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Kashmir: A year of lost autonomy

Rifat Fareed Srinagar | Murali Krishnan New Delhi
August 4, 2020

It has been a year since the Indian government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special semi-autonomous status. DW examines what has changed there since then.

Kashmir: A year of lockdown and lost autonomy
Image: Reuters/A. Abidi

A year after India revoked the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, people in the region are still living under curfews, lockdowns and communications restrictions. New Delhi says the measures are necessary to maintain security in the restive region.   

However, many Kashmiris consider the policy to be part of a systematic campaign of oppression from India's Hindu nationalist government.

Read more: Kashmir: The world's most dangerous conflict

Last year on August 5, New Delhi decided to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian constitution — which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir — downgraded the state into two federally governed territories. 

The move sparked widespread unrest, prompting Indian security forces to enforce strict curfews and curtail public movement.

Waheed Ahmad Para, a young politician with Kashmir's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), remembers how he was preemptively detained when the announcement was made last year.

Para was giving an interview in a news studio in the regional capital, Srinagar, when the police raided the studio and shut down the broadcast.

The PDP party opposed dissolving the region's special status, and Para was rounded up along with 30 other politicians and detained at a hotel.

A woman's perspective of the Kashmir conflict

'Political paralysis'

Para's detention would last six months. It was part of a massive crackdown on political parties, separatist groups and civil society actors — all of whom opposed New Delhi's move.

Among the detainees were former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah.

The detentions were carried out under India's Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows detention for up to a year without bail or trial.

Read more: How Asia's official maps promote propaganda

The Concerned Citizens Group, an activist organization led by former Indian Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, has demanded the release of those who were detained under the PSA.

"We find that New Delhi's actions have led to shock, trauma and humiliation among locals [in Kashmir]. Simmering anger over their helplessness persists," Sinha told DW.

Speaking to DW, Para described his detention as "a personal humiliation," and said the Indian government's oppression of local leaders resulted in a "political paralysis" in the region.

"A lot is happening and we are unable to do anything, speak up or resist," he said in Srinagar, adding that India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not have a lot of political support in Kashmir.

'Broken' economy

The status of Kashmir has been a key dispute between Pakistan and India since the two split after the end of British colonial rule. They each control part of Kashmir and have fought two wars over their rival claims.

Separatist militants launched a full-blown revolt against New Delhi in India-administered Kashmir in 1989, a conflict that has left tens of thousands dead and prompted the deployment of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government insists that the revocation of the special status was needed to halt the conflict and boost economic development in Kashmir.

The impact of the government's actions over the past year on Kashmir's already fragile economy has been enormous, shuttering shops and small businesses that then took another hit as the coronavirus hit India hard and triggered a nationwide lockdown.

Despite New Delhi's claims that economic progress has been made in Kashmir over the past year, Sheikh Ashiq, the president of Kashmir's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told DW that the region has faced losses worth over €4.5 billion ($5.3 billion) over the past year.

"These are our rough estimates as we are coming with a proper report soon. One lockdown after another has left nearly 500,000 people unemployed, which is our biggest concern. We are at a point where we have no financial capacity now," Sheikh said, adding the economic crisis is unprecedented.

"There has been unrest in the past as well but this situation is peculiar. We have reached a point where we are completely broken," he said.

PDP's Para shares a similar view. "For the past year there has been no development, no economic activity, no tourism," he said. "You can never win a population by detaining and defeating them."

The Concerned Citizens Group has demanded that Kashmiri farmers and businessmen be compensated for their economic losses, which the group attributes to the upheaval caused by the region losing its special status.

Fragile security

Over the past year, PM Modi's government has also brought in a slew of new laws that locals say are aimed at shifting the demographics in the Muslim-majority region.

The military, meanwhile, has intensified its counter-insurgency operations in recent months. Clashes in the first half of the year have left 229 dead, including 32 civilians, reports AFP news agency. The 283 people killed in all of 2019 was the highest toll for a decade.

Still, a senior official in India's Border Security Force, who wished to remain anonymous, told DW that the security situation in the region is "better than ever," citing a drop in the local youth joining pro-separatist extremist groups.

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