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What is happening in Kashmir and why does it matter?

After August the 5th, India’s BJP-led government revoked the state of Jammu and Kashmiri’s special status after seven decades and followed the move with a military lockdown. 

Kashmir is a Himalayan region that has been the subject of dispute between India and Pakistan.

After 1947, Jammu and Kashmir joined India soon after the sub-continent was divided up at the end of British rule. The area is located in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent and part of the of the larger Kashmir region.

There has been violence in the Indian-administered side – the state of Jammu and Kashmir- for 30 years due to a separatist insurgency against Indian rule, claiming tens of thousands of lives.

Indian-administered Kashmir has held a special position within the country historically, thanks to Article 370 – a clause in the constitution which gave it significant autonomy.

Since India’s BJP-led government (Bharatiya Janata Party) revoked the state of Jammu and Kashmir, tens of thousands of additional Indian troops were deployed. A major Hindu pilgrimage was cancelled, schools and colleges were closed, tourists were ordered to leave, telephone and internet services were suspended, and regional political leaders were placed under house arrest.

Most of the speculation was that Article 35A of the Indian constitution, which gave some special privileges to the people of the state. The government then went one step further and stunned everyone by revoking nearly all of Article 370, which 35A is part of and which has been the foundation of Kashmir’s complex relationship with India for some 70 years.

Article 370 allowed the state a certain amount of autonomy – Its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws. Foreign affairs, defence and communications remained the preserve of the central government.

In its own right, Jammu and Kashmir could make its own rules relating to permanent residency, ownership of property and fundamental rights. The state could also bar Indians from outside the state, from purchasing property or settling there.

The government’s decision to revoke the article was made by prime minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party who had long opposed Article 370 and revoking it was in the party’s 2019 election manifesto.

They argued it needed to be scrapped in order to integrate Kashmir and put it on the same footing as the rest of India. After returning to power with a massive mandate in April-Mau general elections, the government lost no time in acting on its pledge.

Critics of Mondays move are linking it to the economic slowdown that India is currently facing – they say it provides a much-needed diversion for the government.

What does this mean for the future of Kashmir?

Kashmir will no longer have a separate constitution and will have to abide by the Indian constitution much like any other state.

All Indian laws will be automatically put in place and people from outside the state will be able to buy property there.

The government claims this will bring development to the region.

“I want to tell the people of Jammu and Kashmir what damage Articles 370 and 35A did to the state,” Mr Shah told parliament. “It’s because of these sections that democracy was never fully implemented, corruption increased in the state, that no development could take place. 

The government is also moving to break up the state into two smaller, federally administered territories. One region will combine Muslim-majority Kashmir and Hindu-majority Jammu. The other is Buddhist-majority Ladakh, which is culturally and historically close to Tibet. 

P Chidambaram, a senior leader in the opposition Congress Party described the decision as a ‘catastrophic step’ and warned in parliament that It could have very serious consequences.

“You may think you have scored a victory, but you are wrong, and history will prove you to be wrong. Future generations will realise what a grave mistake this house is making today” he said.

According to the constitution, Article 370 could only be modified with the agreement of the ‘state government’. But there hasn’t been much of a state government in Jammu and Kashmir for over a year now. 

The government says it is well within its rights to bring in the changes and that similar decisions have been taken by federal governments in the past – which is a debatable statement.

One constitutional expert, Subhash Kashyap, told news agency ANI that the order was ‘constitutionally sound’ and that ‘no legal and constitutional fault can be found in it’.

However, another constitutional expert, AG Noorani, told the BBC Hindi it was ‘an illegal decision, akin to committing fraud’ that could be challenged in the Supreme Court.

A debate stands in the decision to revoke nearly all of Article 370 however, the military involvement and sanctions set in place towards to Kashmiri people is causing an ocean of problems.

Uzma Javed, a female student who usually lives in Kerala, returned home to Srinagar, the largest city in Indian-administered Kashmir, to celebrate Eid with her family.

But instead of celebrating, she found herself caged inside, whilst armed Indian paramilitary forces patrolled largely empty streets.

To draw a picture in your mind, A few civilians negotiated with troops to allow them to cross razor wire coils laid across the road.

“At present everyone in Kashmir is being immensely subjugated. But women are the biggest victims of this inhumane siege,” she told news agency Al Jazeera.

Javed was particularly worried about a female friend who lives close by, who she had not heard from for over a week. 

“I don’t know how Munaza is doing. The men somehow manage to sneak out for prayers… We can’t even do that.”

The sight of armed forces ‘petrifies me’, she said. “I don’t even want my brother and father to go out at all but there is no option, they need to go to get bread and other daily necessities.”

A large protest, which had turned violent as demonstrators clashed with Indian forces, passed outside Javed’s home. She was alone with her mother, concerned that her brother and father were among the protestors.

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