A year after the annexation of Kashmir, the socio-economic situation has gotten worse.
This August marks a year since the Indian government abrogated Articles 370 and 35(a) of the Indian constitution, revoking Indian-administered Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and formally annexing the disputed region.
Article 370, although reduced to an “empty husk” through a series of legislations since 1953, allowed the region to have its own constitution, flag and laws. Article 35(a) enshrined the rights of indigenous Kashmiris towards land, education and jobs.
The move lent credence to the widespread belief in Kashmir that India wanted to effect a demographic change in the region. Even before the abrogation of the articles, Kashmiri scholars like Sheikh Showkat Hussain observed that the manipulation of population census data and the settlement of residents from outside the region had laid the foundations for altering the ethnoreligious makeup of Kashmir.
In its defence of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35(a), the Indian government of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has claimed that these constitutional amendments will bring development and normalcy, ending violence in the conflict-ridden region. In October 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured his supporters at a public rally that it would take no more than four months “to normalise the abnormal situation that has persisted [in Jammu and Kashmir] for 40 years.”
The government also claims that by taking away Kashmir’s special powers and integrating it with the rest of India, it will be able to bring the region at par with other Indian states and strengthen national unity.
In late March this year, the Indian government made all doubts about its intentions disappear by announcing a new domicile law allowing Indian citizens from outside Kashmir who fulfil certain criteria to obtain domicile status, which in turn enables them to lay a claim on land and government jobs in the region. These developments signal the arrival of settler colonialism to Kashmir with the aim of marginalising its majority Muslim population.
A development mirage
As with any colonial project, New Delhi is also crafting compelling narratives of progress, modernity and development to justify its actions in Kashmir. Yet, it seems increasingly clear that it is the government’s aggressive policies towards the region that have hurt its development path and its economy.
Kashmir’s economic history shows that it enjoyed a relatively stable economy compared to other Indian states for decades before annexation. In the mid-20th century, it underwent a social transformation that had few parallels in South Asia.
In an interview with an Indian daily last year, noted economist Jean Dreze emphasised that Jammu and Kashmir had
been able to maintain key development indicators at par with other Indian states because of Article 370 which allowed for the radical land reforms of the 1950s.
The reforms abolished the feudal economic structure and extortionate taxes on peasants and put an end to the feudal exploitation of their labour. This reshaped the socioeconomic landscape of the region, improving the lot of many Kashmiris.