In April 2019, India’s Hindu nationalist government banned civilian traffic on Kashmir’s arterial highways for two days every week. In the months that followed, tens of thousands of security personnel were added to India’s already overbearing military presence in the region — 80,000 in August and September alone.1 On August 5, 2019, the government revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, doing away with the autonomy accorded to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Simultaneously, the state was divided up into administrative divisions to be ruled directly by the central government. This marks the completion of a long-standing program of the Hindu far right, the full “integration” of Kashmir into India. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution had allowed Kashmir a special status, reflecting the very unusual conditions of its incorporation into the country at the time of independence in 1947. Kashmir was granted a great degree of autonomy, and the Indian government had limited powers over the state when compared to its authority over other states in India’s highly centralized federal structure.
Although Article 370 had been reduced to a dead letter by the 1960s, something that Kashmiris resisted fiercely at every step, its formal revocation is a signal that the de facto erosion of Kashmir’s rights has now become de jure. Kashmir has since been subject to a near total communication blackout, punitive restrictions on mobility, the virtual cessation of essential services, frequent night raids, and mass arrests. The entire political leadership is under arrest, including BJP allies. Anyone who has shown a capacity for organizing, even in their neighborhoods, has been harassed or detained. This state of total siege is only a formalization of what has been Kashmir’s reality for decades; It is held by force and maintained in a permanent state of emergency.
Although layered with complexity, the core issue from the point of view of most Kashmiris is a simple one: they have been denied the right to determine their political future. In 1947, the British partitioned their former empire on religious lines, creating the Muslim Pakistan and the ostensibly secular India. Of more than 550 princely states under the suzerainty of the Crown, each was expected to join either dominion, depending on the religion of the majority of their subjects. Jammu and Kashmir, with a Muslim majority population and a Hindu maharaja, was one of a few princely states where rulers and subjects professed different religions. Although, by the logic of partition, Jammu and Kashmir had “Pakistan potential,” the unpopular maharaja acceded to the Indian Union. Military advances from both India and Pakistan resulted in the division of the state, with both countries claiming the entire territory as rightfully theirs. The state’s accession to India has remained bitterly contested by Pakistan, and by a majority of Kashmiris. The Valley of Kashmir, currently under Indian control, has been struggling for self-determination ever since.