Does India revoking the status of Jammu and Kashmir discriminate against Muslims?

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A lawyer looks into his mobile phone in front India's Supreme Court in New Delhi, December 11, 2023. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

India’s Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling on Monday, has affirmed the government’s decision to revoke the special status granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Additionally, the court has mandated the region to conduct local elections by September 30 of the following year.

The Arguments

This decision marks the culmination of an era, spanning approximately seven decades, during which the Jammu and Kashmir region enjoyed substantial autonomy under Article 370 of the Indian constitution. This provision, instituted in 1947 following the first India-Pakistan war over the Himalayan region, granted special status to the contested area. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government controversially revoked Article 370 in August 2019, a move that has been under constitutional scrutiny since this last August.

Modi welcomed the judgement as “historic”. Removing Article 370 has been a key plank of his Bharatiya Janata Party’s platform since its inception, and the Supreme Court decision comes ahead of elections next year. Modi denied the ruling is against Muslims in the area, declaring that India is going towards a stronger and more united country. He also reaffirmed his strong support for a country both for Hindus and Muslims.

The panel of five judges from the Supreme Court unanimously upheld Modi’s decision, asserting that Article 370 was originally intended as a temporary arrangement due to war conditions in the state. The court’s ruling maintains that the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir was a provisional measure.

Critics of the decision perceive this move as another measure by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to exert control over India’s only Muslim-majority territory.

The ruling caters to the Hindu-majority electorate in India and reflects political polarization, with the ruling party aligning itself with Hindu voters and adopting measures perceived as anti-Muslim. BJP is a Hindu nationalist party and one of its policies is to reclaim Kashmir as fully Indian.

The Facts

Historically, the Jammu and Kashmir region has been a focal point of tension between India and Pakistan since their independence from British rule in 1947. Article 370, enacted two years later, provided the basis for the region’s accession to the Indian union, affording it autonomy in legislative matters, excluding finance, defence, foreign affairs, and communications.

The revocation of Article 370 by Modi’s government resulted in the division of the region into two federal territories, Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir, both directly governed by the central government, without their own legislature.

Since the suspension of Article 370, Indian authorities have curbed media freedoms and public protests in a drastic curtailment of civil liberties. When the autonomy was revoked in 2019, many nationalists celebrated, declaring the move to herald public order and prosperity in Kashmir and also end any Muslim autonomy in a Hindu country.

Political parties in Kashmir, opposing the revocation and parties that pursued legal action, expressed disappointment. Local leaders stated that while they are disappointed, the struggle will persist, and they will do anything to revoke it.

The revoking of the autonomy allowed Indians from outside the region to buy land in it, which was forbidden until then, and seek government jobs and education scholarships, a policy denounced by locals as “settler colonialism”.

It’s not the first time when BJP and Modi enacted laws potentially detrimental to Muslims in India. The Modi administration passed a citizenship law in 2019 which provided a pathway to Indian citizenship for persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians. The law does not grant such eligibility to Muslims. This was first time religion had been overtly used as a criterion for citizenship under Indian law. It attracted global criticism, and sparked widespread protests that were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The broader context highlights the geopolitical complexity of the Kashmir region, which is divided among India, controlling the Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated Jammu region; Pakistan, holding a portion of territory in the west; and China, with authority over a sparsely populated high-altitude area in the north.

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