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India never earned Kashmir’s trust

By Dhruv Gupta, Harvard College '20

Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee famously remarked that the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir must be treated with insaaniyat (humanity), jamhooriyat (democracy), and Kashmiriyat (Kashmiri identity). In one fell swoop, Amit Shah, Minister of Home Affairs, has siezed all three through the repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which gave Jammu and Kashmir special status and autonomy. Increased military presence and Internet outage violate human rights, taking away statehood and constitutional rights violates democratic norms, and stifling autonomy dissolves the Kashmiri identity. This is not to argue that abrogating Article 370 will be detrimental to Jammu and Kashmir’s growth. In fact, its repeal will likely facilitate economic growth and development. However, India could have had the opportunity to smoothly assimilate Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the nation had it focused on building trust, a trust that cannot be cultivated when Kashmiris’ only interaction with India is limited to uniformed soldiers.

 

International media and Indian media are at odds at how difficult Kashmir’s experience has been, especially under its never-ending Internet blackout. The New York Times has been running headlines and op-eds calling Kashmir a “living hell”, while even the traditionally left-leaning Indian news channel, NDTV, has been defiantly claiming that “no lives have been lost” and that Eid was celebrated peacefully, barring a few “minor incidents”, quoting police and government sources. In fact, the Government of India has been claiming to have doled resources to households to facilitate Eid celebrations, and have begun to ease restrictions on landline usage and curfews around the time of the writing of this piece.

 

The fact is likely that both Western media and the Indian government are right. Mass arrests and curfews have confined people to their homes, limiting violence. Restrictions on gatherings and communication have stifled coordination. The military oppression worked: people may be too afraid to protest significantly and, as a result, the military did not need to kill anyone. Let us steer clear of hyperbole in the gamut of “mass genocide” and “tranquility”, and focus on the true situation, both pros and cons.

 

Murjhaate gulon ne jhuk ke kaha, humein aadat hai haminasto

The wilting flowers bowed and admitted they were used to such treatment here.

 

American sociologist James C. Davies outlined in his 1962 paper “Toward a Theory of Revolution” that both Marx and de Tocqueville were probably right. Revolutions are not arbitrary; they are not just predicated on constant oppression, and not just sustained by a hope for a better tomorrow. Revolutionary ideas crystalize into true movements because frustrated and repressed populations know the reality that they could be living and are willing to fight for it.

 

Jammu and Kashmir once was a relatively safe and stable firdaus bar roo-e-zameen (heaven on earth). Free and fair elections were conducted more or less successfully since the 1977 election well into the 1980s with high voter turnout and successful transitions of power, unlike today’s numbers of 4 percent turnout, pitting the Congress and National Conference parties against each other. Jammu and Kashmir was a hallmark of secular and democratic India. While there was constant and active discontent, as well as consistent animosity with neighbors to the West and North, Jammu and Kashmir grew economically and stably. Muslim and Hindu political parties and groups found balance and ethnic peace.

 

This all unraveled in 1987. The 1987 State Assembly election was marred by election rigging allegations, incensed religious sentiments, and poll violence. Tactical political alliances and political misrepresentation with first-past-the-post electoral results translated into frustration with democratic mechanisms. Leaders like Abdul Ghani Lone, who began their careers as parts of the democratic machine, split away and became separatist leaders. Protests and violence grew further inflamed by discontent and a need for vengeance grew.

 

Fundamentally, Kashmiris had had a taste of peace and prosperity. When the flavor grew bitter, they revolted.

 

Political frustration, and the following repression, fueled violence and protests in Kashmir. While economic growth was slowing due to the onus of debt on the State, violence preceded the economic decline. Although violence has grown to be about Islamic identity, violence began as a way to fight corruption and alienation. While Pakistan may have fanned the flames, violence was homegrown, based on Kashmiri identity and a revolt against corruption. In the following years, shrewd leaders and ethnic entrepreneurs have capitalized on such discontent, turning it into a religious, geopolitical, and economic battle. The economy began to grow faster in more stable and accessible areas, further exacerbating relative pain and stagnating economic growth in unstable areas. Harsh repression, particularly as a result of the 1990 enactment of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, has further stoked conflict.

 

Flash forward to today in 2019. Terrorist attacks and conflict with Pakistan continue to drive national conversations, generally sidelining the myriad human rights abuses that stymie the flourishing of Jammu and Kashmir. Despite this, Jammu and Kashmir’s economy has been steadily growing and violence is on a downward trend since 2001. Zooming into the last ten years, however, fatalities have grown to their highest point since 2009, coupled with an economic slowdown, dropping from a growth rate of 12 percent in the first ten years, to 9 percent in the last ten years, including a contraction of 3 percent in 2014, and a rocketing upward of 15 percent in 2015. While the economy will likely grow now with eased foreign and pan-Indian investment due to changes in land ownership, Kashmiris may not truly benefit from this growth in the economy as Indian and foreign companies may flood the markets.

This has further been coupled with increased repression and backlash. Skyrocketing numbers of youth have been picking up arms, incidents of riots and protests shot up tenfold from 2015 to 2018, and associated internet shutdowns have also climbed setting records every year. Protests, riots, and political repression stymie economic growth, cause boycotts and bandhs (mass closures), and force the Jammu and Kashmir economy to miss its potential. Violence and repression beget more violence. Fighting fire with fire does not work; AFPSA only works to aggravate the people. Moving thousands of troops into the region and expelling tourists only serves to heighten tensions.

 

Many point to education as the panacean answer. However, many of the terrorists and fighters are often college-educated engineers. In fact, researchers Gambetta and Hertog found in 2013 that engineers are often targeted for terrorism due to their education, engineering mindset that facilitates the establishment of order, and lack of job opportunities. Young engineers like the infamous or famous, depending on who you ask, Burhan Wani are allured by the opportunity to fight for what they believe in, to be martyrs for their people. The lack of opportunities and the dramatic political shifts will continue to incense violence.

