Kashmir, One Year Later
Twelve months since the Modi government announced the repeal of India’s Article 370, communications are still slow, arrests are routine, and the pandemic rages on.
It has been one year since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made good on a long-standing electoral promise and announced the repeal of Article 370 from the Indian Constitution, doing away with some of the autonomies that had previously been granted to Indian-administered Kashmir. Combined with a near-total blackout of communications and the deployment of tens of thousands of troops to the region, Kashmir seemed primed for chaos.
In the 12 months since, the region has remained on edge. Communications are still slow, arrests are routine, and now the coronavirus pandemic threatens to throw Kashmir, and India, into an even deeper tailspin. To explain how India got here—and what comes next—we gathered our top reads.
In the immediate aftermath of the repeal of Article 370, one of the biggest questions was the extent to which violence would follow. Presumably worried about that same issue, the Modi government sent in scores of troops and rushed to arrest nearly anyone it thought might make trouble. “According to an AFP report,” Kashmir Walla’s Yashraj Sharma wrote in September, “one district magistrate said that at least 4,000 people had recently been arrested and booked under the Public Safety Act, which allows government to detain any person above the age of 16 without a trial for two years.” As a result, he said, India had largely run out of prison space in the region.
Even if the arrests kept violence down in the short run, many experts argued, they would surely create more over time. Speaking to the reporter Soumya Shankar, one young Kashmiri pointed out that “once innocent boys are picked up and tortured on baseless suspicions, they join the militancy in reaction. Then they’re declared terrorists by the state and gunned down.” In a December article, the Kashmiri journalist Fahad Shah offered numbers to confirm that expectation: “In Kashmir, spending time in jail can strengthen a young person’s resolve to get revenge. Many of the jailed, who were never part of any protest, decide to join them when they are released. Others who are taken in for small crimes, such as throwing stones, become radicalized in jail. An internal analysis on militancy from the Indian Army found that 83 percent of local youth who had joined a militant organization had a ‘record of stone-pelting.’” The 2019 crackdown, he argued, “thus points to a further meltdown—be it next year, the one after, or the one after that.”
Another fear was that the repeal of Article 370, which had prevented non-Kashmiris from owning property in the region, would lead to demographic changes there along the same lines as the Han Chinese in Tibet. Writing in August 2019, New Delhi-based academic Idris Bhat noted the dangerous effects: “If their representation in government erodes, Kashmiri and Jammu Muslims would become even more vulnerable than they already are. Across India, Muslims are lynched for eating beef. They’re labeled as anti-India or pro-Pakistan. Such narratives serve the aim of Hindu nationalists like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who see India as a Hindu country and paint Muslims are outsiders.”
Beyond political power, Sharma worried about jobs in an area already suffering massive unemployment. “According to the state government’s Economic Survey 2016, unemployment for 18- to 29-year-olds in Jammu and Kashmir had reached 24.6 percent,” he wrote. Yet with the repeal of Article 370, “the central government also reorganized the competition for jobs in the civil service,” an important source of well-paid employment in the region. “Previously, nonlocals had been barred from these positions. But now the law that used to make that possible has been repealed. In turn, it is unclear whether local Kashmiris will have to compete with applicants from the rest of the country for these highly sought-after postings.”
Beyond the problems in Kashmir, Modi’s move created challenges for his own government—at home and abroad. The lockdown in Kashmir and a Modi-backed citizenship law that was seen a discriminatory toward Muslims sparked nationwide protests. “While there are Muslims among the protesters, the majority are non-Muslims, including many who do not usually take part in political protests,” explained National University of Singapore’s Ronojoy Sen, writing in January on the unprecedented marches. “This is by far the largest pan-Indian protest that the Modi government, more than six months into its second term, has faced.”
In the region, Pakistan was also quick to condemn the Modi government. An ensuing escalation in Indian-Pakistani tensions, reported the journalists Muddasir Ali and Majid Maqbool from villages along the Line of Control that separates the two countries “forced the residents of Mothal, like those in many other villages, to flee their homes. The families have since returned, but the temporary migration has come at a cost.” Meanwhile, in an interview with Foreign Policy editor in chief Jonathan Tepperman, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed that “we’re not close to conflict right now, but it’s important that the United Nations act, that the U.S. act.”
But it wasn’t only Pakistan that rushed to take advantage of Modi’s move in Kashmir. As the public policy writer Anik Joshi pointed out this June, it also handed China an opportunity to distract from criticism of its own treatment of Muslims. “Adopting Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir and Article 370,” he wrote, “is a cynical way to address these anti-Muslim claims, allowing China to, to an extent, deflect from its domestic misdeeds.” Over the summer, Chinese-Indian relations reached a low point, spilling over into violence along a disputed section of the two countries’ shared border.
On the anniversary of the repeal of Article 370, things don’t look much better for India or Kashmir. Internet access in the area is still slow, which, according to Ali, is hampering the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Indian government will not restore the high-speed internet despite the pressing need for the population to stay informed about the coronavirus pandemic,” he wrote in April. Meanwhile, “the region is also grappling with a shortage of doctors. There is one doctor for every 3,866 people in the region, according to a 2018 report by the Jammu and Kashmir health ministry. That ratio falls short of the WHO norm (one doctor per 1,000 people) and India’s nationwide average (one doctor per 2,000 people).” To date, Jammu and Kashmir have seen over 22,000 confirmed cases.
In short, “the past year,” wrote the journalists Adil Amin Akhoon and Sharafat Ali this month,
“has only brought more violence and uncertainty. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, when many conflicts have been on hold amid the United Nations’ call for a global cease-fire, New Delhi has intensified military operations in the region.” That renewed violence, “has left scores homeless, a double tragedy for families trying to protect themselves from COVID-19.”