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Article 370: A Way Forward for India and Pakistan

By Jeevan Zutshi Email By Jeevan Zutshi
September 2019
Article 370: A Way Forward for India and Pakistan

 

My memories go back to the year 1991 when I wrote an article in India Currents about the history of Kashmir and the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits starting in January 1990, stirring controversy and raising criticism by some local Kashmiri Muslims, thus leading to a long healthy debate. At the end of this civil debate most of us ended up as friends, as we are today. Friends, with some basic disagreements.

We knew all along that all the issues in the Kashmir Valley will be resolved if Article 370, which provides special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir is abolished. Now, discrimination based on demography has been eradicated. Kashmir has been integrated with India.

Kashmiri Hindus, better known as Kashmiri Pandits, are historically reported to be the original inhabitants of Kashmir Valley. Their roots in Kashmir can be traced to that time when civilization began in the valley. Their history spreading over 5,000 years could be testified through several historical works, including the legendary Nilamat Purana.

Kashmir’s first imperial history began in 250 BC when Asoka reigned over the land. Nearly 1,000 years later, Lalitaditya reigned (725-761) after conquering most of north India, Central Asia, and Tibet. The advent of Islam in Kashmir around the 14th century brought a paradigm shift in the socio-political and religious system.

Islam entered Kashmir nearly 700 years after its birth when Kashmir came into contact with the Muslim invaders. Islam had been spreading throughout the rest of India for 300 years. Force was used to con-vert the inhabitants of the valley. The population of Hindus in the valley continued to decrease and they became minorities in their own land where they were once in the majority. Kashmiri Hindus have migrated several times from the valley due to this very Islamic fundamentalism. But somehow, through it all, Kashmiri Pandits managed to preserve their religion, culture, as well as traditions.

Kashmir’s history, after the arrival of Islam, sets the backdrop for the current conflict, which has been waging ever since India won its independence from Britain in 1947 and Pakistan became an independent Muslim state.

There have been seven exoduses of Pandits to this date. Unfortunately, the seventh one happened in 1989-90 in the age of democracy, liberalism, secularism, and universal brotherhood. Most of the Pandits were forced to flee from the valley owing to terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists. Pandits left the valley because there was an attack on their culture, traditions, and religion, and above all, on their existence. Thousands of them were killed during the gloomy nineties and many lost their lives in exile due to post-exodus trauma. The trauma continues, especially among the elderly who will be in pain until they can return to their home.

There are some sane voices among the majority community of Kashmir who are truly secular and not “pseudo-secular,” who don’t support such Nizam-e-Mustafa movement, but their numbers are very few. And their voices are curbed.

No culture can survive if it is uprooted from its place of origin. There is an eternal link between people and their land. The cultural heritage of Kashmir is an integral part of the vast Indian Hindu cultural fund as a whole. Since 1947 the land has become part of the Indian Union.

Religious minority groups flourish in India. It has the world’s second largest Muslim population (approximately 176 million or 14.4 percent of India’s population), and the world’s largest Sikh (1.9 percent) and Jain populations (0.4 percent). There are also substantial numbers of Christians (2.3 percent) and Buddhists (0.8 percent). Smaller communities of Jews and Zoroastrians have been living in India for over a millennia. India was founded on secular principles and as a home for multiple religious communities. On the other hand, Pakistan was and continues to be an exclusionary state intended only for Muslims, where the state has legalized and institutionalized discrimination against minorities. As a result, in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, minorities face much greater difficulties than minorities in India.

It is important to note that the state of Jammu and Kashmir had a Muslim population of 65% and a Hindu population of 30%. So, the Muslim population is not overwhelmingly high. It is in the Kashmir Valley that the Muslim population is 97%. Often, the people following the Kashmir problem are ignorant of these demographics. Wars have broken out between India and Pakistan three times since 1947. An alarming component of this conflict is not only the suffering of Kashmiris, who have been forced to endure the outbreaks and Pakistan’s attempts at stirring up ancient rivalries between Muslims and Hindus, but the fact that in 1990 and 2001-2002, the two countries threatened to use nuclear weapons over it.

By making the new areas of Jammu and Kashmir a Union Territory, the Constituent Assembly has been revoked. Article 370 gave Jammu and Kashmir its own constitution and restricted the Indian Parliament’s legislative power over it to defense, foreign affairs, and communications. Similarly, Article 35A defined who were permanent residents of the state and determined who could buy property in the state and enjoy other special rights and privileges. Article 356 of the Indian Constitution is now applicable in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, by which President’s rule surpasses the Governor’s rule, which can be imposed in these areas.

Article 370 removal has made many positive changes for the areas of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, including no special powers exercised by Jammu and Kashmir, no dual citizenship, no separate constitution, reservations for minorities and backward classes, no discrimination against the women of Kashmir when they marry someone from outside of the state. All citizens of these areas will be considered equal, all provisions of the Indian constitution are now applicable in these areas, and with Union territory status, the security is now the Center’s responsibility. By making the areas of Jammu & Kashmir and the area of Ladakh two separate union territories, the special status has been revoked.

These are historic and momentous efforts that will enable the free flow and applicability of Indian constitution and all its laws into the region of Jammu and Kashmir without any special considerations. Not only has the Kashmir problem been solved, but it also vindicates Kashmiris of all faiths (some of whom lost their lives due to turbulence and some, like Kashmiri Pandits, who had lost their roots). Now is the time for healing as all Kashmiris come together as Indian nationals and work toward making Kashmir the valley of saints once again.