In 2014, Noor Ahmed Baba of University of Kashmir wrote that, “The present problem in Kashmir is not basically that of militancy. In fact, militancy is the outcome of the Kashmir problem. The source of all protests is some sort of serious dissatisfaction with the existing political arrangement. It takes a violent form only when the normal and peaceful channels for expressing dissent get blocked”.

 

The focus, then, should be on alleviating dissatisfaction, bringing development and peace to Jammu and Kashmir. Before abrogating Article 370, the Government of India should have expedited this process, waiting for large infrastructure projects like the Baramulla-Srinagar-Katra Rail Link, Zoji-La Tunnel, and Chenab Hydro Power Plant to finish. Integrating Jammu and Kashmir into the rest of the nation is to some degree an economic and infrastructural problem as much as a political and ethnic problem.

 

At the end of the day, Kashmiris identify as Kashmiri. Kashmiri interactions with India and Indians are often limited to interactions with the armed forces or police. This forms a sense of Indians being “the other”. Kashmir's physical lack of access precludes interactions with the rest of India. Kashmir is effectively a landlocked island. The Government of India has prematurely opened Kashmir for business without (literally) bridging the gap between it and the rest of the nation. By facilitating growth in Jammu and Kashmir, the Government of India could have eased integration. Forcing it politically will aggravate growing pains and violence.

 

On the flip side, Indians view Kashmiris as irreverent, ungrateful Pakistan-sympathizers. This results in anger, discrimination, and, unfortunately, violence. This is far from the truth. While much may have changed in the last ten years, only 2% of Indian Kashmiris supported accession to Pakistan in a 2010 Chatham House survey, with a plurality supporting accession to India or a continuation of the status quo. Indians cannot claim Kashmir without treating Kashmiris as Indians.

 

Khushboo-e-gul mein, ishq bhara hai, zeher bhara hai

The aroma of the flowers is full of love; the aroma of the flowers is full of poison

 

The removal of Article 370 of course brings a slew of tangible pros and cons. The Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act, which allowed Kashmiri citizens to request information from public bodies, was actually more powerful than the Central RTI Act in that it included fewer restrictions and had a set time limit. However, now only the Central RTI Act will apply. This has the benefit of being open to any Indian who chooses to access it rather than only Kashmiris but is weaker than the original. Kashmir will still retain a legislative assembly that should still allow for local and internal democratic control. Further, with central police now allowed, particularly the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation, there will now be a national, arguably objective control on corruption and crime.

 

The abrogation means that the rights to reservation and education now apply to Jammu and Kashmir. Arguments for and against minority reservations aside, minorities may benefit from being offered seats in various government offices. And, the literacy rate – particularly the female literacy rate – could rise with the enforcement of the Right to Education Act.

 

The removal of Article 35A, as a result of the repeal of Article 370,  now means that anyone can own land in Jammu and Kashmir, not just residents. This is huge news and could be a huge stimulus to the Kashmiri economy. Kashmir is primarily dependent on agricultural products (apples themselves yield over ₹10 billion), but is stunted by poor infrastructure and power generation. Tourism and industry will likely skyrocket as domestic and foreign companies will flood Jammu and Kashmir hoping to get in on the market, creating jobs and industries for Kashmiris. Most importantly, private investment means investment in infrastructure to support the influx of domestic investment, which should galvanize highway, electricity, and rail development. This economic growth will bring great value to Kashmiris and facilitate economic integration into the vast Indian market.

 

The change in land ownership legislation could also facilitate the return of Kashmiri Pandits. After so many years, it remains to be seen how many truly choose to return and whether they will be welcomed, let alone invited to Kashmir. There pervades a fear of Hindu-fication of the region with concerns of Kashmir losing its “Kashmiri identity”, particularly with an influx of migrants seeking new opportunities from economic growth. While it is unlikely that the Kashmir region will lose its Muslim majority, rising communalism throughout the nation may dampen hopes for the acceptance that the “Kashmiri identity” is not actually tied to any religion, but rather to shared experiences. Hindus and Muslims have lived side by side in India for centuries, particularly in Kashmir, but political and ethnic events have of course heightened tensions significantly.

 

Finally, we must not forget the Ladakh region in all of this. The separation of Ladakh from the rest of Jammu and Kashmir, creating the first majority Buddhist Union Territory in India, will likely bring a slew of tourism, infrastructure development, and economic growth to the region. As a Union Territory, Ladakh will receive more direct central funding and growth targeted specifically for its own needs, rather than being lumped in with the demographically and politically incongruous Jammu and Kashmir, which should help facilitate its own development.

 

Ultimately, politically subjugating the Kashmiri population will simply fail to send the right message. Even if Jammu and Kashmir grow with foreign and domestic investment, the Kashmiri people may not truly find their place in this growth and development. Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised sabka vishwas (the trust of everyone) along with sabka saath (togetherness with everyone) and sabka vikas (development for everyone). Unfortunately, in Jammu and Kashmir, he has thrown these out the window, focusing on a political win, even if it does lead to vikas. The Government of India could have earned Kashmir by treating it as an asset with a wealth of natural and human capital, a home for democracy, and the home of a beautiful culture, but instead it chose to impose its will, even if this decision may only be to the economic and political benefit of the region from the Indian perspective. Economic and infrastructural integration could facilitate integration, but only to a point. Until Indians accept Kashmiris as Indians, Kashmiris cannot accept Kashmiris as Indians.

 

As Kashmiri students Malik Altaf Hussain and Aejaz Ahmed Rather remarked, “The trick is not to abrogate Article 370 but to make it irrelevant, and there is a big difference between the two.”

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