Indian-controlled Kashmir has remained on edge in the year since New Delhi scrapped the disputed region’s semi-autonomy and imposed a near-total clampdown.
While deeply unpopular in Muslim-majority Kashmir, the sudden move last August resonated in much of India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was cheered by supporters for fulfilling a long-held Hindu nationalist pledge to scrap the restive region's special privileges and assimilate Kashmir into the rest of the country.
Since then, the Indian government has imposed overarching restrictions, ranging from curfews to communication blackouts, and enacted new laws that have created a climate of fear.
Here is an overview:
On Aug. 5, 2019, the Modi government passed legislation in Parliament that stripped Jammu and Kashmir's statehood, scrapped its separate constitution and removed inherited protections on land and jobs.
The region was also split into two federal territories — Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir. To forestall any public revolt, the region was flooded with soldiers manning roadblocks of razor wire. Phone lines and internet connections were switched off and residents were under a 24-hour curfew for several weeks, and then an intermittent lockdown for months.
Indian authorities detained and arrested thousands of young people as well as pro-freedom Kashmir leaders and pro-India politicians.
Officials began the work of integrating Kashmir into the rest of India with a slew of administrative changes enacted without any public input. Many Muslim ethnic Kashmiris viewed the changes as an annexation, while members of minority Hindu and Buddhist communities initially welcomed the move but later expressed fear of losing land and jobs in the pristine Himalayan region.
A domicile law rolled out in May makes it possible for any Indian national who has lived in the region for at least 15 years or has studied for seven years and taken certain exams to become a permanent resident of Jammu-Kashmir. New residency documents are required for all.
Many ethnic Kashmiris see the move as an attempt to use settlers to engineer a demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region.
In July, the government also eased rules for Indian soldiers to acquire land in Kashmir and build “strategic” settlements. Pro-India Kashmiri political parties slammed the move, with the mainstream National Conference party deriding it as a “major land grab” to “turn the entire region into a military establishment.”
India’s security restrictions choked business across the region. With the addition of further nationwide restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses have been abandoned. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries estimated a $5.3 billion hit to the economy and about half a million jobs lost since last August.
A cutting of internet access followed by sharp limits on speed has affected education, entrepreneurship and healthcare.
Thousands of students and scholars could not apply for exams and educational opportunities. Students struggled to study online with slow internet connections, which often were cut completely during gunbattles between rebels and Indian soldiers.
SECURITY AND GEOPOLITICS
As India partially lifted the restrictions, fighting between rebels and government forces intensified, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, as India stepped up counterinsurgency operations. Militants also continued their attacks on government forces and alleged informants.
“The sheer scale of daily violence goes contrary to the statements made by India’s prime minister that Aug. 5 changes will end militancy in Kashmir,” said Parvez Imroz, a local human rights lawyer.
In April, authorities introduced a new policy of not identifying militants killed in gunbattles and secretly burying their bodies far from their family homes to prevent typically large funerals.
India’s decision to take direct control over Ladakh, also claimed in part by China, may have exacerbated border tensions between the two countries. Meanwhile, Pakistan has sharply criticized India's unilateral actions in Kashmir, which it also claims, sending their tortured relationship to new lows.
“Given that Kashmir is surrounded by three nuclear weapon states with huge conventional capabilities, Indian unilateralism in Kashmir is creating a deadly situation,” said U.S.-based Kashmiri political anthropologist Mohammed Junaid.
GOVERNMENT'S “DEVELOPMENTAL POSSIBILITIES”
In a document issued ahead of the Aug. 5 anniversary, India's government said the revocation of Kashmir's special status has resulted in a wide range of accomplishments allowing the people of the region “to realize their full developmental possibilities in peace and security.”
It said, without providing much detail, that it had rooted out corruption, reduced unemployment, provided affordable health care, boosted agricultural revenues and accelerated infrastructural development.
The Modi government has maintained that the changes are for the public good and national security to stop threats from Pakistan and “anti-national elements.”
In the last year, thousands of people have been detained and allegations of torture and ransom kidnappings have been rampant. The Jammu-Kashmir High Court Bar Association said in a June 25 letter that out of 600 habeas corpus petitions — requests to courts to review whether a detention is lawful — “not even 1% of such cases have been decided.”
With so many people locked up, Kashmir's decades-long protests calling for independence from India have shifted from the streets to social media.
For months, authorities blocked popular social media sites such as YouTube and WhatsApp, and charged several people under India’s anti-terror law for social media posts.
Kashmir’s press has also faced major difficulties. Many journalists in the region were intimated, harassed, summoned to police stations and sometimes arrested. The administration also implemented a new media policy that seeks to control reporting.
The government says the new media policy is aimed at “creating a sustained narrative on the functioning of the government in media” and empowers the government to decide “anti-national” news. The policy came into effect in June.
The changes have deepened anger and frustration among ordinary people, intensifying anti-India sentiment in the region. They have also energized the Kashmiri diaspora around the world.
“This has been the most hurtful and humiliating year in our lives,” said Javaid Ahmed, a 50-year-old businessman from the outskirts of Kashmir's main city, Srinagar.
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