[ Abhishek Kabra ]
India has always kept nation above all. Nation above religion, nation above money, nation above political ideologies – but not a long time has elapsed since we saw examples of keeping the nation above its people, nation above democracy, nation above humanity and nation above fundamental rights to the most important constituent of the nation: – the people of India.
The abrogation of Article 370 along with the bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir into two union territories is not merely an assault on the unique place that Jammu & Kashmir enjoys in India but a surgical strike on the Indian constitution itself, violating the very principles on the basis on which the accession of Jammu & Kashmir was made to India.
When the entire nation is discussing and holding debates on the abrogation of Article 370, a part of this country, Kashmir, is silent, subjected to mass deployment of troops, facing a communication blockade, an endless ‘undeclared curfew’, with its leaders locked and voices curbed. The government has been defending itself on the ground that the night is darkest before the dawn, which in turn is normalizing hatred, dominance, an authoritative regime, violence and bloodshed – everything that can make the world’s largest democracy devoid of democratic values.
Any longtime observer of the events unfolding in Kashmir would admit that there was not much left of the nominal autonomy granted under Article 370 — the thread which connected Jammu & Kashmir to the rest of India.
Interpreted by many as the beginning of an overt settler-colonial project, the loss of this modicum of territorial sovereignty poses an existential threat to the people of Kashmir. Preventing outsiders from establishing a land market in Kashmir or maintaining their own land in an inalienable way is a principle with historical depth and significance in the region, deeply woven in with idioms of sovereignty and environmental stewardship in ways that extend beyond the religious and demographic polarizations that discard or jettison the present political conversations around Kashmir.
A large section of the people of Jammu was rejoiced at the decision and began to think that this revocation would bring to them higher levels of economic opportunities and employment. How does one, then, rationalize the fact that other states, which weren’t conferred with any such special status, face higher levels of poverty, unemployment and vulnerable employment, and worse levels of human development? A deeper analysis reveals that the issue is possibly more than simple economic reasoning.
Thus, the abrogation of Article 370 is not only an assault on the sanctity of a constitution which was brought in to give legal expression to Jammu & Kashmir’s accession to India in October 1947 but has also driven a stake into the federal structure of the Indian polity by simply abolishing a state of the Indian union through a central dictate.
India is a union of states. Each of the states has their own language and literature, culture, traditions and beliefs. India is an example of heterogeneous unity which the world proudly refers to as India’s ‘unity in diversity’. The diversified elements are not merely about culture or language but also about history, year of statehood, inclusion and accession, the political scenario, as well as the views of the people or the degree of trust they have rendered upon the Indian state. The point that is to be discussed here is: has the state been able to fulfill the expectations of the masses, which again are diverse, or if it has just questioned the ‘Indian-ism’ of the people, whose expectations the state could not meet. For a Kashmiri, the definition of development would be much different than for a businessperson from Gujarat. But this forceful homogeneity in the name of integrity of the country is somewhere becoming an obstacle in the path of real development. The people of Kashmir encourage development, but if the ruling class, which comprises the ruling party or certain crony capitalists, violates the sanctity of the trust the people have shown by accessing themselves to India, the sensitivity of the masses could lead to mass outrage and give birth to a revolution to fight for identity, to fight for themselves.
And in the course of this struggle, the people who lead the masses become their leaders, their voice. At the initial phase, the voice rises in the form of requests, leading to discussions, to dissents, to struggle for representation, and at the end, when the people fail again and again and their voices, rather than being heard, are curbed, we fail as a democratic nation. And failures, they say, are the pillars of success. But success, in Kashmir’s case, has been defined in unison by the entire nation, except the people of Kashmir, even though the United Nations promised of a plebiscite. And the mainstream definition of success, which has basically been confined to an abstract concept of integrity, can never be a success for the people of Kashmir or for the nation as a whole, which celebrates the entire process of making a part of the country deprived of human rights and constitutional provisions and clutching their autonomy by curbing their sounds which were already made silent years ago with frequent curfews, antinational tags, change in the nature of their identification, unwanted possessions and allocation of troops in name of national security, followed by their atrocities that went unnoticed and the counter practices of the people which became the element of media highlights.
“Jammu Kashmir is an integral part of India.” If it is mentioned again and again in every gathering, in every political rally, in every speech since the abrogation of Article 370, the repetition of the same integration, including such separate mentions for J&K, would never unite but further segregate it from the country, if not geographically, for sure from the minds of the masses of the country.
Not much reporting on the issue has been done from the Kashmiris’ point of view, but from the little that has been spoken by a fact-finding team of four women who visited the valley, it has been mentioned that the shops, hotels, colleges, schools and institutes were closed, streets were deserted, words like “We have been caged” are heard, the boys detained, many beaten up by the troops, an environment of constant torture and widespread violence characterized the situation that followed the abrogation.
The implication of such inhuman behaviour with the masses and shutting down their voices, nobody knows whether permanent or temporary, on the Indian democracy is not merely about violating the democratic values but a painful realization that the majority of the nation is celebrating the democratic death of another part of the nation.
India is the largest democracy of the world and the first non-western country to be democratic and accept the government of, by and for its people. This democracy has been given to us by the largest written constitution of the world, ie, the constitution of India. But such random violation of constitutional provisions, leading to a situation of democratic coup, is not merely lessening India’s democratic status in the comity of nations but also making the people of India question the existence of free speech, fundamental rights, federal structure and the constitutional provisions, and most importantly, the initial words in the preamble of the constitution, where we consider us a sovereign secular socialist democratic republic.
However, Ladakh has got the status of a union territory which, for the Ladakhis, is a matter of institutionalizing their identity as they were the ones who had to face questions if they are from China or Nepal or the Northeast. But the decision to make Ladakh a union territory without legislature has also confused the people about the authoritative regime that may be imposed on them. And the decision came after sending additional troops, asking pilgrims of Amarnath Yatra to turn back – anyone who was not from Kashmir was asked to return. Had the threat of a terrorist attack been real, why did not the government ask the Kashmiris to evacuate, as well? It becomes a matter of utter confusion why the government cares so deeply about a union territory with a mere 3 lakh people, in all honesty, when it can play a completely opposite role for the people of another union territory, newly created with violence over its people, more than twice in number than that of Ladakh?
Till then, let us hope for democracy to reestablish in the land and ensure, as the constitutional preamble entails, justice – social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. (Abhishek Kabra is an MA 1st semester student, Mass Communication Department, Tezpur University. He is one the finalist of The Arunachal Times media scholarship 2019-2020 in PG category .)
[ Abhishek Kabra ]