Kashmir: A year of utter misery

On 5 August 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which allowed the state of Jammu and Kashmir to make its own laws, and cancelled Article 35A, which gave the state’s legislature the power to determine who was a permanent resident.

The Indian government then sent about 40,000 additional troops into the territory—already the most militarised zone on earth—to deal with the inevitable negative reaction to Modi’s decision. A curfew was imposed, schools and universities were closed, the internet was shut down, thousands of tourists and pilgrims were told to leave, and politicians were put under house arrest.

Last, but probably most consequential, Jammu and Kashmir was abolished as a state (the only Muslim-majority one in India) and replaced by two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, which are governed directly from Delhi.

Not surprisingly, this unilateral action by the Modi government was rejected by the majority of Kashmiris and opposed by two of India’s neighbours, Pakistan and China.

The Modi government claimed that the move was meant to bring peace and development to Jammu and Kashmir. Instead, it has only brought more violence, more misery and more uncertainty, particularly to the seven million Muslims living in the Kashmir Valley. And, because of Covid-19, Kashmir is now effectively under a double lockdown.

All aspects of society in Kashmir have been severely affected by these measures.

Undoubtedly, the greatest hardship for Kashmiris over the past year has been the very limited access they’ve had to the internet. While broadband was restored intermittently a few months ago after India’s supreme court ruled that the internet shutdown violated people’s freedom of speech and expression, mobile users are still limited to 2G networks and internet shutdowns are frequent.

Having limited internet access has been particularly onerous during the Covid-19 lockdown as healthcare workers try to deal with the fallout of the pandemic, and Amnesty International has called for services to be fully restored. It has also severely impeded the daily lives of students, traders and journalists.

The Kashmiri economy, which relies heavily on tourism, has been completely gutted. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry projects a loss of about US$6 billion. Unemployment has soared to 18%, twice the national average; youth unemployment is a staggering 70%.


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