By Fatima Zahid
On Monday, the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, decided to revoke the special constitutional status of Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK) through a rushed presidential order.
The special constitutional order which makes up Article 370 of India’s constitution, permits special rights to permanent residents of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
These rights that have preceded India’s independence from British rule. Amit Shah, Modi’s home minister, stated that these rights were always meant to be “temporary” and that the government had always held the discretion to abolish them eventually.
The constitutional provision does not allow Indians from outside the region of IoK to buy land or permanently settle into the Muslim-majority territory.
There has been much debate regarding the consequences of revoking the special-status of IoK with many stating that this is a strategic move by Modi’s government to change the demographic of the Muslim-majority by allowing an influx of new Hindu residents into the area.
Furthermore, to avoid any civilian unrest that could eventually turn into an unwanted law and order scenario, the government has stationed heavy security personnel all around the region, with a reported 8,000 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) currently present in IoK from different parts of the country. The Indian army and air force have also been placed on high alert following the controversial decision.
Many have questioned the legitimacy of this decision. While Article 370 (3) of the Indian constitution does permit the revocation of the law by presidential order, it also sets forth the condition that it must be introduced before the Constituent Assembly of the State. Since the Constituent Assembly was dissolved in 1957, many experts have conflicting views on the validity of a legitimate abrogation of the law. Some believe that this step needs the approval of state lawmakers, while others argue that a presidential order alone should suffice, which makes the matter all the more controversial.
This decision has invoked an outburst of reactions among people across India and Pakistan alike. When union home minister Amit Shah announced the proposal in Rajya Sabha (the Council of States in the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of India), a massive outburst of chaos was witnessed from members of the opposition. The adverse reaction was also expressed on social media.
Among prominent voices on the matter, the former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is currently under house arrest, voiced her objection on the decision. She took to Twitter to state, “Today marks the darkest day in democracy…unilateral decision of GOI to scrap Article 370 is illegal and unconstitutional which will make India an occupational force in J&K.”
Mehbooba Mufti went on to criticize the government for its “sinister” strategy and intention, stating that its main motive was to change the majority-Muslim demographic in the region in order to disempower Muslims, while making them “second class citizens in their own state.”
Furthermore, Vice-president of National Conference and former Chief Minister of Jammu Kashmir, Omar Abdullah also voiced his concern and regret over the decision. He released a statement on Twitter which read “(GOI)’s unilateral and shocking decisions today are a total betrayal of the trust and that the people of Jammu & Kashmir had reposed in India when the State acceded to it in 1947.”
However, supporters of this decision, majority of who are BJP members, hailed the move towards an outside Indian presence being allowed to invade the lands and rights of IoK citizens by posting celebratory comments on social media. These mixed reactions expose the highly polarized political climate in India which has currently been further aggravated by the government’s questionable decision on IoK.
BJP’s National General Secretary, Ram Madhav, also took to Twitter to express his enthusiasm over the decision. He exclaimed, “What a glorious day” while also stating that the martyrdom of many for the cause of “complete integration of J&K into Indian Union” was finally being brought to fruition.
Furthermore, the response from prominent Pakistani figures has also been expressed in terms of extreme frustration and regret regarding the matter. The Chairman of PPP, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari claimed that the “extremist” Indian government’s intentions were clear and that there was an immediate need to call a Joint session of Parliament in the wake of the “atrocities” that were being committed in the IoK region.
Shireen Mazari, the Minister of Human Rights of Pakistan, also announced that she had formally sent a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the use of cluster bombs in the areas of Neelum Valley and Azad Jammu & Kashmir across the Line of Control (LoC). Shireen Mazari stated that this issue was of grave importance as the use of indiscriminate weapons against citizens in Neelum Valley and AJK was a violation of customary international law as well as a violation of India’s international treaty obligations.
The response of the Pakistani public has also been immense, with thousands taking to platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to express their disappointment at the treatment of the Muslim-majority at the hands of the Indian government during this turbulent time. Scores took to Instagram to change their display pictures to a plain red background, accompanied by the hashtag, “#KashmirBleeds”. Many young voices are currently sharing crucial information from news sources on their profiles in an attempt to raise awareness and dialogue regarding the current situation and turmoil in IoK, with #StandwithKashmir currently trending on Twitter in Pakistan right now.
On Sunday night, the Indian government went ahead with the decision and imposed restrictions of a curfew-like nature in the region. Communications were cut along with cuts in all private mobile networks, internet services, and telephone landlines. An Indian government order read that during this period, there would be no allowance to hold any sort of public meetings or rallies. Furthermore, no movement of the public would be permitted. However, the government order refused to acknowledge the curfew that was being imposed against the will of the citizens by stating that there was currently “no curfew” in place. The current restriction on all forms of activity continues to curtail the rights of IoK citizens while subjecting them to extreme turmoil and conflict.