As a Union Territory, it will also improve the security situation with respect to cross border terrorism and bring peace, harmony, and stability in Jammu-Kashmir. Kashmiri Muslims must understand that all manners of cultural markers over 2,500 years of Kashmiri history (right from 500 BCE onwards) display unequivocally a Kashmir that was intensively integrated with the rest of India. In the face of this historical reality of Kashmir, Article 370 as an exclusionary means artificially separating Kashmir from the rest of the country was an anomaly that has now been removed.

It will be recognized that the dynasty rulers in Kashmir have bungled up the state through corrupt practices. The poor segment of society wants stability, security, and employment, especially when unemployment rates are as high as 30 percent among the urban population.

The emphasis must be to promote pluralism in the State so that all communities can live together as they did before Pakistani trained militants forced Kashmiri Pandits to leave. Intra-Kashmiri dialogue, exchanging programs of students, writers, artists to offer their strengths in all the regions will definitely help in reconnecting and reintegrating hearts and minds of the people.

The opening up of the local economy to outside actors will be akin to India’s liberalization moment of 1991 when it opened up its economy and integrated with the outside world. As the legal impediments to the free movement of people and access to assets like land have been removed, the economic focus of the state can now be broadened beyond tourism and agriculture. Industrialization can slowly expand its prominence in the local economy. Thus, the elimination of the special status and more centrality of governance should beget higher availability of economic opportunities and wider avenues of growth for the people of Kashmir.

Regarding the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, my suggestion is that the matter be left for Kashmiri organizations in India to decide, based on their interaction with local Kashmiris and the Government of India.


California-based Jeevan Zutshi is the chairman of Kashmir Task Force, founding member of the California Chapter of Kashmiri Overseas Association, and founding member and former executive director of Indo-American Kashmir Forum. A slightly longer version of this article first appeared on IndiaCurrents.com. This Opinion article is offered as another perspective, divergent from our editorial on the subject. The editorial appears next in the print/digital issue.


Website Bonus Feature

September 7, 2019
Embassy of India
Washington DC

Dear Friend,

Please find enclosed a brief note containing update on J&K. You would have seen a lot of information being shared/available in open domain which is giving a distorted and misleading picture about J&K. As community leader, you are requested to share and explain the real picture to all community members so that they are aware of the factual situation.

Latest update on Jammu and Kashmir
The situation has remained peaceful across Kashmir valley. There has been no incident of major violence. Not even a single live bullet has been fired. There has been no loss of life. Some protests have been handled by local police while exercising full restraint.

All landlines are functional. Mobile facility restored in all districts of Jammu and Ladakh division and in Kupwara district of Kashmir.

91 per cent of Kashmir valley free from any day time restrictions; all of Jammu and Ladakh regions are free from any day-time restrictions.

Essential supplies, including 24×7 electricity, water supply, and sanitation are being ensured. Home delivery of LPG cylinders has been started. More than 60,000 LPG cylinders have been distributed in Srinagar alone.

Hospitals and medical facilities are functioning normally. 700,000 people visited different district hospitals in Out Patient Departments (OPD) in the month of August alone. All 376 notified drugs are available at Government shops and also private retailers.

Airlines ticketing counters with 8 terminals has been made functional at Tourist Reception Center (TRC), Srinagar. Road transport, both public and private, within the districts and between districts has resumed.

Six new projects worth US$ 37.5 million (Rs 270 crore) aimed at strengthening of power infrastructure and improving the power scenario have been initiated in Srinagar.

The transportation of fruit produce was increasing with 300 trucks plying on daily basis, adding that over 1.5 Lakh MTs of fruit produce has been sent to various sale points outside of Valley.

50000 Vacancies in Government to be filled on priority - largest single recruitment drive ever in Jammu & Kashmir or Ladakh.

Over 29,000 aspiring youths from Jammu region have registered and are likely to be screened for physical and medical fitness during a week-long Army recruitment rally held in Reasi.

National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) has pledged over US$ 800 million for apple procurement in the Valley - to benefit over 7 lakh apple farmers of the State

Elections to Block Development Councils to be conducted & completed before the end of October

The schedule of weekly hearing of public grievances by Government officials in both the capital cities of Srinagar and Jammu has been has been notified.

Primary, Middle and High Schools are functioning with improved attendance. Banking and ATM facilities operating normally

A media center has been set up in J&K to enable the media to cover events in the J&K. Regular press briefings are being held. Over 400 press passes have been issued, majority to local journalists. All Mainstream Newspapers are being printed. Satellite channels and Cable TV networks are operational.

Full focus is on returning the situation to normalcy. Some remaining restrictions on the communications and preventive detentions remain with a view to maintain public law and order. These restrictions are being reviewed continuously and being eased by local administration based on the ground situation.

Following twitter handles provide accurate updates on the situation:
i) DC, Srinagar: @listenshahid
ii) SSP Security, Sirinagar: @hussain_imtiyaz
iii) DIPR: @diprjk
iv) JK Police: @JmuKmrPolice
v) Spokesperson, Ministry of Home Affairs- @PIBHomeAffairs


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