What is life like in Kashmir 3 years after losing special status? | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 05.08.2022

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Asia

What is life like in Kashmir 3 years after losing special status?

Kashmir's separatist movement has been marginalized, and violence has subsided in the region. However, Kashmiris say the tentative peace comes at a cost.

Protesters clash with security forces during a protest against sentencing of Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik, in Srinagar

Anti-India protests, stone pelting and frequent shutdowns have subsided in Kashmir over the past three years

On August 5, 2019, life in India-administered Kashmir changed forever after New Delhi abrogated Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which had allowed the region limited autonomy.      

India claimed that Kashmir's semiautonomy had been a "root cause" of anti-India militancy. 

India said its decision would improve the economic and social development of Kashmir, and embarked on a major political makeover of the Muslim-majority region.

New Delhi also opened land and jobs for people from across India while granting domicile and voting rights to thousands of Hindu refugees. The move unleashed anti-India protests, and New Delhi cracked down on dissent by imposing martial law, arresting protesters and shutting down communication.

India's clampdown on Kashmiri journalists, political leaders and human rights activists also drew criticism. 

Three years later, anti-India protests, stone pelting and frequent shutdowns have subsided

Kashmir separatist movement on its last legs?

New Delhi has managed to crush the Kashmir separatist movement by jailing its leaders or intimidating them into silence. Many top separatist leaders died and others are in jail. 

In September 2021, top separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani died at the age of 91 in Srinagar. The police did not allow the public to participate in his funeral, and Geelani was buried secretly

Another separatist leader, Yasin Malik, has been convicted on money-laundering charges and is sitting in Delhi's Tihar jail on a life sentence

How India influences Kashmiri politics 

As New Delhi tightened the noose around separatists, even pro-India Kashmiri leaders are under pressure for wanting to preserve the distinct identity of Kashmir. 

India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has indicated that it doesn't want independent Kashmiri leadership and would prefer to have its own people replace regional officials.

"The pro-India political space has shrunk rapidly. What was once moderate and constitutional is now considered anti-national and seditious," Iltija Mufti, a political analyst and daughter of former Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, told DW.

Mufti said the BJP had abrogated Article 370 of the constitution to "collectively humiliate Kashmiris" because the region was the only Muslim-majority state in India. 

"It also serves the purpose of satisfying their radicalized right-wing electorate and most importantly to settle the Kashmir issue once and for all by gradual demographic changes," she said.

Since Article 370 was scrapped, India has passed laws allowing Hindus from elsewhere in India easier access to property in Kashmir. 

BJP leader Priya Sethi has said the region is in a "transformational" mode. 

"The region will be at par with other states of India as the Modi government has taken measures to improve the social and economic standards of the people," Sethi said.

Kashmir journalists say threats, intimidation on the rise

Tension with Pakistan 

India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in full but rule it in part. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of backing Kashmiri separatists, a claim denied by Islamabad.

In February 2021, New Delhi received a major security boost after Islamabad reaffirmed the 2003 cease-fire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC), a de facto border, dividing Kashmir between the two countries.

It resulted in a sharp decline in infiltration of militants from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Since then, Indian army officials have reported no cease-fire violations along the LoC and a very small number of militants infiltrating across the border. 

With guns falling silent along the LoC,  Indian security forces have pursued militants, killing nearly 500 of them in the past three years.

In 2022, at least 125 militants have so far been killed in Kashmir.

"The security situation in Kashmir and along the LoC has gotten better. Even stone pelting and street violence has ended while recruitment of local militants has declined," Satish Dua, a retired Indian army general who served in Kashmir, told DW.

Targeting of civilians

During India's clampdown, militants are targeting civilians. This year, they have killed at least 13 civilians, mostly local Muslims allegedly for their pro-India leanings.

On May 12, massive protests were triggered after militants killed a Hindu at an office in Budgam district.

Dua said militancy would take a long time to disappear entirely, but added that the current situation for ordinary people is safer than it has been in the past. 

An estimated 200 militants, mostly local young men, are still active in Kashmir despite facing a shortage of arms and ammunition, triggered by the Pakistani army's curbs on the LoC.

Dua said 30 years of armed insurgency couldn't be undone overnight. "The alienation in the minds of people will take even longer. Because those born now will experience the benefits of prosperity in their future. It will take one or two generations to show results," Dua said.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn