Fri. Dec 13th, 2019

Article 370: Kashmiris express anger at loss of special status

Indian-administered Kashmir has been in a state of lockdown ever since the government decided to strip the region of its special status, with mobile phone networks, landlines and internet access cut off. The BBC has been inside Jammu and Kashmir, to hear the voices of those most affected by the change.

Amid the furious debate over the legality and implications of the Indian government’s decision to revoke Article 370 – which gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir significant autonomy from the rest of the country – it seemed one key voice was missing. Those of the Kashmiris themselves.

In the days leading up to Monday’s parliamentary announcement, the state was swiftly locked down. Tens of thousands of troops were deployed to the region, and two of the state’s former chief ministers – Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah – were placed under house arrest.

With most forms of communication cut off, police officers in the region were given satellite phones. Nearly everyone else was effectively cut off from the rest of the country.

Now, shocked residents of the region are beginning to speak out – although many are still struggling to get a full picture of what is going on.

Rashid Alvi, who runs a medicine shop in Srinagar said that the heavy military presence had turned the region into an “open jail”.

He told the BBC’s Zubair Ahmed that the people of the state would not be quiet for long.

“People are unable to get out of their houses because of the curfew. Once it’s lifted, they will take to the streets.”

This sentiment was echoed by a Muslim politician from India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who did not wish to be identified.

“Kashmiris are in a state of shock and they are still processing what happened. It seems the valley is going to erupt very soon,” he said.

Our correspondent, who has been in Srinagar – the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir – since Monday, says the city resembles a warzone.

“I could see policemen deployed everywhere. Barricades have been put in front of important buildings. Markets, schools and colleges are shut. The city’s bus stands are crowded as many tourists are still trying to leave the valley but there aren’t enough buses.”

Meanwhile, outside Srinagar, the sense of frustration and anger is the same.

The BBC’s Aamir Peerzada, who travelled to the town of Baramulla in north Kashmir, found locals bewildered and suspicious about the government’s decision.

“There had been no discussion about this move. No-one had expected it. We were shocked when we heard about it. Why would you take such a step in secret? Come out and tell us it’s a good move” one resident, Abdul Khali Najar, said.

Another local, identified only as Zaroor, likened the government move to a “marriage that has ended”.

“No-one knows what is going to happen,” he said.

There have been some sporadic reports of protesters throwing stones at security forces but there has been no official confirmation of any incident to date.

Some public figures have also been able to circumvent the internet blocks to talk about what is happening on social media.

“People are in shock. Numb. Yet to make sense of what befell them. Everyone is mourning what we lost… it’s the loss of statehood that has hurt people deeply. This is being seen as the biggest betrayal by the Indian state in the last 70 years,” Shah Faesal, an Indian civil servant who has started his own political party, wrote on Facebook.

Why is Kashmir controversial?

Kashmir is a Himalayan region that both India and Pakistan say is fully theirs.

The area was once a princely state called Jammu and Kashmir, but it joined India in 1947 when the sub-continent was divided up at the end of British rule.

India and Pakistan subsequently went to war over it and each came to control different parts of the territory with a ceasefire line agreed.

There has been violence in the Indian-administered side for 30 years due to a separatist insurgency against Indian rule.

How has Kashmir’s status changed?

For many people in Indian-administered Kashmir, Article 370 was the main justification for being a part of India. By revoking it, the BJP-led government has significantly changed Delhi’s relationship with the region.

The article allowed the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir a certain amount of autonomy – its own constitution, a separate flag and the freedom to make laws, though foreign affairs, defence and communications remained with the central government.

Under the article, Jammu and Kashmir could make its own rules relating to permanent residency, ownership of property and fundamental rights. It could also bar Indians from outside the state from purchasing property or settling there.

The government said Article 370 needed to be scrapped to put the state on the same footing as the rest of India.

But many Kashmiris believe that the BJP ultimately wants to change the demographic character of the Muslim-majority region by allowing non-Kashmiris to buy land there.

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