Kashmir has been under complete communications blackout for more than two months, since the BJP’s abrogation of the Article 370 on August 5, 2019. The situation is turning grimmer each day for Kashmiris, with mass arrests, including those of juveniles, torture, house-arrest, and sexual harassment. Kashif Mansoor from The Companion talks to Shafat Maqbool, a research scholar from Kashmir, on the Kashmir lockdown and its impact, Article 370 and government’s agenda, and the future of Kashmir. Below are the excerpts from the conversation.
1. Since the lockdown, have you ever been able to talk to your family and friends from Kashmir? What does ‘lockdown’ mean to you or a Kashmiri inside and a Kashmiri outside Kashmir?
Not just me, nobody was able to contact the family and friends in Kashmir. Before the parliament session could start on August 05, the Government of India ensured that Kashmir returns to dark ages and that nobody is able to communicate with each other. My case is no special. Weeks later, when some landlines began to function, I was able to talk to my family for less than a minute, only to know that my maternal uncle has lost his battle to Osteosarcoma. They added a word that my maternal cousin has also passed away. Lockdown is not a proper word to describe the situation; this is a curse, a humiliation, which a civilized society can never think of. I did talk to them later on some landlines phones, but that was limited to a chat of a couple of minutes.
2. Is this lockdown the most severe or has there been such lockdowns in the past as well?
To my mind, any type of lockdown is uncivilised in a democracy. This differentiation of lockdown into a more severe and less severe one is an attempt to justify some curbs by making a comparison with the past. When you lockdown 8 million people like the cattle, snatch their freedom to movement, deny them the freedom to speak, jail their children, turn their schools and colleges into army barracks, and take away their access to communication services, what is less severe in it? The sad reality is that lockdowns and curfews have been the standard protocol of the Indian state to curb the dissenting voices in Kashmir. It has happened all through our history and it does not appear to end by 2019. The problem is that the Indian mindset does not accommodate a right to free and fair democracy for Kashmir. Delhi wants clients in Kashmir, and this is only possible by muzzling democratic processes. So it hardly makes sense to differentiate lockdowns.
3. How will you describe the present situation in Kashmir? An undeclared emergency or normalcy?
Your question actually flows from your experience wherein you have either seen normalcy or an undeclared or declared emergency in India. The situation is beyond this dichotomy We are living in most densely militarized land with two nuclear powers firing shells against each other every night. Our cities are filled with bunkers with guns pointing at every passerby. Additional 80,000 forces have landed in Kashmir this year. This cannot be called an undeclared emergency; it is a state of perpetual war. After August 05, the situation has only worsened. There are fears that it may snowball into violence or a conventional war or something more dangerous than this. Under these fears, we live a life far beyond a normalcy. It is absolutely not normal to have communications down, politicians jailed, young people tortured and businesses collapsed. The problem with the term normalcy in Delhi is that it is supposed to mean that the cars are moving on the roads, employing are joining their offices and a few shops are opened. This cannot be so.
4. Removal of Article 370 is said to be a historic action and for the betterment of the people in the state. Mr. Modi has also said that the abrogation of 370 will bring development to the state? What is your response?
What is historical in it? It is plainly a move wherein a state is furthering it agenda at the best of its power. In a democratic society, such moves can never be appreciated, leave alone be historic. And then they are bringing in a development narrative. That is a tragedy. Kashmir has been a political problem from its genesis; it was never about economic crisis or underdevelopment. Economically, kashmir is far better than many Indian states including those run by Mr. Modi’s BJP. Indian public is being misled when they are told that article 370 or 35A were barriers to corporate investment in Kashmir. The fact remains that the 1927 Hereditary State Subject act had clause 4 for corporate investing in J&K. The government would give land to corporate on lease for 90 years for business. The private sector was allowed to do business in Kashmir. Oberoi Group, Birla, Hindustan Machine Tools were having big businesses in Kashmir. Furthermore, this must be known that Kashmir economy is an export economy, it is not dependent on central assistance. People are being misled when they are told that article 370 was revoked for development; it was the BJP’s agenda of cultural integration of Kashmir. How can the people get swayed by a narrative which makes them believe that downgrading states to union territories can set a pace for development? When did political disempowerment create a wonderful economy? People should know that only the political resolution of Kashmir will open the region for development. Any policy minus political engagement will only lead to more embarrassments and failures.
