The Lie of the Land

Why losing territorial sovereignty poses an existential threat to Kashmiris

01 October 2019
A market in Srinagar in 1917.
edward fitzgerald charlesworth / peter charlesworth collection / getty images
A market in Srinagar in 1917.
edward fitzgerald charlesworth / peter charlesworth collection / getty images

On 5 August 2019, the home minister declared in parliament that the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution was going to be scrapped. The announcement came amid a communications blackout, the house arrest of prominent leaders and the mass deployment of troops in the state.

Any longtime observer of events unfolding in Kashmir would admit that there was not much left of the nominal autonomy granted under Article 370—the basis on which Jammu and Kashmir acceded to the Indian union after Independence. The enduring installation of military forces to subdue a civilian population has contributed to deep-rooted anger and resentment in the Valley. The more devastating implication of the presidential order, however, lies in the removal of Article 35A, which recognised permanent residents of the state as having exclusive rights to buy and sell immovable property, in addition to reservation in government jobs and scholarships.

Interpreted by many as beginning an overt settler-colonial project, the loss of this modicum of territorial sovereignty poses an existential threat to the people of Kashmir. Maintaining land as inalienable wealth—or, more particularly, preventing outsiders from establishing a land market in Kashmir—is a principle with historical depth and significance in the region. It is deeply woven in with idioms of sovereignty and environmental stewardship in ways that extend beyond the religious and demographic polarisations that jettison the present political conversations around Kashmir.

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    Aditi Saraf is an assistant professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at Ashoka University. Her research focusses on the relationship between commerce and sovereignty in the Kashmir region.

    Keywords: Kashmir Jammu and Kashmir Article 370 State Subjects
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