View: All shackles broken, Jammu and Kashmir ready to soar

The series of systemic reforms that have been witnessed in two union territories in the last one year makes it amply clear that abrogation was not merely a political statement or an ideological commitment

By Sunanda Vashisht

Legendary American businessman and former CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Robert Iger once said “The riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo”. Up until August 5, 2019, India had only one Kashmir policy, which was ‘maintaining the status quo’. Successive governments in the last seven decades did everything they could, simply to maintain the status quo in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It helped no one. Jammu and Kashmir became an oligarchy with two families controlling the fortunes of ordinary people. Ladakhis became invisible, Hindus of Kashmir valley became refugees in their own land, and Dogras of Jammu became impatient with no voice in the political system. Separatists prospered, terrorists killed with impunity, development remained a distant dream, and myths flourished.

On August 5, 2019, Narendra Modi government finally did the unthinkable. The temporary provision of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which ostensibly allowed Jammu and Kashmir to have a ‘unique special status’ within the Indian Constitution but in reality fueled separatism was abrogated and the state reorganized into two centrally administered Union Territories. After BJP’s aborted alliance with PDP, the government of India realized that maintaining the status quo and playing musical chairs with two valley-based political parties was no longer tenable. It was time to remove the smokescreen and time for New Delhi to speak to Jammu and Kashmir in one voice. It was time to tell Kashmiris, Dogras, and Ladakhis that they are equal citizens who enjoy all rights just as every other citizen of India. It was time for the Constitution of India to be applicable in its entirety in every nook and corner of both Union Territories.

The series of systemic reforms that have been witnessed in two union territories in the last one year makes it amply clear that abrogation was not merely a political statement or an ideological commitment. The first major reform has been the passing of the Domicile law, which increases the categories of those who can claim a domicile status and also recognizes all stakeholders who had been disenfranchised earlier and kept out of the political mainstream. The new law paves way for every citizen of India to become domicile of J&K after 15 years of residence. Safai karamcharis (sanitation workers), Gurkhas, and West Pakistan refugees, after years of being denied equal rights, have been covered under the new domicile law. They are now eligible for government jobs and any affirmative action guaranteed by the Indian constitution in any government run educational institutions.

Dalits in J&K were kept out of benefits that the Indian Constitution guarantees to them elsewhere in the country. Children of women who married outside J&K were deprived of inheritance rights. The new domicile law corrects this gender inequality and children of women married to non-domiciles can now acquire the domicile certificate and inherit what is rightfully theirs. The abrogation of Article 370 is not a suspension but a restoration of human rights. It is quite ironic that human rights activists rarely raised their voices for those who were really oppressed and discriminated by the now defunct constitution of J&K. Those who had promised bloodshed on the streets of Kashmir and threatened apocalypse if Article 370 was abrogated found out that when they were put under house arrest, only their family members were seen speaking up for them or tweeting from their accounts. This was a rude awakening of sorts for the self-proclaimed popular leaders of the valley. There were no public protests for them, nor was anybody asking for their release as they were put under house arrest.

People in the valley were rightfully anxious and apprehensive of the change. Some minor protests were seen but none of them asked for the popular leaders to be released. Instead these protests were against the information clampdown and restoration of internet services that have since been restored. Landline telephones, mobile phones along with SMS services, 2G mobile internet services, and broadband Internet services are fully functional. The Union Territory is rightfully asking for 4G mobile internet to be restored and government should seriously consider their demand. Unrestricted access to social media has been restored. Hospitals are fully functional and schools had opened in August and September of 2019 only to be closed again in wake of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic.

Post abrogation of Article 370, no incident of mass public violence has been recorded in the valley. There has been no loss of life by police action. Contrary to what the western media routinely projects, there is no curfew in the valley, nor is the valley under any kind of siege. There is no restriction on journalists. At the last count, 37 English dailies, 53 Urdu dailies and 2 Kashmiri dailies are being published in Kashmir. Satellite channels and cable television are fully operational. The lack of violence has shocked and disappointed many people who benefit from the conflict tourism in Kashmir. They are not willing to concede, but sometimes facts are less complicated than they are made out to be. Ordinary people in the valley are tired of bloodshed and betrayal by their leaders, whether they are separatists or mainstream politicians. People now want peace, stability, and progress, and they are willing to give life and liberty a chance.

Many infrastructure projects that were long pending thanks to the apathy of the consecutive state governments have now been started and completed at a record speed. The Rambagh flyover in Srinagar has been opened to traffic, and the work on Jammu-Akhnoor road has been completed. Governing the entire erstwhile state of J&K strictly from the prism of valley and its concerns is a thing of the past. Equal attention is now paid to infrastructure development in Jammu and Ladakh. The iconic Dal Lake in Srinagar has long battled with pollution that threatens its very existence. It is only now that the J&K government has procured specialized heavy machinery to clean Dal Lake and other water bodies around it.

The beautiful Kashmir valley holds in its bosom many tales of treachery and betrayal. Generations have come and gone but justice has eluded the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Everyone has paid a very heavy price for mistakes committed by their leaders. Those who put stones in the hands of young Kashmiri Muslim boys and girls ensured that their own kids got educated in world class universities in the west. Those who drove out hapless Hindu minorities from their homes of 5000 years and made them refugees in their own country, ensured that they built palatial homes for themselves. This injustice had to end. For how long can people be held ransom for the geography and strategic location of the place they were born in? The abrogation of Article 370 ensures that those who invested in perpetual conflict have no place in deciding the future of Jammu and Kashmir.

As I write this, news pours in that Pakistan has bestowed nation’s highest civilian honor “Nishaan e Pakistan” to the face of radical separatism in Kashmir Valley, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. I suppose this award was given to honor his lifetime commitment to separatism and fueling conflict. At the same time, I saw a video news report about the construction of a medical college in Doda: one of the seven medical colleges being constructed as part of a 1000 crore project. The contrast couldn’t be starker. People in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh are ready to write their own destiny and ready to dream their own dreams.

( Sunanda Vashisht is a columnist and political commentator who was displaced from Kashmir Valley in 1990)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of
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