The Disappearance of Kashmiri Autonomy: What the Indian Government Needs to Do

Kashmir’s struggle for autonomy was recently subdued when India revoked its special status under Article 370 and abrogated Article 35A, which granted special privileges to the people of Kashmir. India’s government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has considered the rising terrorist attacks, religious violence and lack of economic development in the region as symptoms of the long-lasting privileges granted to the state. 

Ever since the abrogation of special status, the Kashmiri population has been cut off from communication lines, restricted from travelling and been subject to constant patrolling by local troops. Additionally, local leaders have been placed under house arrest. The Indian government believes a historic wrong has been undone by revoking Kashmir’s autonomy and bifurcating it into two union territories, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. However, the lack of international support for this political decision has raised questions regarding whether revoking special status was the only option available and, more importantly, what would constitute a more effective global vision for peace in Kashmir. 

Historical Background  

The secessionist struggle in Kashmir is rooted not in 1947, but rather dates back to the 1920s. During this period, the Hindu Maharaja ruled the Muslim-dominated region of Kashmir and suppressed its struggle for political rights, imprisoning its leaders. This history is still deeply engraved in Kashmir’s psyche

India’s independence struggle and the 1947 Partition with Pakistan exacerbated the exploitation and misery faced by Kashmir’s population. The British Empire allowed the Princely States (which included Jammu and Kashmir) to join either India or Pakistan. The Hindu ruler of the region, Maharaja Hari Singh, presided over a Muslim-majority population; because of this, he wished to declare independence from both India and Pakistan. However, heightening religious violence in Jammu perpetrated by right-wing Hindu nationalists and its escalation through Pakistan’s intervention in Kashmir’s capital Srinagar forced the Maharaja to approach India for help. This led to the signing of the Instrument of Accession, one of the most controversial documents during the post-independence period and an important factor in the continuing disputes. This document was conditional and required ratification by a plebiscite among the populations of Jammu and Kashmir. However, such a plebiscite never occurred, and Pakistan and India continue to hold their regions of Jammu and Kashmir as divided by the Line of Control. 

Why India’s Decisions Could Backfire

In order to comprehend why the Indian government’s recent decisions regarding Kashmir could backfire, it is essential to understand the significance of the special status granted to the region under Articles 370 and 35A. After India’s partition, Article 370 asserted Kashmir’s special status by restricting New Delhi’s legislative control over the former’s defence, foreign affairs and communications. Article 35A was an important inclusion under Article 370: it granted special privileges to the permanent residents of Kashmir with regard to land acquisition, stipulating that non-Kashmiri Indians would not be able to purchase land in Kashmir.

Both Articles functioned as an important foundation from which Kashmir could negotiate its autonomy; however, this autonomy has been consistently challenged over the past several decades. This indicates that India has been gradually working to assert its control over Kashmir; however, its new policy of officially revoking these privileges will ultimately prove detrimental to its visions for Kashmir’s future. 

Firstly, the abrogation of the Articles may lead to increasing insurgent violence in the region. Fear of such violence likely undergirded the Indian government’s decision to cut media links and deploy troops in Kashmir before officially revoking the region’s special privileges. Revocation of special privileges may also pave the way for larger humanitarian abuses in the region, which have consistently served to strain Indian-Kashmiri relations. India’s implementation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) in Kashmir, far from upholding its national interest, has served only to generate widespread anti-Indian sentiments and human rights violations.

Secondly, the abrogation of 35A raises the prospect of large-scale Kashmiri emigration. Now, it is legally possible for non-Kashmiris and Hindus to purchase land and settle in Kashmir, leading to fears among native Kashmiris that they could be forced out of their territory. This increased sense of marginalization from the Indian government will likely cause more violence in the region, adversely affecting its economic status. Finally, the question of whether peace and development could be restored to the region with the abrogation of special status remains controversial. With Modi’s administration in power, there have been increasing fears of radicalisation and use of force within the Kashmir Valley, which would ultimately contradict India’s plans for economic development in the region.  

A Global Vision for Peace

While the issue of autonomy for Kashmir may appear to be an internal matter, the recent internationalisation of the issue indicates the need for a global vision for peace. One of the primary resolutions proposed by a network of Kashmiri academics is the demilitarization of the states of Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control. This recommendation would involve revoking the AFSPA and PSA, which would in turn ensure protection of the rights of Kashmiri minorities and alleviate anti-Indian sentiments. Secondly, the imminent increase in human rights abuses in the Valley urgently warrants a UN Commission of Inquiry to ensure accountability for human rights violations and justice to the victims of such crimes. 

If India wishes to restore peace in Jammu and Kashmir, it is important to ensure the protection of civil and political rights of the citizens of the Valley. This would require adopting a global vision for peace and ensuring that the political aspirations of the Kashmiri citizens are respected. 

Femi Ivan

Femi Ivan is a member of the Defence and Diplomacy policy centre’s working group.

 

Bibliography: 

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