[ Tongam Rina ]
On 3 August, Amarnath Yatra, the pilgrimage to the Hindu shrine located some 140 kilometres from Srinagar in Jammu & Kashmir, was called off with the government citing possible terror attack along the pilgrimage route. Tourists were asked to leave the state, as well.
The pilgrimage was supposed to close on 15 August.
Strikingly, there was no advisory for Kashmiri residents. As events unfolded in the parliament, stunning the country, two former chief ministers of Jammu & Kashmir, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, were put under house arrest in Srinagar as a preventive measure. A day later, they were arrested.
We don’t know as yet what has happened to them and the people of Kashmir because there is no way of knowing what is happening inside Jammu & Kashmir other than the propaganda videos being circulated by the state-owned Doordarshan showing BJP workers dancing in Leh at the announcement of Ladakh as a union territory without a legislature.
In a matter of few hours on Monday, the Indian parliament stripped Jammu & Kashmir of its special status, taking away the very identity and core of Kashmir.
True democracy is about debate and discussion, about consensus. There was none in this case as the BJP has the absolute number. As if the shocking deprivation of the rights of the Kashmiris granted under the constitution was not enough, the Centre bifurcated the state into two union territories – Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh.
India has seen many insulting violations of the constitution, including Indira Gandhi’s 1975 declaration of emergency after eight decades of democracy, but what the Indian parliament did on 5 August is incomparable.
Before the BJP government decided the fate of the Kashmiris, it locked down the entire state and called in additional armed security personnel numbering around 38000. Kashmir is one of the most militarized zones in the world.
The decision on Kashmir was taken as it remains under the governor’s rule, depriving the people and their representatives of having a say. There is no way of knowing what is happening inside Jammu & Kashmir because the Indian state has suspended internet connectivity in the region. Jammu & Kashmir is used to suspension of internet services, but the scared government of India went a step ahead this time, locking up every possible source of connectivity, including landlines.
The world has no idea as yet what is happening inside the state, but one thing is for sure: the Kashmiris have seen violence – both Indian state-sponsored as well as by Kashmiri militant groups seeking freedom from India – in the last 30 years, and they will knock every possible door and window to retain their Kashmiri identity. That is the only hope left in the country governed by the BJP – a party that believes in one nation, one identity, one law and, perhaps, one religion.
What happened with Kashmir is a lesson for other states of the country that have exclusive privileges and rights granted by the constitution. The people of the Northeast should prepare themselves, as the BJP has amply shown in the last five years that it does not believe in diversity and anyone questioning or disrespecting its one ‘nation, one identity’ theory will be effectively crushed.
Unlike other parts of the region, Arunachal does not have specific rights as such, other than the Bengal Frontier Eastern Regulation (BEFR), 1873, that gives specific rights to the tribals with regard to land ownership. Though Arunachal is already losing its land rights in the name of development, it is about time the state thought of ways and means to ensure that the BEFR is retained, unless the natives of the state are ready to lose their land and identity.
In Kashmir, Article 35 (A) was a definitive act that had defined land ownership, barring outsiders from owning land. That has been taken away from the Kashmiris.
Article 370 ensured a separate constitution and restriction on the Centre’s interference, other than in defence, external affairs and communication. By scrapping the very articles that ensured the identity of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, the BJP government has betrayed the people of Jammu & Kashmir and has sent a warning across the country that it believes in one nation, one identity.
A government that has no respect for the constitution, its citizens, and the nation’s unique diversity cannot be trusted. On Monday, when the Kashmiris were stripped of their rights, they had no way of knowing what awaited them. Democracy was shamed on Monday, and the BJP government reduced it to an absolute sham.
The latest misadventure of the BJP government will come at a cost. Jammu & Kashmir became an Indian state with the signing of the instrument of accession in October 1947 by King Hari Singh. That very instrument was officially destroyed on Monday, making Jammu & Kashmir the Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir.
[ Tongam Rina ]