On 5 August, the Narendra Modi-led government removed the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution. The government downgraded the state into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. It then enforced a communications blockade in the region, which is still ongoing. The government has since claimed that the situation on the ground is peaceful, and that people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have all welcomed the move. News reports from the region, however, contradict this claim.
In “State Subjects,” The Caravan is featuring a collection of voices from various parts of the erstwhile state. Apurva Bamezai is a Kashmiri Pandit who is currently pursuing a PhD in political science at the University of Pennsylvania, in the United States. She argues that the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status does not change anything for the Kashmiri Pandits in any material, cultural or legal sense, and urges the community to oppose the oppression of the Kashmiri Muslim population by the Indian state.
I felt a great unease as news reports poured in from Kashmir in the week leading up to 5 August 2019. The Amarnath Yatra had not been cancelled even at the height of militancy—yet, on 2 August, the Kashmir Valley was cleared of all pilgrims and tourists. Questions abounded about what was to happen. I was glued to the television when Amit Shah walked in to parliament to finally lay all the rumours and speculation to rest. By then, it had become clear that Article 35A of the Constitution, which granted residents of Jammu and Kashmir special rights in certain matters such as acquisition of immovable property and protection of state jobs, was going down. But with complete shock and horror, I realised that Shah had done the unthinkable—Article 370 had been read down to abrogate the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and the state had been diminished to a union territory.
Enough has been said and written about the draconian and constitutionally immoral nature of the government of India’s move. I want to bring in a perspective that is shared by a section of the Kashmiri Pandits, or KPs—a minority within the context of Kashmir but a part of India’s religious majority.
I identify as a KP but often with the caveat that I have never lived, nor spent any substantial length of time, in Kashmir. I understand the language but I do not speak it, and I have been fairly distant from the land and its history, having grownup mainly in Delhi. In fact, I do not think I have really thought about my KP identity over the course of my life as much as I have since 5 August. My parents had been living outside of Kashmir at the time of the forced mass exodus of KPs from the Valley in the 1990s, and did not directly suffer the trauma and indignity of having to hide and run away in the middle of the night as many had to.