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A Wretched Day for Democracy: Revocation of the Special Status of Kashmir


The India that Jammu and Kashmir acceded to in 1947 had chosen democracy, secularism, and socialism as its goals. Although the Praja Parishad, predecessor of the RSS, was determined to foist a solution of the entire Kashmir issue along communal lines even prior to 1953, and its leaders had been vocal about their views, it was heartwarming that India had chosen democracy and secularism as its goals.

Democracy does not, however, merely mean conducting elections every five years, but it is, substantively, a way of life and a way of thinking. In a democracy, the majority will prevail, but it is equally incumbent on the majority to respect and defend the legitimate interests and sentiments of minorities and to alleviate their apprehensions.

The greatest test of the success of Indian democracy lies in the extent to which its minorities feels secure and content.

It is good that the some parts of the population of the Jammu and Kashmir are emotionally integrated with mainland India, but this joy is lop-sided as long as the Muslim majority of the J & K does not equally share this happiness. In 1947, our predecessors opposed the principles of the “two-nation” theory. We thought Muslims were part and parcel of India’s history, past, and future, and we were of the firm conviction that every inhabitant of this country must be given a sense of participation in the country’s affairs.

In light of the complex political history of the State, it has always been all the more pertinent to ensure that the Muslims of the State felt satisfied with their relationship with India—politically, morally, and emotionally— because that aspect of the problem was either ignored or swept under the rug for the last 70 years, with the result that the secular character of the nation was undermined.

Firstly, the special status for Kashmir as envisaged by the Constitution of India was not a favor to us but an acknowledgement of the special circumstances that constitute a part of our past and future.

Secondly, the special status was not meant for Kashmir province alone, and those who opposed it have jeopardized their own interests.

Today, there is a growing demand in BJP/ RSS strongholds regarding reconsiderations of state-center relations. It is surprising as well as painful that some short-sighted people are impatient to surrender their rights and privileges to the center. What is amusing is that all this is being done in the name of so-called national unity and emotional integration.

It is my belief that in a federal set-up the best way for emotional integration and national unity is not the over-centralization of powers but its decentralization leading to the restoration of power in the hands of the federating units, which have acceded to be a part of the federation of their own volition.

In light of the present over-centralization of powers, India is gradually tending to be a unitary rather than a federal state, and I do not consider this trend as a good omen for the solidarity and integrity of the nation.

I seriously doubt that the revocation of Article 370 and 35 A will strengthen the foundations of democracy and secularism in Jammu and Kashmir, nor will the distrust between Kashmiris and India be alleviated.

The Indian Constitution has been blatantly violated in Kashmir and the ideals it enshrines completely forgotten. Forces have arisen which threaten to carry this saddening and destructive process further still.

The Indian Constitution sought to guarantee an independent judiciary, an honest electoral process, and rule of law. It is not surprising that many other countries have drawn upon this constitution, particularly the chapter on fundamental rights. The constitution provided a strong framework, and it was for those who were responsible for the smooth functioning of institutional mechanisms of government to implement constitutional provisions, so they impacted institutions.

When talking about the constitutional aspect, the Praja Parishad, predecessor of the RSS, always wanted Article 370 to be expunged from the Constitution of India. Kashmiris always maintained that the special position accorded to the State could alone be the source of a growing unity and closer association between the State and India. The Constituent Assembly of India took note of the special circumstances obtaining in the State and made provisions accordingly.

Political parties in Kashmir only wanted to deliberate upon our future and to find out ways and means to extricate ourselves peacefully from the mire we have fallen into, with the cooperation and goodwill of India and Pakistan—not treating either of them as our enemy. But even this is not permitted to us. No good can come out of this.

Today, it does not take a skeptic to question whether articles in the Constitution of India, which pledged to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, have a real impact on institution building.

It is a wretched day for democracy!

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Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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