We bring to you Shehjar's 100th issue, as we close in on the year 2020. Shehjar's first issue was in August of 2007; So it has been a long journey and in all these years, a lot of water has flown under Srinagar's bridges. While many momentous events have taken place in Kashmir since 2007, complete defanging of Article 370 by the BJP led government may turn out to me the most impactful. It is not that a new territory has been added into India, for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have been a part of India since independence. It is just that the integration has now been made seamless and separate provisions for these parts of India within the Constitution of India have been removed.
Reactions to this decision have been strong. Pakistan has employed all its resources to create an anti-India campaign around this decision. People from the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir in most part have supported or opposed the decision along religious and ethnic lines. Kashmiri Muslims, especially valley-based Sunni Muslims fear dilution of their identity and are mightily upset that integration is being forced on them. Many Shia Muslims and Muslims belonging to Gujjar and Bakarwal tribes and those living in the Jammu region would rather wait and watch and have mostly been reserved in their opposition or support. Hindus and other minorities across the state are wholeheartedly supporting seamless integration of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh into the Indian mainstream.
The reasons that have been put forward in favor of removal of Article 370 are:
Article 370 caused no real separation from India but it confused millennials and especially the youngsters born in recent years about their identity. Even as they would study in other parts of India or travel abroad on an Indian Passport, they remained conflicted about how to be identified. So many Sunni Muslim Kashmiris started to associate with an Arab-Islamic or even Pan-Global Islamic identity and ideology. This is at odds with the "idea of India," which sees India as a unique melting pot of religions, cultures and ethnicities. This identity crisis increasingly became a cause for insecurity, dissatisfaction and conflict. No matter what sops the Indian government would provide in order to appease the youth, inimical countries were able to tap into this insecurity about identity to promote self-destructive violence.
There had been a hegemony of some; rulers being of one religion and invariably from a small part of the Jammu and Kashmir state - the valley of Kashmir. As Article 370 has been removed, Ladakh as well as Jammu and Kashmir have been made separate Union Territories. This will provide stronger local governance and end domination of one group over others.
As times change, needs of citizens and people change. Governments therefore upgrade and update laws, remove antiquated provisions and bring in new laws. It was hard to do this for the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh earlier, due to provisions of the Article 370. Laws intended for the benefit of certain minorities, various underprivileged classes and women made effective in the rest of India remained out of commission in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. That would no longer be the case. As an example, women who marry people from outside of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh would no longer lose their ability to buy property and conduct business in these parts. As another example, Muslim women would now be protected from arbitrary and summary divorces which only required a man to utter the word Talaq three times.
Large investments, especially those in infrastructure, manufacturing and modern service industries require legal and executive protections. Article 370 created barriers for investors because they could not acquire land and create infrastructure even for high-employment generation industries. The earlier legal framework created impossible challenges rather than make it easy to attract investment.
The new opposition is mainly from people who fear of loss of identity. There is also opposition, which is continuing, from separatists who want nothing to do with India. There are those among them who want a separate country and others who want merger with Pakistan based on religious affinity. The terrorists who push their narrative through guns, bombings and violence need to be stopped in their tracks using the large security apparatus available to the government of India. At the same time, the Indian government and India's people will need to create a way forward with the larger population; through constructive engagement instead of unbridled violence, and without demonization of the average Kashmiri for his or her aspirations.
So far, the government of India has been able to ensure a strong defense to Pakistan's diplomatic offensive. The government has also been able to maintain law and order with barely any loss of life or privilege for the average Kashmiri. Disturbed by this, some separatist terrorists - aided and abetted by agencies and countries inimical to India - have been the cause of almost all the recent violence and killings; that too against defenseless civilians. The key from now will be in how India is able to continually walk the fine line; dealing forcefully with the terrorists while engaging constructively and wholeheartedly with everyone else, even if they hold opposing views.
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