Four years after India’s Hindu-nationalist government revoked the special autonomous status of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, locals in the India-administered region say the promised development has not materialized and the region’s delicate democratic balance is close to collapse.
The abrogation of Article 370 from the Indian constitution removed special rights that the state had enjoyed for seven decades, including a ban on outsiders buying up land in Kashmir, home to 7 million people.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the removal of the special status and the splitting up of the state into two union territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — would promote development. However, the Muslim majority fear the split would shift the region’s demographic makeup in favor of Hindus.
But on August 2, India’s Supreme Court began hearing petitions to overturn the government’s revoking of Article 370.
Looking to Supreme Court to counter government
Kashmiris are now pinning their hopes on the country’s judicial system, hoping the ruling will reverse what they see as encroachment from New Delhi.
Former Kashmiri political leaders Mehbooba Mufti and Muhammad Yusuf Tarigami, both of whom were arrested in 2019 before the Indian government revoked Article 370, spoke to DW about their faith in the Supreme Court to overturn the decision.
“The Supreme Court is the last ray of hope,” Mufti, the former chief minister of the region, said.
Tarigami, a senior politician from the Kulgam district of Jammu and Kashmir, said he had joined the petition to the Supreme Court in the hope that justice would be carried out for the people of Kashmir.
“We have challenged the abrogation because it is a violation of the basic structure of the constitution itself,” he told DW, adding that the region needs an end to the chaos and uncertainty that the loss of autonomous status caused.
Tarigami added that the situation in the region has gotten worse in the last four years and that the pledges from New Delhi about enabling progress for young people have failed to materialize.
“Since 2019, journalism has been silenced. Many journalists are in jail. Where are the jobs? Where is a sense of security?” he asked.
The region has been run through imposed federal rule after Mehbooba Mufti’s coalition government with the BJP collapsed, leaving her People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as a minority government.
The government has yet to say when the next general election would be held.
“For the last five years, the election of our own assembly has not taken place. This is a jolt to democracy,” Tarigami told DW. “Denying this right is an assault on the constitutionally guaranteed rights to the people.”
Why do Kashmiris want their autonomy back?
A report by the Forum For Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, a group of Indian civil society members from the region, released a report on Thursday which said that the “failure to hold assembly elections has added to the widespread Kashmiri perception that the union administrators fear democracy in the region.”
The revoking of Kashmir’s special status in August 2019 “overturned the fragile democratic consensus that was beginning to emerge as the result of a decade of peacebuilding initiatives,” the report said.
One of the group’s members, Radha Kuma — a Delhi-based author and political analyst — told DW that “it is a much worse situation today” compared to how it was before August 2019.
Kashmir’s youth ‘lost their dignity’
Kashmir’s young people are also struggling to secure employment. Official figures show that 19% of young people in the region are jobless, which is more than twice the national average of 7.5%.
Thousands of young people have taken up small jobs like drivers, salesmen, and other private jobs despite having college degrees.
“The prime minister had promised that a new era of development would be ushered in in Kashmir, we are yet to see it,” said 32-year-old Rayees Ahmad, a resident of Srinagar.
Ahmad, who is a science graduate, recently brought an auto-rickshaw after making many efforts to find a job matching his qualifications.
“The young, educated people in Kashmir have lost their dignity and their voice,” he said, adding that there is little hope left for him to find a job. “The last four years have been a setback for common people.”
Prospects for Kashmiri autonomy
However, even though the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, the hopeful optimism from the likes of Mehbooba Mufit may turn out to be misplaced.
The ruling BJP has remained committed to its decision to revoke Article 370, despite opposition from the region. Some experts are doubtful the Supreme Court will be able to do anything to change this.
“In all these years the government has passed land laws and has made Jammu and Kashmir’s land accessible to every Indian citizen. They can buy land in Kashmir and have sparked a face-to-face confrontation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in Ladakh,” a Kashmir-based political analyst told DW on condition of anonymity out of fear of government reprisals.
“I think it is being naïve to assume the Supreme Court of India will upend anything.”
Edited by: Alex Berry