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My memories go back to the year 1991 when I wrote an article in India Currents about the history of Kashmir and the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits starting in January 1990, stirring controversy and raising criticism by some local Kashmiri Muslims, thus leading to a long healthy debate. At the end of this civil debate most of us ended up as friends, as we are today. Friends with some basic disagreements.

We knew all along that all the issues in the Kashmir Valley will be resolved if Article 370, which provides special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir is abolished. Now, discrimination based on demography has been eradicated. Kashmir has been integrated with India.

Kashmiri Hindus, better known as Kashmiri Pandits, are historically reported to be the original inhabitants of Kashmir Valley. Their roots in Kashmir can be traced to that time when civilization began in the valley. Their history spreading over 5,000 years could be testified through several historical works, including the legendary ‘Nilamat Purana’.

Kashmir’s first imperial history began in 250 BC when Asoka reigned over the land. Nearly 1000 years later, Lalitaditya reigned (725-761) after conquering most of north India, Central Asia, and Tibet. The advent of Islam in Kashmir around 14th century brought a paradigm shift in socio-political and religious system.

Islam entered Kashmir nearly 700 years after its birth when Kashmir came into contact with the Muslim invaders. Islam had been spreading throughout the rest of India for 300 years.

 Force was used to convert the inhabitants of the valley. The population of Hindus in the valley continued to decrease and they became minorities in their own land where they were once in the majority. But somehow Kashmiri Pandits managed to preserve their religion, culture as well as traditions. Kashmiri Hindus have migrated several times from the valley due to this very Islamic fundamentalism. 

Kashmir’s history, after the arrival of Islam, sets the backdrop for the current conflict, which has been waging ever since India won its independence from Britain in 1947 and Pakistan became an independent Muslim state.

There have been seven exoduses of Pandits to this date. Unfortunately, the seventh one happened in 1989-90 in the age of democracy, liberalism, secularism and universal brotherhood.

Most of the Pandits were forced to flee from the valley owing to terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists. Pandits left the valley because there was an attack on their culture, traditions, and religion. Above all, Kashmiri Pandits left the valley because there was an attack on their existence. Thousands of them were killed in the valley during the gloomy  nineties and many lost their lives in exile due to post-exodus trauma. The trauma continues, especially among the elderly who will be in pain until they can return to their home. 

There are some sane voices among the  majority community of Kashmir who are truly secular and not “pseudo-secular”, who don’t support such Nizam-e-Mustafa movement but their numbers are very few. And their voices are curbed.

No culture can survive if it is uprooted from its place of origin. There is an eternal link between people and their land. The cultural heritage of Kashmir is an integral part of the vast Indian Hindu cultural fund as a whole. Since 1947 the land has become part of the Indian Union.

Religious minority groups flourish in India. It has the world’s second largest Muslim population (approximately 176 million or 14.4 percent of India’s population), and the world’s largest Sikh (1.9 percent) and Jain populations (0.4 percent). There are also substantial numbers of Christians (2.3 percent) and Buddhists (0.8 percent). Smaller communities of Jews and Zoroastrians have been living in India for over a millennia. India was founded on secular principles and as a home for multiple religious communities. On the other hand, Pakistan was and continues to be an exclusionary state intended only for Muslims, where the state has legalized and institutionalized discrimination against minorities. As a result, in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, minorities face much greater difficulties than minorities in India. 

It is important to note that the state of Jammu and Kashmir had a Muslim population of 65% and a Hindu population of 30%. So, the Muslim population is not overwhelmingly high. It is in the Kashmir Valley that the Muslim population is 97%. Often, the people following the Kashmir problem are ignorant of these demographics. Wars have broken out between India and Pakistan three times since 1947. An alarming component of this conflict is not only the suffering of Kashmiris, who have been forced to endure the outbreaks and Pakistan’s attempts at stirring up ancient rivalries between Muslims and Hindus, but the fact that in 1990 and 2001-2002, the two countries threatened to use nuclear weapons over it.

By making the new areas of Jammu and Kashmir a Union Territory, the constituent Assembly has been revoked.

