by Kiran Hassan, Associate Fellow
By revoking article 370 on August 5th 2019, prime minister Narendra Modi kept his pre- election promise which held great appeal for his ideological support group the RSS, his Hindutva led political party the BJP and millions of pro-Modi Indians.
Modi’s slogan of one country one constitution, has been whole heartedly welcomed and his recent move to strip Kashmiris of their autonomy has seen little resistance from India’s political mainstream.
Modi’s move has been portrayed by most of India’s media, which offers Modi fawning support, as a triumphant success. Many BJP politicians are thumping their chests with joy over the diplomatic success with Pakistan. All this has happen when four million Kashmiri Muslims are subjected to one of the worst state clampdowns in recent history – an extremely oppressive clampdown while keeping the world in the dark.
This article will argue that the ground reality of the implementation of this constitutional manipulation may not be that simple and Modi government’s charlatan moves may push him and the Indian democracy onto an irreversibly backward course. Modi has bitten off more than he can chew. What are the long term implications of this gigantic political blunder? As the dust and excitement settle down, Modi government will have to address the following issues.
Kashmir after the curfew
Modi’s most immediate challenge will be to deal with protesting Kashmiris after the curfew’s removal. It is unlikely that the seven decade long Kashmiri struggle will magically and suddenly disappear after the unreliable promises offered by the Modi government of heavy compensation in the shape of lucrative businesses, development and jobs.
The truth is that successive Indian governments have lost credibility with the Kashmiri people, and with the revocation of this special status, the Kashmiri population has been pushed further onto extreme margins of the nation.
To explain the tension between the Kashmiris and the Indian governments let us look at the history of the Kashmir struggle
The Kashmir valley’s situation is often perceived and presented as a complex geo- strategic puzzle, but in fact it is quite straightforward. When India and Pakistan gained independence from the British in 1947, the Muslim majority in the princely state of Kashmiri did not want to be part of India. After a war between India and Pakistan in 1948, the Indian government agreed at the United Nations Security Council that it would hold a plebiscite, whereby Kashmiris will be given an opportunity to choose the country of their residence.
The plebiscite was never held and seven decades later, Kashmiris still have the same demand.
They refer to their movement for the right to self-determination as a “tehreek” which means struggle. For Kashmiris, India’s post-1947 claim to Kashmir is one more phase of occupation and colonization, premised on an instrument of accession that has never been confirmed and a promise of a plebiscite that has never been fulfilled.
While Kashmiris persisted with their demand, most Indian governments used military, policing and brute force to suppress it.
Indian military’s violence against the Kashmiri civilians escalated during the 1990s. It was the result of a draconian law called the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act which gave authority to Indian security forces to shoot civilians and allow lethal force to be used without much evidence. This law come into force on the 5th day of July, 1990. According to Amnesty International, almost 706 people were killed after extreme torture in the custody of the security forces in 1995.
Between 2015 and 2017, over 300 civilians have reportedly been killed, and it is believed that many unreported deaths have been kept under wraps by the Indian government. The recent tensions in the valley rose disproportionately after Burhan Wani, a 22-year old leader of the Hizbul Mujahidin, an armed group, was killed by Indian security forces during an armed clash on 8 July 2016. This triggered massive protests throughout the Kashmir Valley and led to many casualties. The continuous killings have only led to more youths joining the militants, often by snatching weapons from on-duty government forces. Many credit the popularity of militancy to Wani’s death, which has revived Kashmir’s resistance movement against India in the last two years. This current round of protests appears to involve more people than in the past, and the profile of protesters has also shifted to include more young, middle-class Kashmiris, including females who do not appear to have participated in the past.
Youth alienation has given rise to youth militancy over the past recent years. One such example was the suicide attack that killed more than 40 Indian soldiers in February 2019 by a young Kashmiri at Pulwama. The attack heightened recent tensions between the two nuclear neighbours whereby India blames Pakistan for fomenting violence in the region by supporting militancy – a charge Pakistan denies. Even if Pakistan is supporting some factions of the Kashmiri insurgency, Kashmir has since 1989 been convulsed by regular episodes of violence that have killed more than 70,000 people, instigating many Kashmiri youths to defy the Indian forces.
Considering the revival of the Kashmiri movement, massive unrest is expected when the curfew eases. The danger of such an uproar persuaded most previous Indian governments to avoid revoking the special constitutional status allocated to the Kashmiris, but the over confident prime minister Modi has willingly taken a sip from this poisoned chalice. As soon as the government pressure is eased, the Kashmiri movement will be more robust and unmanageable than ever.
Domestic minority time bomb
Another looming problem for Modi will be keeping a lid on the provocations expected from other discontented Indian groups which include many millions of Muslims, Dalits (ex-untouchables), Sikhs, Christians and the Maoists (Naxalites).
