NEW DELHI — Chants of “Long live Mother India!” and “Down with Pakistan!” rang out in the streets of New Delhi as crowds gathered to hear the prime minister speak atop the historic Red Fort.
As more than one billion Indians celebrate the end of British colonialism, Narendra Modi’s massive fan base is also patriotically hailing their leader’s recent revision to the constitution: ending the state of Jammu and Kashmir’s special autonomy.
“I must say Modi is like a god to India today. Terrorism will end. The fact is that Kashmir is ours now,” Vijay Rashtravadi, a villager visiting the capital for Independence Day, told VICE News.
Modi’s dominant Hindu-nationalist party will also split up India’s only Muslim-majority state — and downgrade its status to a "union territory" — which means Kashmiris will lose representatives in Parliament and will be directly ruled by the central government.
The move has angered Pakistan, which has always laid claim to parts of Jammu and Kashmir since getting independence from the British.
“It’s my hope that Pakistan-controlled Kashmir will be ours soon, also,” Rashtravadi said. “It’s my hope Modi will quickly make it ours too.”
In Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir’s capital, celebrations were orchestrated — largely missing the people who actually live there.
“This is all bullshit,” Hameeda Nayeem, a professor at Kashmir University, told VICE News. “They are actually hiding a dark Hindu fantasy of destroying Kashmiri Muslims and reducing them to a minuscule minority, so they can always rule them and they will be enslaved.”
The region has been under lockdown for 12 days; the government sent 35,000 additional troops, has totally blacked out internet and communications, imprisoned opposition politicians, and banned large public gatherings.
“Kashmiris have lost 5,000 years of history as a country,” Nayeem said. “Overnight their identity, their dignity, their everything, has been lost.”
Downgrading democracy in Kashmir will likely push people towards an insurgency that Pakistan continues to sponsor.
“You are creating a dynamic which is pushing violence forward. Why is that done? That is also done deliberately to provoke this violence,” Dr. Ajai Sahni, Executive Director at the Institute for Conflict Management, told VICE News. “So you create this whole demonization of the Muslim which assists in your Hindutva consolidation.”
Video produced by: Angad Singh, Zubair Ahmed Dar, Supreet J. Bargi and Akash Bisht
Video Editing by: Adam Deniston
This segment originally aired on VICE News Tonight on HBO on August 15, 2019.