BY: Keerat Singh
Keerat Singh is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service studying foreign service, business, and global affairs. She is currently an Assistant Editor for the Georgetown University Undergraduate Law Review.
Kashmir has historically been a region of contention between India, Pakistan, and China, dating back to when India and Pakistan became independent from British colonial rule in 1947. Although Kashmir technically refers to the Kashmir Valley, it has colloquially come to encompass the Indian-administered regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, the Pakistani-administered regions of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, and the Chinese-administered regions of Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract. This large region has been the subject of political skirmishes, protests, and wars between the three nations that control its different corners. Religious violence has also plagued the Kashmir Valley region in particular, as a result of clashes between the Muslim majority in Kashmir and the Hindu majority in India. Sadly, the violence in the Indian controlled part of Kashmir is worse than ever and likely to endure as key legal safeguards on Kashmir’s autonomy are eroded.
The reason the region of Jammu and Kashmir agreed to join India after the India-Pakistan partition in 1947 was based explicitly on the provisions of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which grant the region a special autonomous status. The article sets out special rules for the Kashmir region, exempting it from following the Indian constitution like other Indian states. Under Article 370, Kashmir is guaranteed its own constitution, its own flag, and sovereignty over all of its laws except those pertaining to finance, defense, foreign affairs, and communications. It also notably denies property rights in the Kashmir region to non-Kashmiris.
In 1954, Article 370 was supplemented by Article 35A, also part of the Indian constitution and known as the Permanent Residents Law. This law allows the local legislature in the Indian-administered region of Kashmir to define what qualifies permanent Kashmir residents. It also forbids any outsiders from residing in Kashmir, owning property, holding local government jobs, or winning Kashmiri education scholarships.
Since the creation of the Indian constitution, Article 370 had been heavily diluted through over 40 presidential orders by the Indian government which acted as amendments to the original article. On the other hand, Article 35A had remained fully intact.
This all changed on August 5, 2019, when the Interior Minister of India, Amit Shah, moved to revoke those two key constitutional provisions, in an effort to unite India under the Hindu nationalist message of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
The removal went into effect soon after this announcement. Fully aware of the backlash that it would have, the Indian government jailed many prominent Kashmiri political leaders, shut down communication everywhere in the region, cutting off access both within the country and to the rest of the world, and deployed thousands of Indian troops to curb protests. These conditions continued for months following the announcement, despite the Indian government’s denial of any unrest or instability.
In December of 2020, over a year later, the first sign of a return to normalcy appeared as Kashmiris voted in the first local elections since the revoking of their special status. With Kashmir now a federal territory ruled directly by India, the BJP made a major push to unite Kashmiris under their nationalist message and earn votes. However, many Kashmiri separatist parties united on a strong front as well, with many carrying anger towards the BJP over the events surrounding Article 370. The BJP has so far been quite successful, winning 74 seats in the 280-seat District Development Council, the elected local government of the Jammu and Kashmir territory.
Their claims of democracy and normalcy, however, have been less convincing. This is due to the many Kashmiri politicians and public figures still in detention or under threat, the hurried calling of the election, and the obvious BJP propaganda being paraded throughout the region.
Kashmir, although in a better state than last year, seems firmly under the grip of the Indian government and forever changed in the eyes of both Indian domestic law and international law. The state of normalcy that Kashmiris may now be seeking will look very different than the autonomy they are accustomed to and were once legally entitled to.
The Indian government’s perspective on the issue is clear: they believe Kashmir is a vital part of India that will benefit from being a part of the Indian democracy. They attribute the anti-India sentiment in Kashmir to outside forces such as the Pakistani government. Kashmiris, on the other hand, have a distinct identity connected to both Kashmir and Islam. Consequently, they want to govern themselves. Based on opinion polls, nearly 90 percent of Kashmiris feel this way, while the Hindu majority in Jammu and the large Buddhist population in Ladakh are generally content under Indian rule. Kashmir’s substantial Muslim population, which has faced centuries of injustice, will never be satisfied under the rule of a Hindu-majority country like India.
If India continues to assert its rule, Kashmir will continue to be ravaged by internal protests, instability, and discontent. It is the responsibility of international agencies like the UN to recognize the religious issue at play and demand Kashmir gain back its autonomy.
However, there might not be any organizations or countries willing to combat the largest democracy in the world. Therefore, as long as nationalist sentiment rages on in India, Kashmiris may be looking at their new normal.
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 Supra. See note 2.
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 Supra. See note 3.
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