A senior serving Indian diplomat, Sandeep Chakravarty, espoused the Kashmir policy while addressing a group of Kashmiri Pandits in the US on November 27, 2019. He said that ‘Israeli Model’ of West Bank settlement is the way forward, as per which the territory is forcefully occupied and its demography is also changed through encouraging new settlers.
This is precisely what has been attempted by the Modi government without explicitly endorsing this kind of apartheid policy, which is being done in the garb of implementing BJP’s election manifesto 2019 that promised abrogation of special status of J&K under Article 370 of the Constitution of India.
Article 370 guaranteed nominal autonomy to J&K, which was unilaterally scrapped on August 5, 2019. This Constitutional provision was rescinded with a view to promoting development activities and containing militancy through a direct control over the security grid. Since then, Kashmir is under stringent lockdown.
While the state of erstwhile J&K acceded to India on October 26, 1948, it could not effectively merge with India, as all the other princely states did to express their allegiance with the Constitution of India, when it was adopted.
As known, J&K region is occupied in part by India (35 per cent), Pakistan (45 per cent) and China (20 per cent), and its extensive boundaries, identified as Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan and Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China have therefore not been clearly defined and demarcated.
The abrogation of Article 370 and to reorganise the erstwhile state of J&K have international ramifications, which is why China and Pakistan have vehemently opposed the government action at every fora. The increased tensions on the borders with China and Pakistan are attributable to prolonged border dispute with the neighbours.
As we complete one year of clampdown and blockade of communication network, it may be worthwhile to assess the extent to which Modi government has succeeded in realising the stated objectives of containing militancy and promoting socioeconomic wellbeing of people in Kashmir.
Have we succeeded in abating militancy?
The J&K Coalition of Civil Society, a rights group, has documented that since January this year, at least 229 people have lost their lives during more than 100 military operations across Kashmir, including 32 civilians, 54 security forces and 143 militants. The government has failed to provide security to civilians and political workers who have been targeted by the rebel groups. It seems that use of brutal force to suppress voices of youth has widened the mistrust and increased alienation among Kashmiris.
Unfortunately, Kashmiris are seen and treated suspiciously, which is why political leaderships of all hues are treated maliciously and with contempt. They are detained and penalised under draconian laws like Public Safety Act (PSA), Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which do not exist in major democracies.
Even journalists who report about the human conditions during lockdown are also bullied, harassed and put behind bars without justifiable reasons.
The Government has hastily implemented the domicile law that was earlier enjoyed by people of J&K under Article 35 (A) of the Constitution of India. The change in domicile law is seen as an attempt to change demography of Kashmir to fulfil the wishes of Hindu right-wing groups who have openly been demanding such a change in composition of population for electoral advantage.
The Delimitation Commission has accordingly been constituted to redraw electoral constituencies to give Hindu majority Jammu more seats in Assembly. An attempt is thus made to pave the way for Israeli Model of occupation and colonisation of West Bank in Kashmir, which, in effect, will disempower and dispossess the local Kashmiri Muslims, thus allowing hegemonic control through new settlers.
During the prolonged lockdown, human sufferings have increased so much that a significant proportion of people are reportedly suffering from various mental diseases like depression, and their abilities to take a sound decision on personal matters is constrained.
Moreover, J&K is unable to cope with the coronavirus pandemic due to lack of healthcare facilities. This is particularly so in Kashmir Valley, where people are infected in larger number, compared to other regions. Those infected could easily spread the virous among others due to inadequate healthcare infrastructure.
The Supreme Court, too, has not acted fast enough to provide legal relief to the petitioners from Kashmir, as the Union government has pleaded that J&K be treated as ‘war zone’ for perpetual denial of ‘internet’ facilities and access to digital platforms, without which businesses like economic trade, banking and financial transactions cannot be operationalised. Students can neither access web-based study materials nor can they submit online applications for different purposes. All of this conveys a message of hate or lack of concern for the welfare of people in Kashmir region.
In such a situation when executive body of the Union government is strong to take certain decisions that adversely affects the Constitutional rights of people, and the apex court does not deliver prompt justice, it erodes faith in the justice system. People believe in the proverbial saying that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. Equals ought to be treated equally under the law, and what we preach must be practised, too, in a visible manner.
Towards an acceptable citizen-centric approach to peace
Had there been an acceptable policy to treat all the citizens equally in every matters, including access to digital platforms and internet infrastructure, as the Constitution of India mandates, alienation among youth and the general feeling of victimhood could have been contained.
Economy is in disarray, which cannot be reconstructed and put on track without uninterrupted access to information and communication technologies that should be compatible with the rest of the country and the world. In the era of worldwide use of fourth generation technologies like Artificial Intelligence, people of J&K cannot be denied the opportunity to shape their destinies.
A few youth angered by excessive use of brutal force and maltreatments, mainly at the hands of officials and security forces, come closer to separatists' ideology. The use of brutal force and human rights violations alienate them further, particularly when even the J&K top leadership is selectively detained under draconian laws. It distances people from mainstream socioeconomic activities. Will it help in building a cohesive society?
The way forward
India’s vibrant democracy is dented due to misuse of powers to lock up political opponents who have not committed any crime. Without the release of all the detainees, it may not be possible to initiate political processes for upholding democratic principles and for establishing rule of law. The government must, therefore, release all the detainees who are under house arrest.
Peace and normalcy in J&K is closely related to political dispute between India, China and Pakistan, which occupy, in parts, erstwhile state of J&K. Border disputes among these neighbours have dragged them into armed wars and they continue to engage in proxy wars, resulting in heavy militarisation of the region, cross-border firings, militancy and insurgency.
It is urgent, therefore, to initiate a tripartite dialogue process with Pakistan and China to resolve all the contentious issues to ensure sustainable peace and development in the region. In effect, international borders may have to be clearly defined and demarcated, as LoC and LAC are not the internationally accepted borders between these three nuclear nations.
There is no reason why Modi government, having absolute political mandate and authority, should not engage the neighbours to resolve the contentious issues. The costs of ignoring this issue would be immense as the collusive threat of Pakistan and China, as we face today, would lead to huge purchases of defence equipment from abroad, which, in turn, will erode the already deficient government finances required for poverty alleviation and human capital formation, through education and healthcare.
The countries which promote cordial relations and encourage people-to-people contacts for promoting cultural relations and engage in trade and business, improve economic opportunities. The chances of indulging in unfriendly activities such as cross-border terrorism by non-state actors get minimised. Terror activities across the boarders can thus be managed through mutual understanding and cooperation between India, China and Pakistan. Peace in the region is sine qua non for sustainable development, and for India to tread on the path of becoming a superpower.
Finally, with a view to promoting an effective democratic governance, ideological differences between the leadership of major national parties vis-à-vis the political leaders of J&K, must be reconciled on the basis of secular credentials that promotes unity and ensures sustainable peace and development. Since India is a diverse and plural society, any attempt to polarise the society for electoral advantage, as has been done in J&K, would tarnish the national ethos of democratic culture and destabilise the country that should be resisted.
Ansari is former central information commissioner and interlocutor on J&K and UGC member.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK.