By Iftikhar Gilani
ANKARA (AA) - When India annexed and reduced Jammu and Kashmir to a centrally administered territory exactly a year ago, observers felt the move was aimed at changing the region’s Muslim-majority character.
While it may take years to enforce huge demographic changes, it appears that the local population has already been ejected from the official machinery, thus further engraining a complex of disempowerment in the region.
According to figures available with the Jammu and Kashmir government, out of 24 secretary-level posts, only five are held by Muslims.
Besides, only 12 or 17.24% of the 58 top officers who manage the region are Muslims. One of them, Shah Faesal, who resigned two years ago after plunging into politics, spent 10 months in prison under the stringent Public Safety Act. Ironically, his resignation has not yet been accepted.
Out of the region’s population of 12.5 million, Muslims comprise 68.31% and Hindus 28.43%, according to a 2011 census conducted by India.
But even in the second tier of civilian bureaucracy known as the Kashmir Administrative Service, Muslims number just 220 (42.06%) out of a total of 523.
- Numbers much less in police service
Their numbers are much less in police services. Out of the 66 top police officers responsible for the security of the region, just seven (10.6%) are local Muslims. In the second tier of police service, out of 248 officers, 108 (43.54%) are Muslims.
A few months ago, social media in Kashmir was ablaze over a photograph released by the office of Lt. Governor Girish Chandra Murmu holding a meeting with a battery of bureaucrats. Out of the 19 officials in the photo, there was just one local Muslim officer.
India has appointed one local Muslim -- Farooq Khan, a former police officer turned Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader -- as an advisor to the Lt. governor. Back in 2000, two judicial commissions found him guilty for killing people, who had staged a peaceful demonstration against killing of their relatives in a “fake encounter”.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Khurram Parvez, a noted human rights defender and recipient of the 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award, said the goal of constitutional changes and series of orders issued over the past year appears to be to completely disempower and disenfranchise the local population.
According to Abdul Gafoor Noorani, a Mumbai-based author and an expert on constitutional affairs, the provisions of Article 370 had been incorporated in the Indian constitution seven decades ago to protect the region’s Muslim character in a Hindu-majority India.
“Article 370 was meant to express and protect the identity of Jammu and Kashmir, because of the special circumstances, in which it acceded to India in 1947. And that identity is being destroyed. The region was given special status because of the special historical circumstances,” he said.
- Decision was taken without reference to people
Siddiq Wahid, former vice-chancellor and a professor of Central Asian and Tibetan history, believes the dismantling of the state of Jammu and Kashmir on Aug. 5, 2019, was taken without any reference to the people. The decision was taken with enough consultation to ensure legal validity while circumventing the truth, a manipulative technique at which New Delhi is very proficient,” he said.
Defending the decision, leaders of the ruling BJP say the changes were approved democratically by both houses of India’s parliament, thereby having a stamp of a majority.
Out of 788 members of the Indian parliament, only 10 belong to Jammu and Kashmir. While one of them -- Farooq Abdullah, a former chief minister -- was detained and not allowed to participate in the proceedings of parliament, five MPs from the region opposed the decision. Two of them belonging to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) became so hysterical that they tore up copies of the Indian constitution.
Besides the bureaucracy, Kashmiris also seems to have been edged out from businesses as well. Recently, out of 52 sand mining contracts along the River Jhelum and its tributaries in Kashmir, 40 of them were awarded to outsiders.
According to a group of eminent Indian citizens headed by Madan Lokur, a former judge of the Indian Supreme Court, the businesses in the region have lost 400 billion rupees ($5.3 billion) over the past year.
The backbone of the local economy, the fruit industry, lost around 135,000 metric tons of apples due to restricted transport facilities. Because of a lockdown enforced in the aftermath of the Aug. 5, 2019 decision, there were an estimated 144,500 job losses in the tourism and handicraft sectors alone.
The group noted that Jammu and Kashmir until last year ranked the third highest in tax revenue compared to other hilly Indian states and second-highest in non-tax revenue. The net state domestic product of the state was recorded at 780 billion rupees ($10.41 billion) in 2016-17. Its per capita gross state domestic income was recorded as 100,000 rupees ($1,334.58).
Eleven months after the dissolution of the state, the region has recorded an unprecedented unemployment rate of 17.9% compared to India’s national average of 9.5%.
- Enormous insecurity among people
In the wake of the new domicile law, an enormous sense of insecurity has been ingrained in the minds of the Kashmiri people.
While Indian Home Minister Amit Shah has described these fears as completely unfounded, according to the 2011 census, 2.8 million outsiders were working in the region -- almost a quarter of the total population. Many of them have been in the state since the later 1990s. They will all qualify and claim domicile of the region, thus overturning its Muslim majority character in a flash.
On the impact of India’s decision, C. D. Sahay, former chief of Indian’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), said while the situation was managed well and most Islamic countries had also backed New Delhi, a year later, there seems to be a downward slide.
“Militancy is witnessing serious attempts at a revival; infiltrations are being frequently attempted, and simultaneously, local recruitments have started going up. In recent encounters with terrorists, senior officers have started getting killed regularly. All these are disturbing developments but not yet alarming,” he wrote in an internal research paper for the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), a leading New Delhi-based think-tank.
The former intelligence officer, who has handled Kashmir at various levels over the past three decades, said the most disturbing trend was the rising level of alienation of the people against India, especially the youth.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, another former intelligence officer said the perception of India has moved from secular democratic to Hindu majoritarian in the past few months.
