Across India, people are expressing their opinions on the government's actions on Kashmir. On the streets of Delhi, red flags of the Left parties lead protests against the Government action. Across the road, saffron flags of the Sangh Parivar are held by demonstrators praising Modi. In the rest of India, we have the right to discuss Kashmir, a cacophony of voices resound in TV studios; the only people who have no such right are the people of Kashmir.
Their home is broken and divided, there has been a forcible acquisition of their rights, leaders have been arrested, all communication with the outside world has been deliberately snapped, but still they are not allowed to speak. How would you feel in such a situation? Frustrated, betrayed, angry, helpless, fearful, outraged-which of these, or all of these, emotions would have coursed through your mind, your heart, your body?
On the night of February 4, rumors were rife that something serious was in the offing. Close to midnight, I spoke to the CPI(M) MLA Yousuf Tarigami who said he had been informed that he was under house arrest and that many political leaders were also so informed. After that, there has been no way to contact him as all communications with the state have been cut by the centre.
The voices from Kashmir have been silenced, through the use of curfew, the posting of over 40,000 armed personnel sent from outside the state, the display of bayonets and guns, the imposition of Sec 144. You cannot integrate the people of Kashmir with India, the proclaimed aim of the laws pushed through by the Modi government, by force and coercion. This is not integration - this is occupation.
Blogs and messages from those who were in Kashmir but have subsequently left give sketchy information of the impact of the huge presence of armed personnel in Jammu and Kashmir. Normal life is suspended. Daily workers have lost their livelihood. In one reported case, a 22-year-old man died before he could reach hospital because security forces are under strict instructions to allow no movement without curfew passes - and curfew passes are not available.
Do we want Kashmir be converted into a Palestine under Israeli occupation, or a Saigon of the 1960s under US control? Think of the consequences of what the BJP-RSS Government has done in its drive to fulfill its narrow political agenda.
It is an outright attack on the principles of federalism and minimum democratic rights. They have dismantled a state without any reference to the people of that state. This is unprecedented. When Jharkhand and Bihar were divided, when Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh, when Andhra Pradesh and Telengana were divided, it was after years of dialogue, struggle and debate between differing views. Even today, the people of Andhra are resentful about the division. But it was a long process. India is a union of states with equal rights. If any matter pertains to the state, it has to be discussed by the state assembly and its elected representatives. If any of the boundaries of the state have to be changed, such as occurs when a state is divided, there is a constitutional procedure which has to be followed. But none of this was applied to Jammu and Kashmir.
Are the citizens of this state second-class citizens that their rights of statehood can be snatched away and their state divided? Why should the people of Ladakh be deprived of their own representatives? Now they are reduced to a municipality run by the centre. If it can happen here, no state can have any guarantees.
There is also a great deal of deliberate confusion being created about Article 370. When India became independent on August 15, 1947, Kashmir was not a part of India, it was a princely state under Maharaja Hari Singh. This was an example of a Hindu Maharaja reigning over a Muslim-majority state. While the Raja did not want to accede to India and favoured remaining independent, the population, mainly Muslim, led by the National Conference under Sheikh Abdullah, wanted to be with India. The matter was decided in a dramatic fashion when Pakistan sent raiders backed by their army to attack and takeover Kashmir and nearly reached Srinagar. It was the Muslim population of the Kashmir Valley which fought them back. Forces of the Indian army were only later airlifted to Srinagar. It was after the raiders were defeated that the Maharaja signed the instrument of accession. The agreement included autonomy for the state guaranteed by Article 370. It is this guarantee which has now been betrayed.
Kashmir is not the only state which has a specific status or rights. Adivasis have constitutional rights over their land and forests under Schedule V and VI of the constitution of India. No one can buy land owned by Adivasis in these areas. Article 371 has several special provisions for different states. In Himachal Pradesh, a non-domicile cannot buy land in the state. In different forms, there are special rights for domiciles in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya. In Manipur, there is the issue of inner line permits to travel within the state. There are historical reasons why these provisions were necessary. Yet, even today, there is a feeling of resentment among different sections who believe their cultures, language and ways of life are not being protected and are sought to be bulldozed by a homogenizing ideology such as that represented by the Sangh Parivar.
It is a cliché that India's unity is linked to the protection of India's diversity but it must be reiterated today. Once a unitary form of governance is imposed, this framework of a federal India, a union of states with their own rights, gets weakened.
Article 370 was a solemn pledge by the Indian State to the people of Kashmir. Over the years, the provisions of autonomy have been massively diluted and eliminated through over 44 amendments by successive governments including those led by the Congress. It is this dilution of Article 370 and the subversion of democratic processes which led to a build-up of discontent and resentment among the people of Kashmir which was later used cynically by Pakistan for its own nefarious ends. History shows it was not Article 370 but its dilution and destruction which is responsible for the present alienation of the citizens of Kashmir.
The government's actions have meant another grave loss for India. The central government has shown to the world that it cannot tolerate a Muslim-dominated province, thus proving at a different time and in a different way its allegiance to the "two nation theory" and delivering a blow against secular India. It was Vajpayee-ji who said that his policy for Kashmir was based on the three pillars of "insaniyat, jamooriyat and Kashmiriyat". Tragically today, all three pillars lie shattered, hammered down by those who claim his legacy.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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