Jammu and Kashmir were given special status under Article 370 of the constitution of India which gave it, its own constitution, and without the concurrence of the State Government, the laws passed by parliament would not have been applicable. The Constitution order of 1954 contained the articles and other provisions applicable to only Jammu and Kashmir State. It constituted a founding legal document, whereas article 35A protected the exclusive laws which are related to the prohibition of buying property by outsiders and women, losing their property rights if they married non-Kashmiris.

In short, Article 370 restricted the Indian Parliament’s legislative power over Jammu and Kashmir to defense, foreign affairs, and communications, allowing residents of Jammu and Kashmir to live under a separate set of laws and preventing them from enjoying the same rights as other Indian citizens. Similarly, Article 35A defined who were permanent residents of the state and determined who could buy property in the state and enjoy other special rights and privileges.

President of India’s order # 2019, C.O. 272 dated August 5, 2019, entails scrapping previous order # 1954 and adds the following to article # 367:

  1. Sadar-i-riyasat will now be Governor
  2. Constituent Assembly will now be referred to as Legislative Assembly of the State.

Article 356 of the Indian Constitution is now applicable in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, by which President’s rule surpasses the Governor’s rule, which can be imposed in these areas.

The Bifurcation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, giving Jammu and Kashmir the status of Union Territory and giving Ladakh the status of a Union Territory as well, has been welcome internationally.

Article 370 removal has made many positive changes for the areas of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh including no special powers exercised by Jammu and Kashmir, no dual citizenship, no separate constitution, reservations for minorities and  backward classes, no discrimination against the women of the Kashmir when they marry someone from outside of the state. All citizens of these areas will be considered equal, all provisions of the Indian constitution are now applicable in these areas and with Union territory status, the security is now the Center’s responsibility. By making the areas of Jammu & Kashmir and the area of Ladakh, two separate union territories the special status has been revoked.

These are  historic and momentous efforts that will enable the free flow and applicability of Indian constitution and all its laws into the region of Jammu and  Kashmir without any special considerations.

Not only has the Kashmir problem been solved but it also vindicates Kashmiris of all faiths (some of whom lost their lives due to turbulence and some, like Kashmiri Pandits, who had lost their roots ). Now is the time for healing as all Kashmiris come together as Indian nationals and work toward making Kashmir the valley of saints once again.

As a Union Territory, it will also improve the security situation with respect to cross border terrorism and bring peace, harmony and stability in Jammu-Kashmir.

Kashmiri Muslims must understand that all manners of cultural markers over 2500 years of Kashmiri history (right from 500 BCE onwards) display unequivocally a Kashmir that was intensively integrated with the rest of India. In the face of this historical reality of Kashmir, Article 370 as an exclusionary means artificially separating Kashmir from the rest of the country was an anomaly that has now been removed.

It will be  recognized that the dynasty rulers in Kashmir have bungled up the state through corrupt practices.  The poor segment of society wants stability, security and employment, especially when unemployment rates are as high as 30 percent among the urban population.

The emphasis must be to promote Pluralism in the State so that all communities can live together as they did before Pakistani trained militants forced Kashmiri Pandits to leave. Intra-Kashmiri dialogue, exchanging programs of students, writers, artists to offer their strengths in all the regions will definitely help in reconnecting and reintegrating hearts and minds of the people. The opening up of the local economy to outside actors will be akin to India’s liberalization moment of 1991 when it opened up its economy and integrated with the outside world. As the legal impediments to the free movement of people and access to assets like land have been removed, the economic focus of the state can now be broadened beyond tourism and agriculture. Industrialization can slowly expand its prominence in the local economy. Thus, the elimination of the special status and more centrality of governance should beget higher availability of economic opportunities and wider avenues of growth for the people of  Kashmir. 

Regarding the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, my suggestion is that the matter be left for Kashmiri organizations in India to decide, based on their interaction with local Kashmiris and the Government of India. Our worldwide umbrella organization, All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS) works with all other organizations in India. 

California based Jeevan Zutshi, is the Chairman of Kashmir Task Force, founding member of the California Chapter of Kashmiri Overseas Association and founding member and former Executive Director of Indo-American Kashmir Forum.

 

 

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