India's decision to revoke Article 370: what are the repercussions?
Updated: Jan 7, 2020
On the 5th of August 2019, the Indian parliament agreed to revoke Article 370 of India’s constitution, which had granted special status to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. On the 31st of October 2019 the decision was implemented, however its potential efficacy is uncertain. The move has ignited months of acute disorder in the region, already tainted by a turbulent history.
Revoking Article 370 has significant implications for those in Jammu and Kashmir. Crucially, they will lose substantial power to create and enforce their own laws. They will be subject to 106 more federal laws concerning the region, and over 150 of the laws they once made will be replaced. Furthermore, the region of Jammu and Kashmir will be divided into two union territories, one comprising of the Kashmir Valley and Jammu, and the other of Ladakh. The territories will be administered by two lieutenant governors who will report to the Indian home secretary. Ladakh will be under the Indian governments’ direct administration, and while Jammu and Kashmir will retain its own elected assembly, it will lose its constitution and flag.
Article 370 itself emerged out of a profound dispute regarding the status and autonomy of the region. After Britain granted independence to India in 1947 and created the two dominions India and Pakistan, it left the Kashmir region to accede to either. The region was strongly fought over in the Indo-Pakistan war 1947-1948, and resulted in India occupying two-thirds of the region; the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh. The degree of autonomy guaranteed to those in Kashmir was affirmed in 1957 with Article 370 being introduced in the Indian Constitution. Article 370 stipulated that the Indian Constitution would only apply to Kashmir in matters concerning finance, defence, foreign affairs and communications, and on all other matters the region was free to make its own laws. However, there has been little concord over these arrangements, and tension over the situation has been dramatically heightened in recent years.
Fuelling this tension appears to be a religious divide, exacerbated by repressive measures and human rights abuses. Primarily, as highlighted by a recent census, roughly 80% of India’s population identify as Hindu, whereas Indian-administered Kashmir is largely comprised of Muslims and Buddhists, with 96.4% of the Kashmir Valley identifying as Muslim. In recent years, there has been a concurrent and mutually reinforcing rise in Hindu nationalism throughout India, and Islamic nationalism and separatism throughout Kashmir.
In 2014, the Hindu nationalist party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected to govern India, and in 2015 formed a governing coalition in Indian-administered Kashmir. The BJP have traditionally opposed Article 370, especially for its Article 35A provision. Article 35A allowed the Kashmiri government to define the ‘permanent residents’ of Kashmir, and provide exclusive rights and privileges to those residents. Notably, it excluded outsiders from permanently settling, buying land, holding government, and denies property rights to its female residents. Some have suggested that Kashmiri’s have previously used Article 35A to prevent Hindu’s migrating into the state. In 1989, an estimated 100,000 Kashmiri Hindus known as ‘Kashmiri Pandits’ fled the state, following Kashmiri protests against Indian rule.
Kashmiri separatism and nationalism has accelerated in recent years with the emergence of Burhan Wani, a Kashmiri nationalist who vied for Kashmiri separatism. Wani launched many campaigns, most significantly he fought against a proposal for Kashmiri Hindu’s to establish colonies in Kashmir, on the grounds that it would change the demographics of the region. Through social media he gave substantial momentum to the movement, attracting many young Kashmiris.
In July 2016, Indian security forces responded by killing Burhan Wani, drastically heightening the tension between India and Kashmir. Anti-India protests erupted in 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley, and the Indian government responded by imposing 53 days of consecutive curfew in the region. The curfew involved mobile services being suspended, pellet guns, tear gas shells, rubber bullets and assault rifles being used against Kashmiri protestors. It resulted in 90 civilian deaths and 15,000 civilian injuries.
In this context, the decision to revoke Article 370 has received mixed reactions. The move has been welcomed by many non-permanent residents and Indian citizens outside the region, who will now be entitled to the ‘special privileges’ previously denied to them by Article 35A. Notably, it is estimated that around 350,000 members of the Kashmiri Hindu community who were displaced from the Kashmir Valley, will be able to return. Indeed, India has already taken positive actions to benefit the region. For example, Delhi’s Satya Pal Malik, who was appointed governor of Jammu and Kashmir at the end of August, pledged to fill 50,000 vacancies in government positions over the next few months, calling it the largest recruitment drive in the region. And furthermore, has announced that 700m will be committed towards helping apple farmers in the region, where horticulture especially apple orchards play a significant role in the economy.
Nevertheless, the move has been met with severe resentment from Pakistan and much of the Muslim population in Kashmir. On the 15th of August, India’s Independence Day, Pakistan observed a black day in relation to Kashmir. Throughout Pakistan social media pictures were replaced with black squares, newspapers had black borders and government buildings flew their flags at half-mast. Moreover, there have been many protests from nationalist and separatist organisations. For example, over 1,000 supporters of Hizbul Mujahideen, a Pakistani militant organisation which seeks Jammu and Kashmir’s integration into Pakistan, protested in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, holding black flags and shouting anti-India slogans.
However, what appears to have caused the greatest resentment, is the security crackdown the Indian government have imposed upon the region. In anticipation of Kashmir and Pakistan’s response to the move, at midnight on the 4th of August, the Indian government authorised the shutdown of landlines, mobile, TV, internet services, shops, clinic and educational services in the region. In preparation and response to the protests, the Indian government approved the mobilisation of over 38,000 paramilitary troops in the region. By the 18th of August, India had arrested around 4,000 people in Indian-administered Kashmir, and held them under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a law which allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial.
These measures have been met with strong resistance from the Kashmiri people. Not only have the ‘Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front’ (JKLF) group organised marches and gone on hunger strike, but the Kashmiri as a collective, have made calls to the international community.
On the 16th of August, a United Nations Security Council meeting took place for the first time in over 50 years to discuss the issue. Although no statement was issued to the press, the council members highlighted their desire for India and Pakistan to engage in bilateral dialogue over the issue. On the 9th of September, the UN high commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet announced to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva ‘I am deeply concerned about the impact of recent actions by the government of India on the human rights of Kashmiris’. Bachelet said she had urged both India and Pakistan and she had ‘appealed particularly to India to ease the current lockdowns or curfews, to ensure people’s access to basic services, and that all due process rights are respected for those who have been detained’.
On the 22nd of October, the US House Subcommittee on Asia held a hearing which focused on the Kashmir dispute. Here, the Amnesty International Representative, reported ongoing detentions, lack of press freedoms and attacks on religious freedoms in India. Expert scholars discussed the rise of Hindu majoritarianism, enforced disappearances, rape, extrajudicial killings and torture in Kashmir. Indeed, people from all over the world have responded, with protests, vigils and marches being held in hundreds of cities across the globe.
Ultimately, in the context of nuclear-armed India and Pakistan being so divided over the perennial issue, there is an underlying fear among many, that the decision could trigger a war between the two countries. While Pakistan’s minister for foreign affairs has stated that the situation could ignite an ‘accidental war’. At the United Nations Security Council meeting on the 16th of August, the Chinese ambassador announced that their chief concern was for India and Pakistan to ‘refrain from taking any unilateral action which might further ‘aggravate’ an already ‘very dangerous’ situation.
Photo Courtesy of Geopolitica.RU
At the time of writing Olivia Mair is a Politics BA graduate from Newcastle University. Areas that interest her the most are international affairs in Asia and the Middle East.