5. How would Kashmir, according to you, look like if India and Pakistan withdraw their claims over the territory and it is given plebiscite?
Kashmir would look like a democracy where people would be treated like humans. As you have used the term, you need to know its history. It dates back to the time of partition when the 565 princely states were supposed to determine their political fate. Under the partition plan provided by the Indian Independence Act, Kashmir was given the options to become independent or accede to India or Pakistan. . It was India which took the issue to United Nation and signed the resolutions along with Pakistan to hold plebiscite in Kashmir. This promise was repeated by Pandit Nehru in the Indian Parliament and at the City Center of Lal Chowk in Srinagar. Plebiscite never took place If India and Pakistan honour the plebiscite promise, it is for their own moral good. This point is that plebiscite is a democratic way of deciding the political fate, the day this happens democracy will be born in Kashmir.
6. Some political analysts and constitutional experts have questioned the legality of the BJP’s abrogation of article 370. What are the loopholes in this?
On article 370, there are two views in Kashmir. One view is held by those who believe that Kashmir is an internationally recognised dispute. India calls them separatists, they call themselves freedom fighters. They do not believe in the constitution of India, and therefore the constitutionality of the decision does not matter to them. Yes, they are bothered about 35A which they fear will induce demographic change, but they may not approach courts for that. The other view is held by those who believed in the accession theory arguing that Kashmir retains limited autonomy based on the article 370. These people believed in the constitution of India. Today, they feel that the constitution has been breached and they are correct on that.
Firstly, it was not the Indian state that wanted the article 370; it was those who acceded to India who wanted it. It could never go without their consent.
Secondly, the replacement of constituent assembly cannot be unilaterally determined by the President, if that is the case then it is absurd to have such an agreement that can be revoked by a single party.
Third, does the governor have a mandate equal to that of a constituent assembly when he is simply a president’s nominee? Also, when it is said that this article was temporary, what does that mean? Was it temporary because it could have been revoked any time soon, or does its temporary nature depend on the historical context of the dispute which by then was to be resolved as per the UNSC resolutions. These are the constitutional questions and they have a merit. But, the way, going by the history of court decisions on the matters about Kashmir in the past, it is difficult to pin hope in courts. These days national interest runs supreme to rights and privileges.
4. What does revoking of article 370 through some play on constitutional loopholes mean for any future/past agreements with the Indian state?
The revocation of article 370 has returned Kashmir to the debates of the era when this constitutional provision came into existence. It came into being because Kashmiris did not want to integrate with India like the other states. Indian state have adopted different measures to manage the J and K. It employed both military and civil routes to do so. Today, it appears that India has adopted yet another coercive method to integrate the Kashmir. But forced marriages live shorter, they create more trouble. The way constitution of India was abused in this case can surely open a window for other Indian states as well. But that is of little concern to Kashmiris.
5. There are many Kashmiri students in different parts of the country who undergo difficulties due to the removal of Article 370 (Not able to know the status of their family, Low on finance even for their basic needs, etc.) Shouldn’t the government take up the responsibility of these students? Is the government being questioned about this state of the students? Do you think the government will take any action on this?
Why should government be concerned about a handful of students when it does not bother about millions of their family members in Kashmir? The reports emerging from the international press have shown a very grim situation in Kashmir. That is terrible. How can students in the colleges and universities live a normal life when they hear that 13,000 people have been detained back home, and they have no way to know who and who have been detained. How can students have a peace of mind when reports of brutal torture, images of public protests and visuals of pain are coming out of their homeland? The government is not concerned about this. Ironically, they are not even questioned by the vast majority of Indian public.
6. What is going on in Kashmiris’ minds regarding India? Is there any chance that people may accept integration into India?
The Kashmiri mind thinks that if India couldn’t trust its loyal people in Kashmir, how it can trust those who have a different voice. There is absolutely no trust among Kashmiris as of now. The sense of betrayal is deep and people feel that they have been stabbed once more. There is a feeling of humiliation among Kashmiris. Yes, there is a happiness that India has jailed the corrupt politicians, corrupt not just by money, but by principles. Yes, there is a widespread anger in the people. Today, it is hard to find a rational voice among Kashmiris who can stand by India. The sentiment for resolution of Kashmir dispute is all time high. India has even lost its own constituency by jailing them under draconian public safety act.
