After the highly unjust events of August 2019, when Article 370 was unilaterally scrapped, and Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories, after a brutal clampdown was imposed, a new repressive dialectic has been enacted by the Indian state. The logic of the state is to offer Kashmiris a choice between silence and annihilation. Either way it is the people who will be at the receiving end of this “choice”.
Now the BJP government has issued a new domicile law which goes against the basic aspirations of the people of the erstwhile state. The unilateral order, passed when there are no representatives who express the will of the people in the region, violates every norm of justice and democracy. But this has become a characteristic feature of the BJP’s aggressive policies, which have become particularly harsh since last August.
The domicile laws were changed while the world grapples with the unprecedented Coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps this crisis was seen as an advantage by the government, for it has resulted in a stringent lockdown all across the country, and there is no opportunity to express ones dissent in these conditions. Still it should not come as a surprise that the changed regulation has caused great resentment among an already besieged people. It has escalated the apprehensions of losing their jobs and land to outsiders, on top of their identity, which has already been severely threatened by recent events.
According to the new law, anyone who has resided in J&K for 15 years, or has studied here for seven years, and appeared for their Class X or Class XII examinations here, will be eligible for domicile certificates. This will ultimately change the population ratio, adversely affect the political and economic rights of the people of J&K, and squeeze their employment opportunities. The 15-year and 10-year caps mentioned in section 3A of the new law are primarily meant for the children of security force personnel and other central government employees. The implication is that in the due course of time they could settle in the former state.
Seen as a whole, the new dispensation is an all-out assault on the land, livelihood and distinct political and cultural identity of the region. One wonders whether the “change” and “development”, which Modi and other prominent figures of RSS-BJP frequently boast about, are incumbent only upon assaulting the fundamental rights of people of this region.
Ever since the BJP started controlling the erstwhile state directly, through the imposition of governor’s rule in mid-2018, the unemployment rate in J&K has grown tremendously. It was already higher than the average national unemployment rate. The new domicile law is expected to worsen the employment situation.
The state of J&K was not the only beneficiary of special provisions guaranteed by the Constitution. In the tribal areas of Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Sikkim, non-locals cannot buy or sell land, nor lay claim to jobs. Why, then, did the RSS-BJP combine focus solely on assaulting the guaranteed protections and rights of the people of J&K?
This is not just about jobs and land: the issue is also about the identity of J&K and its people. Altering the demographic character of India’s sole Muslim-majority state is a pivotal part of the RSS-BJP’s grand design to convert India into a Hindu rashtra. It is this which guides these unjust policies. The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A, the clampdown, and the new domicile law have to be seen in this context.
Contrary to the hollow rhetoric of the ruling party and its benefactor, and contrary to most of the mainstream media, nothing has changed on the ground in post-abrogation and post-bifurcation J&K. Things continue to go from bad to worse for the region and its people. The Prime Minister speaks of bringing permanent peace and a lasting solution, but the chances of a resolution are dimmer than ever even as repressive policies are unleashed one after another. A severe political vacuum, invisible governance, suspension of civil liberties, strict censorship, prohibition of dissent and protest, and human rights violations continue throughout the state. The youth are still picking up arms, civilians and armed-forces personnel continue to die as before. Recently, the deputy chief (IG) of police was quoted in the press warning people of dire consequences if they dared “instigate” anybody against the new domicile law, but the people know that this means they should not express their opinion against it at all. It is before this brazenly authoritarian language that people have to choose between silence and annihilation.
Fear in the region is palpable. From politicians to journalists to everyone else, none dare speak against the government. The increased military concentration, daily frisking, routine humiliation and assaults on life and property through the cordon and search operations (CASOs) continue alongside all of this.
The Indian state presents itself to Kashmiris only in the form of hard power, repression and violation of rights. This is now at unprecedented levels, but so is the anger of a hurt, humiliated and repressed populace, which is seeking an outlet for its anger at a time when all spaces for expression have been squeezed out. Of late, reports suggest, enraged local youth continue to join militancy. The future looks bleak, but the State remains immovable.
Even if some dare trust the Indian state and its prescriptive “republicanism”, they are meted out the worst treatment—consider the fate of the unionist politicians including three former Chief Ministers who were incarcerated last year. The truth is that the RSS-BJP are not interested in finding a solution but to keep the issue burning with ferocity as they polarise the entire country on the basis of Kashmir. Kashmir is a pivot of the government’s communitarian agenda and there is no concern about its deadly cost.
It is a tragic historical fact that in Kashmir, India has always had to “impose” its nationalist disposition, but of late the RSS-BJP have turned the situation so adverse that there appears to have been an irreversible slide into distrust of Indian democracy and republicanism, even among those who previously pursued the politics of pacifism.
The Sangh parivar’s leaders are continuously bragging about their vision for a Hindutva state, but in that state there would be no place for the rights and dignity of minorities and dissidents to be protected. Their sustained project of spreading hate against Muslims has proportionately increased ever since the BJP returned to power. Steps like the CAA and NRC are a reflection of this emboldened Hindutva consolidation. The recent violence in Delhi was also a reflection of the deep tentacles this lethal project has spread. In the Sangh’s reckoning, J&K is the most fertile ground to put its project into experiment stage.
It is an age-old assertion of the RSS-BJP that the Muslims of J&K are a stumbling block to their vision. In this vein, the repeated communalised rants of RSS-BJP leaders have repeatedly spoken about things like planting “saffron” and bringing the “fragrance of Indian-ness” to this region. By this, they mean to reject Kashmir’s own identity and culture and propose to install Hindutva in its place, in Kashmir and across India. This is why it was necessary for the ruling dispensation to abrogate Article 370 and then proceed to start settling non-Kashmiris in the region.
Prominent BJP Member of Parliament Subramanian Swamy, in an article he wrote way back in July 2011 in the Mumbai-based newspaper DNA, had described the grand plan to abolish Article 370 and settle ex-servicemen in the Valley. This now seems all too real. According to a video interview that has been doing the rounds recently, Swamy stated in an interview in the wake of the enactment of CAA and NRC that if Muslim constitute a certain proportion of the population, they become a “threat” to that country.
The RSS-BJP’s current policies in Kashmir appear in tune with these rants. It reveals a diabolical attitude towards Kashmir and Kashmiris, and is a reminder to dissident Kashmiris of their submission by force and India’s desire for territory and not its people.
The author is a blogger and writer based in Kashmir. The views are personal.