The situation for India’s minority population have worsened alarmingly since 2014 and most non-Hindu Indians feel extremely marginalised under Modi’s BJP government.
Life is particularly hard for Indian Muslims. Modi is known as the Gujarat chief minister under whose watch over 1000 Muslims were butchered by Hindu mobs in 2002, His federal government instigates massive fear amongst them. Placing Kashmiris Muslims in a timeless prison will further aggravate Muslim alienation and intensify this large group’s vulnerability.
The “culture of mob lynching” against Muslims has also seen a rise during his time. Mob violence and lynching is often incited by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with his political party whereby minority communities are singled out amid rumours that they traded or killed cows for beef.. Assaults on Muslim men and women in trains have become more frequent, and force-feeding them with cow dung and urine has ocurred. Campaigns like ‘love Jihad’ are popular on social media, where Hindu groups are encouraged to violently target young Muslim men who are allegedly wooing and impregnating Hindu women. And the government is seeking to expel almost 2 million people (mostly Muslims) in Assam by categorising them as stateless and illegal immigrants.
Indian Dalits are also in a worse position under the current government. Second to Muslims, they have been on the receiving end of the wrath of Hindutva groups. Considered as the lowest of the Hindu caste, there have been numerous reports of incidents where Dalits have been stripped and beaten by Hindu mobs in western India and in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh.
The Indian Christians fear for themselves under his government. In 2018, at least 55 churches in Uttar Pradesh, 25 in neighbouring Uttarakhand, and 19 in Tamil Nadu were closed after Hindu fundamentalists raided them. According to the Indian organisation Persecution Relief, in the same year, 129 attacks against Christians in Uttar Pradesh alone were reported, the highest number among the 29 states of India.
The Sikhs are struggling for their dignity under his government. In the aftermath of the Sikh massacre in 1984, Sikh separatism is also a longstanding issue for most Indian governments. The Modi government is no different in this respect. Under Modi, where overt favour is provided to Hindutva followers, this may take an unexpected downturn, especially as Pakistan is offering a peace initiative to the Indian Sikh community by dangling the opening of the Kartarpur corridor.
The Maoist movement is another major problem for New Delhi. It may not be religiously motivated and may have subsided recently, but, as reported by Alpa Shah, Associate Professor in Anthropology at the LSE, 4,000 Adivasis in Jharkhand alone charged with being Naxalites have been imprisoned for years without trial. With this unlawful Indian government practice, the Naxalite movement still shows signs for surviving against all odds, resurfacing with more robustness than before.
Home to 2000-odd castes, eight “major” religions, 15-odd major languages spoken in various dialects in 22 states and nine union territories, and a substantial number of tribes and sects, India’s great strength lay in secularism and inclusivity. As the blind devotion towards Hindu supremacy takes over under this government, India has become unrecognizable.
And with this new, unapologetic and gross abuse of power over the Kashmiris, Modi’s government has sent a severe message to the non-Hindus in India. Who is next? These anxious communities may erupt at the slightest provocation for which the Modi government seems little bothered or prepared.
India’s tarnished global image
Narendra Modi’s resounding victory in the 2019 Indian elections may well pave the way for India’s transformation from the world’s biggest liberal democracy into its largest illiberal one. By the time of the next election, India’s key public institutions – its media, universities, and law courts – may have been subordinated to a government that regards opposition as an illegitimate obstacle to an overarching aim: creating an India entirely different from the secular dream of Nehru.
When the curfew eases, mass Kashmiri unrest is expected. While the Modi government and India’s media are busy whitewashing the Indian government’s Kashmir brutalities, the rest of the world is aware of the acts being committed by the Indian military against the Kashmiris behind the blocked communications and the curfew.
Despite a fruitless closed door Security Council meeting, at this point, the international media proves to be the only lifeline for the Kashmiris. Even when there is a total communication shutdown, most major international news rooms are robustly revealing the Kashmir story. Accounts of the abuses are managing to trickle out, even under the severest surveillance where it is reported that Kashmiri civilians especially the youth are facing endless pellet gun attacks, prolonged torture in life-threatening beatings, electric shocks and repeated assaults in anonymous detention cells. Unannounced military raids are common where innocent young boys are randomly picked up. The rest of the population faces acute food and medicine shortages, frozen businesses and restricted mobility. The women and young girls are sexually targeted and raped. As a result Kashmiri schools have no students and hospitals are turning into graveyards.
My first introduction to India was when, as a Pakistani Punjabi girl, I listened to my father’s fond recollections about his Hindu and Sikh friends who had helped him migrate to Pakistan in 1947. He was deeply saddened by Partition. Throughout these years, like many Pakistanis, I looked up to India as Gandhi’s secular dream – a place offering free speech, pluralism and inclusivity. But one of the largest democracies in the world is dying a slow death under Narendra Modi’s Hindutva grip. He will be remembered in history for pushing future generations in South Asia into irreversible hate- and war-mongering.