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Away From Home, a Kashmiri Tries to Make Sense of India’s Revoking of Kashmir’s Special Status

“One of my friends went to the office washroom and wept. ‘We will be guests in our own homes now,’ he cried.”

by Hanan Zaffar
05 August 2019, 4:12pm

A man holds a sign and shouts slogans during a protest after the government scrapped the special status for Kashmir, in New Delhi, India, August 5, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Last evening, I received many texts from my friends back home in the Kashmir Valley, bidding goodbyes. “The end is nigh,” said some of them. I was amazed at their negativity. They’re naïve, I thought to myself, sitting in the safe comforts of my college campus in Delhi, away from my friends and family in Kashmir. The world is not ending. For them though, they believed it was.

They could see it from their windows. They could peek at it through their attic windows. The empty streets were getting crowded with security forces moving in droves. “It seems we are in for big trouble,” one friend nervously messaged, just before the government declared a curfew last night and cut off all communication in the area. I pacified him by saying this was a mere psychological game played by the Centre. This is actually how we in Kashmir comfort ourselves when we are staring at a bloodbath. We call it Markazi Chaal (Markazi means ‘the Centre’, Chaal means ‘a trick’).

I would have loved to say I was right but even when I was saying it, deep down, I knew something enormous was brewing. In a region which is already the most militarised zone in the world, why do you need to deploy thousands of additional security forces? But sometimes, it feels nice to live in a peaceful delusion than to disturb our peace of mind by rightly anticipating an apocalypse. I was in such a state.

However, the bubble burst today. What was inevitable or what most believed to be inevitable was floored today in the temple of Indian democracy. India’s Home Minister Amit Shah moved a resolution in the upper house of the Parliament seeking to introduce a Bill revoking all provisions of Article 370, which confers special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, despite uproar from the Opposition. Article 370: the apple of discord. Article 370: the saviour. Article 370: the bone of contention. You can add thousands of more idioms to this, depending on which side you belong to. To the shock of many, and jubilation of many more, Article 370 is not where Amit Shah stopped. Bills to bifurcate the state were also introduced. Now, Jammu and Kashmir would be a Delhi-esque Union territory with a state legislature while Ladakh, one without it. “India is a habit. Kashmir did not acquire this habit. India plans to train,” a senior journalist on Twitter summed up the story.

There are actually a plethora of legal issues associated with the abrogation of Article 370. Not astonishingly, regional parties of the state have already decided to approach the Supreme Court against this move. But many also believe Amit Shah has it all sorted, and support this ‘momentous’ move.

Interestingly, for some Kashmiris, today is a victory. Victory because their recalcitrance has made the government bend its own rules. Victory because they feel that the string which held them to the Indian constitution has been cut loose. “By whatever fictitious thread Kashmir had been tied to the union of India, it has been cut loose. We are an independent nation now. I congratulate my countrymen,” one Kashmiri declared on Facebook. From what I could fathom, this was more of an anguish though. One of my friends went to the office washroom and wept. “We will be guests in our own homes now,” he cried.

This sentiment, of being guests in their own homes, is exactly what most Kashmiris feel scrapping of Article 370 means, as their autonomy has vanished. Would massive multi-national corporations now enter into the scene, grab our serene valleys and build huge skyscrapers? Would the government build the likes of Israeli settlements here? Will there be separate clusters for security personnel? Would they facilitate settling of Hindus to change the demography? For many people, these now don’t seem to be open-ended questions at all. “It is done and dusted. We are doomed,” reads a WhatsApp status of one friend. It’s not even been a day and fake land and property sale messages offering buyers land in Kashmir have already started to circulate.

Amidst all the chaos within a Kashmiri mind, reports of celebrations from other states have already emerged. For many ‘mainland’ Indians, the move is historical as it integrates Jammu and Kashmir to the Union of India. But does this then mean that for seven decades, Jammu and Kashmir was not an ‘integral’ part of India?

Follow Hanan Zaffar on Twitter.

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