7. Will this total suppression bring people to their knees and make them accept total integration into India without any autonomy?
This is the 21st century when people are not ready to live as slaves. You cannot force politics upon people, it has to happen democratically. No suppression can create democratic societies and therefore not peace. Not just the people of Kashmir, it would be difficult for any sane mind to conceive any acceptable integration with India at this point of time. As I said earlier, forced marriage do not live longer and do not bring peace of the mind. That is how human society functions. India has been hurting the collective conscience of Kashmiris.
8. What does Pakistan’s voicing the issue of Kashmir internationally mean to Kashmiris?
Pakistan has taken the Kashmir issue to international platforms, and Kashmiris are content with that. They believe that he has highlighted the plight of Kashmiris. The Hindu reported that 23 protests were held in 24 hours after his speech wherein Imran Khan was praised. Today, when Kashmir has made international headlines and very sharp editorials have appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Global Times, etc, and the world leaders have spoken about Kashmir, and yet the Prime Minister of India did not speak a word about Kashmir in his UN General Assembly Speech, it automatically makes Pakistan Prime Minister big for Kashmiris. Pakistan has earned a sense of belonging by speaking on this humanitarian crisis.
9. What do you think the pro-India politicians would do when the restrictions on them are lifted?
Pro-India Politicians in Kashmir are not predictable. The history has seen Shiekh Abdullah being jailed for 23 years and later he accepted the Chief Minister’s chair for him against the position of Prime Minister. He has been the towering leader among pro Indians leaders. His son and grandson can accept the Lieutenant Governor as their head and work under him. Mufti Syed was snubbed by Narendra Modi in his Jammu Speech, yet his daughter joined BJP after his demise. It is very probable that pro-India politicians will continue to work with India state, no matter how small they become. It is very improbable for them to challenge the existing order when they are in power on the Indian side. The people like Shah Faesal may have some alternative thoughts. Faesal has said that he cannot be constitutionalist but a resolutionlist, though he has approached the court on article 370. The answer to this question is not very certain.
10. It seems that the people of Laddakh welcome the 370 abrogation. What is your take on this?
This is not absolutely correct. The people of Ladakh have sensed the demographic challenges and even the BJP MP, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal has expressed the concerns in the public domain. This BJP leader is also not comfortable with the revocation of residency rules. The Muslims of Kargil were among the first to protest against the abrogation of article 370. The BBC covered that protest. Revocation of article 370 has also created anxieties in Jammu. Some people of Jammu wanted a state separate from Kashmir and a state of their own. They have been denied both. They wanted security of land rights, but that has been snatched. Since, Kashmir is not a favourable destination for outsiders due to security issues, the people in Jammu fear that outsiders may come to Jammu only. The flexibility to open government jobs for outsiders is also a matter of concern for Jammu where joblessness has always been a serious issue. Jammu University students have expressed their concerns on job loss. They have asked for special provisions to save jobs and land.
11. Different communities in Kashmir have different opinions and perspectives about the fate of Kashmir? How should we then reconcile this? How does Kashmiri movement see this?
When there are differences among people, the best way to solve them is to talk to each other in a meaningful way. Dialogue is the solution for all issues. The people of Kashmir have never been averse to talks among each other. The Kashmiri leadership has always advocated talks as a means of conflict resolution, both internal and external. I believe that if the table settles, the differences will be resolved in an amicable manner. Table has to settle for meaningful talks. At the student level, I can tell you that there is a sense of unity in Kashmir when it comes to protection of land, culture and religion.
12. How do you see the future of Kashmir?
The future of Kashmir appears bleak. The latest constitutional move by the BJP government has only added to the existing anxieties. There are fears of demographic change and war between two nuclear powers. People are concerned about the fact that things are not moving in a direction towards a peaceful resolution of Kashmir dispute. We hope that India and Pakistan will realise the crisis and ensure that no more blood is spilled. The people of Kashmir have never accepted any rule repugnant to their will, and this is not going to change.