that welcomed this move were the Kashmiri Pandits, who had been chased out of the valley at gunpoint and have spent the last three decades as exiles in their own country. The violence that had forced them out of their homes because they were Hindus, is an issue that was suppressed and to this day only receives a hesitant acknowledgment.
The full extent of this ethnic cleansing is never discussed. The valley’s Liberal handlers, with access to the pages of international media and platforms have ignored their predicament and their issue has never been internationalised, though their exodus fits the definition of an ethnic cleansing.
The exiled Kashmiri Pandits a minority and a peaceful one at that, despite the violence that has permeated their consciousness, have been ignored, as some argue because they have not picked up a gun.
Also Read- Kashmir once again
The community has never received the acknowledgement or the reparation that it deserved. When extremism took a grip, these lost and forgotten children of the valley were further pushed to the margins. They celebrated the abrogation, with dance and sweets, and as a journalist from the community wrote in a poignant piece on her return to the valley, that she felt like she was finally home.
There are still others who have been discriminated against because of Article 370, and have been denied the rights free India guarantees to its citizens. A Kashmiri woman under this law, had no access to property rights, if she married outside. The Valmiki community which had been called in to work as safai karamchaaris three generations ago, have seen their subsequent generations denied employment opportunities and the right to seek alternative livelihood because they are not permitted a Permanent Resident Certificate. They can only work as safai karamchaaris/sanitation workers.
It is devastating to imagine how many dreams and hopes have been lost, the valmikis oppressed not only by caste, but denied the equality and freedom that India assures all her citizens. Yet no one, not one anti caste, so called liberal human rights crusader or caste based political party has fought for the rights of these people. And they have had the time, in fact decades to highlight the Valmikis situation.
Also Read- What now for Kashmir?
Instead they have defended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which perpetuates an unconstitutional and immoral separateness that has systematically crushed people for generations and driven out a religious minority. India has awakened to these long suppressed voices and has spoken in one voice.
There is overwhelming support from the public for this move and the Congress Party, India’s longest ruling party, has seen dissent amongst its ranks, when leader after leader came out in support of the government’s decision, notably taking a different position from Rahul Gandhi.
Decisions of such significance, require not only numbers in a parliamentary democracy, but also moral authority. That moral authority emerges from the constitutional guarantees that are promised to every Indian irrespective of caste and faith, with the removal of Article 370 these rights have been delivered to the people of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, which like the rest of India is home to diversity and plurality but has exercised majoritarianism, often bloody (Kashmiri Pandits). It is time it lived up to its promise and delivered for those banished and those who eke out an existence on the fringe.
Prime Minister Modi in his address to the nation, put forth an inclusive and healing beginning for Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh, three areas that had different opportunities as well as challenges. He assured the people that it would be the endeavour of his government to bring employment, education and development to the region.
Whilst there are some in the valley who are disenchanted by this move, the disenchantment comes mostly from uncertainty, this cloud will lift, as India continues to be the pluralistic and vibrant democracy it is proud to be. And as the region returns to normalcy, the work for development and regaining lost trust will begin, as will the healing.