“The Arab world, which had brushed aside fulminations of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, is now doing a rethink. Disconcerting voices have started emerging from there,” said Avinash Mohananey, a former Intelligence Bureau (IB) officer who has served in Pakistan and Kashmir. The IB is India’s largest domestic intelligence-gathering agency.
Sahay said after the abrogation of Article 370, the region needed a visionary political leadership with the capacity and will to connect with the masses. But he lamented that the entire administrative machinery has become extraordinarily bureaucratized, and a vast majority of people feel that the state is being run by insensitive bureaucrats who tend to behave like viceroys.
Referring to recent violent incidents such as the death of a civilian in firing, while crossing a barricade and the burning of 15 civilian houses during an encounter between army and militants in Srinagar, the former top intelligence officer said they have tremendous potential to further intensify the hatred.
“To turn the historic opportunity offered by the abrogation into long-term success and defeat the adversary in the proxy war, it is important for both Delhi and Srinagar to win the hearts and minds of the people through focused outreach activities,” he added.
- Restore pre-August 2019 position
While both these top spymasters emphasized reviving a political process, Mohananey said the best way was to restore the pre-Aug.
5, 2019 position and release all detained persons.
“Restore the democratic process rather than trying to create favourite parties. Relax all restrictions imposed last year, including 4G services. Remember, half-way measures are unlikely to work. A politically empowered population is the best antidote to Pakistan’s machinations,” he said.
Mohananey said India had relied too much on international support from the US while pursuing a perilous policy internally. Further, he added that the perception has gone around in the Muslim world that the government is creating an atmosphere of “Islamophobia” through the embedded electronic media and statements or tweets by BJP leaders for its long-term electoral interests.
“Such an approach will certainly undermine the gains of years of our foreign policy,” he said.
Sahay also recommended reviving two separate sets of dialogue -- one to restart the political process in Jammu and Kashmir and the other to start the process of dialogue with all stakeholders in an attempt to seek the ever-elusive goal of resolution of the Kashmir conflict.
He expressed the need for the immediate resumption of internal political activities that in a way had got derailed well before the Aug. 5, 2019 announcement, when the elected government collapsed and the central rule was imposed.
“An interesting way to begin the process may be by involving and encouraging civil society organizations to build channels of communication with the families of the dead militants because they become the center point in the rural society, getting enormous honors.
Meaningful engagement with them will also help bring down recruitment. The program should include rehabilitation, spiritual and psychological counseling,” said the former spy.
He also called for the appointment of special envoys to Kashmir, with people from diverse backgrounds, having experience and knowledge of the region, and an understanding of the complex and layered Kashmiri mind.
- India’s action hit pro-India parties
According to Haseeb Drabu, a former finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s actions did not hit the separatist political ideology, but provided them with a renewed justification.
“The only political space that has shrunk, at least for now, is that for mainstream [pro-India] politics, whose basis has been to find a space within Indian federalism,” he said.
Srinagar-based weekly Kashmir Life reported that a year later, Kashmir’s pro-Indian parties look marginalized and in a dilemma.
“They are unable to strike a balance between New Delhi’s requirements and the local demands,” said the newspaper.
A group of Indian citizens including former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha maintained that India’s Aug. 5 actions have not only internationalized the Kashmir issue to the detriment of the country but have also invited criticism of its human rights record in world capitals, besides being blamed for stoking Islamophobia.
- Chinese incursion attributed to Kashmir
Quoting security experts, Sinha pointed out in a statement signed along with three other eminent citizens that the changes in the status have prompted recent Chinese incursions in the Ladakh region, which was sliced out from Jammu and Kashmir as a separate centrally administered territory.
Noted writer Ghazala Wahab said during the informal summit of October 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping had suggested to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi an India-China-Pakistan trilateral mechanism “free from the influence of third parties,” which was ignored by India.
She reminded that the idea was first floated during the 2018 Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit and then Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui had invited India to join a trilateral mechanism with China and Pakistan. Drawing a parallel between the Russia-Mongolia-China Dialogue, he said that a similar construct between China and the two South Asian nations was a possibility with potential.
- Indian government claims 33 achievements
The Indian government, however, has counted 33 major achievements that it was able to accomplish in Jammu and Kashmir over the past year. These include advertising 10,000 government jobs, the application of all central laws, the abolition of the toll tax, and structural reforms in the power sector and industrial laws. It further stated that the region has been made 100% open defecation free, with 36 central ministers visiting the region and addressing grievances on spot. Also, two state-of-the-art metros will be rolled out in the cities of Srinagar and Jammu to ease traffic congestion.
In another document, New Delhi claimed that the devolution of powers to the local bodies has helped them receive funds. Quoting the head of village local body in the border district of Rajouri, Akis Naseer,26, the document said the post abrogation of provisions of Article 370 has helped village bodies adapt plans fast and the bureaucracy has also intensified the process of devolution of maximum powers to the local bodies.
But according to a survey conducted by New Delhi-based think-tank the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), the absence of any outreach by New Delhi since last year has created more confusion and anxiety.
“As the revocation of Article 370 makes laws of India automatically applicable in Jammu and Kashmir, it also makes the erstwhile laws of state ultra-vires [no more applicable to the region]. The question is why draconian laws enacted by the erstwhile state assembly such as the Public Safety Act continue to operate with impunity?” said the ORF document.