Time stands still in occupied Kashmir

For Kashmiris, there is no difference between the ruthless Maharaja and the ‘democratic’ New Delhi

Time stands still in occupied Kashmir

In June 1946, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru tried to enter his ancestral homeland of Kashmir. At that time he was the president of the Indian National Congress and was soon to become the foreign minister and the vice chairman of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, effectively the prime minister of British India. But these high offices did not deter the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Sir Hari Singh, from banning his entry and detaining him for two days. Nehru was attempting to enter Kashmir to go see his friend, Sheikh Abdullah, the most popular leader in Kashmir. India was democratising while Kashmir was still under the autocratic thumb of a ruthless ruler.

Fast-forward to August 2019, and Jawaharlal’s great grandson, Rahul Gandhi, lately the president of the Indian National Congress, landed in Srinagar. Rahul wasn’t in the Valley to see a friend in jail, but to see a whole state in jail. Whereas in 1946 only Sheikh Abdullah had been interned, this time round all the inhabitants of this ‘heaven on earth’ were under a curfew, allowed no communications with the rest of the world, indiscriminate shooting of people who try to defy the ban and an official curtailment of fundamental rights. True to form, Rahul was packed up and made to leave.

But this time round there was no autocratic Maharaja, no undemocratic government, and no absence of a constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights. Yet nothing changed -- it is as if time has held still for all these years. For Kashmiris life is the same, be it under the ruthless Maharaja or the ‘democratic’ New Delhi.

The manner in which the Kashmir saga has played out over the last two months has exhibited several key facets of the developing Indian polity.

First, the utter disregard with which the Indian public in general has viewed the clampdown in occupied Kashmir is simply appalling. Leaving aside the debate over Article 370 of the Indian constitution, the sheer fact that over eight million of their fellow ‘citizens’ have been denied fundamental rights for over two months should have brought a large number of them to their feet. But it seems that except for a few, sadly very few, the near curfew in occupied Kashmir has ruffled no feathers. This coupled with the fact that nearly two million people have been made stateless in Assam and the northeast shows the fraught nature of Indian citizenship, even at a theoretical level. It certainly seems that there are certainly some people more equal than others.

This callous disregard of the suffering of the people in Occupied Kashmir highlights that even the Indian Supreme Court has become the handmaiden of the Executive.

Secondly, the August 5, ‘land grab,’ and it cannot be called anything else, clearly exhibits the Indian government’s disinterest in winning the hearts and minds of the people in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Gone are the days when New Delhi would try to negotiate with people there, try, even if for argument’s sake, to make an agreement with people in the erstwhile state. Now there is not even that figment of civility, and a simple real estate occupation has been carried out. The message from New Delhi is clear: we only care about the land of Occupied Kashmir, not its people.

Thirdly, for a long time, Occupied Kashmir was propped up as a symbol of Indian secularism. Steeped in the thought of Sheikh Abdullah, who renamed his Muslim Conference to National Conference in 1939 to reflect the composite nature of the party and the princely state, this Muslim majority region in a Hindu dominated India was seen as an emblem that India was a diverse nation with different races, religions and people. Holding on to Kashmir was not only a personal yearning for India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, (who hailed from the region) but also a political and psychological necessity.

However, the Modi government has no such pretences. For the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological base the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, India should not be a secular country. For them India is and should be a Hindu country and the government and polity of the state should reflect that. Not caring for what happens in Kashmir and ending the charade of diversity and acceptance is therefore part and parcel of the ‘new’ India Modi is building where there is no equal place for minorities. Accept that India is a Hindu country and live with a diminished status or leave, or convert, or be eliminated -- this is now the mantra of Modi’s India.

Fourthly, the period since August 5 has shown how once robust state institutions, like the judiciary, are now only a hollow version of themselves. The Indian Supreme Court once prided itself in coming up with the doctrine of ‘Basic Structure’ to prevent repeats of times like the Emergency from 1975-77 when fundamental rights were trampled upon. The same court was key in the rise of public interest litigation in which it brought about several important advances. More recently the striking down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and the Sabarimala temple judgment showed that the Indian Supreme Court was still trying to be at the vanguard of fundamental rights.

However, when it comes to issues relating to Occupied Jammu and Kashmir the Supreme Court of India seems to be a handmaiden of the Executive. Now the Indian Supreme Court has absolved itself of all responsibility for even faking an interest in upholding the fundamental rights of Kashmiris. Giving more creditability (as if more was any longer needed!) to the idea that Kashmiris are not full citizens of India, the Indian Supreme Court has time has again shirked from even hearing petitions against the clearly unconstitutional acts of the central government in amending the Constitution of India and in curtailing the fundamental rights of the people in the region.

This callous disregard of the suffering of the people in Occupied Kashmir highlights that even the Indian Supreme Court has become the handmaiden of the Executive in such acts and perhaps will validate the unconstitutionality of government actions in Kashmir by echoing the ‘nation’s conscience’ as it bizarrely explained in the Afzal Guru case. The current postponement of the hearing of the Constitution Bench to mid-November, weeks after the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019 will come into force, will make the petitions infructuous and the actions of Modi a fait accompli. In every country the courts exist to protect the most vulnerable, but it seems the Indian Supreme Court is poised to write a new doctrine of judicial evasion."

Finally, the happenings in Occupied Kashmir over the last two months have laid bare the Hindutva-focused majoritarianism direction of the Modi government. More so than for anyone else, the machinations of this government will unravel the very fabric of India, so carefully knit together in 1947. It is slightly bizarre that it is now the Pakistan government which keeps reminding the Indian one of what Gandhi and Nehru, the founding fathers of India, said and did. Those ideals certainly need remembering. The idea of modern India as laid down by Nehru in his Tryst with Destiny was the only understanding which could keep India together. Modi is not just undermining that India, but also unravelling it.

Time stands still in occupied Kashmir