Shouldn’t the People of Kashmir Have Had a Say in the Revocation of Article 370?


Shouldn’t the People of Kashmir Have Had a Say in the Revocation of Article 370?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

They make a desolation and call it peace
~ Agha Shahid Ali

On Monday morning, those of us with ties to the state of Kashmir woke up with a sinking feeling. We knew something big was in the offing, and then at 11 am Amit Shah announced that Kashmir as we knew it, no longer existed.

Anything one writes in the face of such a historic decision is bound to be just another scrap of paper hurled at destiny. But it is one of the few ways, we as citizens, have to express our joy and our outrage. So here I go, crumpling this paper and chucking it, whatever the impact may be.

I am not going to debate whether the revocation of Article 370 is going to be good or bad for Kashmir and India. The result of this action will only be clear with time. But what we must consider is the way this whole manoeuvre was orchestrated. And what that might portend for the future of our increasingly fragile democracy. Because the impact of this goes way beyond Kashmir; it also opens up a debate on the “special provisions” provided to other states.

Which is why, the means are as important as the ends. A vague promise of future glory cannot be used to sweep the present under the rug. A whole state, millions of people – all were held hostage as their fate was decided by a few politicians in Delhi. There was no debate, no deliberation. Just a lurid display of pure political muscle. 

In the preceding weeks, panic was spread in the Valley. The Amarnath Yatra was abruptly called off. Tourists and students were asked to leave, citing a “terror alert”. Fearing the worst, locals hoarded medicines, provisions and fuel – behaviour which was deemed unnecessary by government officials. Everyone, from former chief ministers to the common Kashmiri, was told nothing major was going to unfold. Then, within 24 hours, the internet was snapped, phone lines were cut, Section 144 imposed, and Valley leaders were put under house arrest. Since then, Kashmiris outside the Valley are in complete darkness about family and friends. An iron curtain has fallen. 

But in the end, 90 minutes were all it took to decide the fate of 1.25 crore people, without consulting even a single one of them.

After weeks of rumour-mongering, WhatsApp analysis, lies, and denials, the House was given, initially one hour, and then a little more, to hastily mull over the fate of an entire state. Slogan-shouting PDP MPs were removed from the Rajya Sabha by marshals, but the uproar continued. Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in the RS, Ghulam Nabi Azad accused the BJP of “murdering the Constitution”. But in the end, 90 minutes were all it took to decide the fate of 1.25 crore people, without consulting even a single one of them.

I am a Kashmiri myself. A Kashmiri Pandit. My identity has been so mutilated by exodus that I don’t even know what those two words mean anymore. Why am I not happy then, you wonder? Why am I, like Anupam Kher, not standing atop the tallest tower in New York and thumping my chest in glee? Because I honestly do not know what this means for us. How can we go back to a place where basic human rights do not seem to apply? How can we go back to a place where everyone is full of resentment and hatred? Where, at any given moment, the state can crack a whip and send you packing? Like it has been doing for the past few weeks.

Spare a thought, then, for the common Kashmiri. Who, like you and me, has to earn his bread, and tend to a family. And who now sits cut away from the rest of the world. With no access to schools, banks, offices, essential services – all those small things which make life… life. Who is uncertain of his future. Who had no say in the matter. Spare a thought, if you are done with your celebrations, talking about “getting a wife from Kashmir”, and purchasing land in the Valley. 

An editorial in The Indian Express articulates, “The promise of resolving the Kashmir issue through partnership and dialogue with Kashmiris, articulated by a BJP prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and carried forward by a Congress prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was implicit in the PDP-BJP alliance of 2015-2018. It failed, yet as recently as last year, Prime Minister Modi invoked Vajpayee’s ‘insaaniyat, jahmuriyat, Kashmiriyat’ credo for resolution in Kashmir. It now seems that he and his trusted lieutenant believe that the people of Kashmir need not be consulted at all about their political fate, and that the use of force can overcome their opposition.”

The voice of Kashmir has been muffled. Until now, there has been no violence, no casualties aside from reports of stone-pelting in Anantnag. Unfortunately – and this is something that everyone from the government’s supporters to its detractors are well aware of – this will not be the case in the coming weeks. The government knows there will be backlash, for why else would we witness the increase in troops in the most militarised zone in the world? And the violence will spiral out – definitely in the Valley, and possibly in other parts of India. 

Kashmiri Pandits are not celebrating because they have won back their homes. Our return is still uncertain, and a long-term prospect.

Which is why, the celebration by Kashmiri Pandits feels a little unseemly. We love India, because we are free here. We do not suffocate here, like our parents and grandparents did in Kashmir during the heyday of the militancy. When every corner of the Valley was reverberating with the sounds of guns and bombs. We love India precisely because it is a vibrant democracy. But what happened on August 5 was not democratic – at least not in spirit. 

Kashmiri Pandits are not celebrating because they have won back their homes. Our return is still uncertain, and a long-term prospect. For 30 years and more Kashmiri Pandits have been made to feel impotent. The exodus took place because we were abandoned by everyone – the state, the politicians, and even our fellow citizens. We have lived in horrible conditions in camps. We have died pining for home. We have felt powerless. Now, finally, someone has done something. The status quo is broken. The Kashmiri Muslims have been “taught a lesson”. That’s why the Kashmiri Pandits are “happy” – not because they can go back home – but because some semblance of justice has finally been delivered to them. 

As Kashmiri Pandits, we have often levelled an accusation at Kashmiri Muslims who were our colleagues, friends and neighbours – you did nothing when we were being forced out, tortured and killed. You kept quiet and let the militants dictate their terms in the Valley. You bowed before fear. Now, they might turn around and ask us the same question. 

The other question we need to ask is – when this is all over, when the curfew is lifted – who will the BJP send to talk to the Kashmiris? Why will the Kashmiris, after being thrown out of the consultation process, come back to, and talk to the very people who kept them out of a decision on their own fate? At the end of the day you are dealing not with land, not with a state, but with people, and people are complicated. 

By acting the way they have, the Indian government has reconciled itself to the fact that potential violence will be, might be, acceptable collateral damage. 

But, some of us still have a voice. I still have a voice, it is low in decibel, but I will use it to speak out against the way in which this revocation has taken place. But, in the end, even my voice is not important. As Mahesh Rao put it, the voice we truly need to hear is the voice of the people of Kashmir. So I end this article with this email id:

It might be too little, too late, but hearing the voice of the people of Kashmir, when it’s allowed to emerge, is the least we can do.