India revokes Kashmir’s special status, upending status quo

Move could significantly shift the demographics of the disputed Muslim-majority territory

An Indian soldier patrols outside the residence of National Conference party president Farooq Abdullah, in Srinagar, India, August 4, 2019.  (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
An Indian soldier patrols outside the residence of National Conference party president Farooq Abdullah, in Srinagar, India, August 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

SRINAGAR, India — India’s Hindu nationalist-led government has initiated a revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir on Monday amid an uproar in Parliament and a huge troop deployment in the disputed region.

Home Minister Amit Shah told members of the upper house on Monday morning that the government has decided to repeal a law that gives special status to the Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir by presidential order. Shah says that the government has also decided to split the state into two union territories — Jammu and Kashmir, which will have a legislature, and Ladakh, which will be ruled directly by the central government without a legislature of its own.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the region in its entirety.

The law, Article 370 of the Constitution, forbids Indians outside the state from permanently settling, buying land, holding local government jobs and securing education scholarships. Critics of such a measure say that in doing away with this provision, the government hopes to change Indian-controlled Kashmir’s Muslim-majority demographics by allowing in a flood of new Hindu residents.

Indian Hindu pilgrims carry bags on their head as they trek up to Chandanwari in Kashmir, some 115 km southeast of Srinagar, during the annual Hindu pilgrimage on July 27, 2019 to the holy cave shrine of Amarnath. (TAUSEEF MUSTAFA / AFP)

To tackle any law and order situation, the region has been put under a heavy security cover, with prohibitory orders in place against public assembly. Millions were stranded in their homes as authorities also suspended some internet services and deployed thousands of fresh troops around the increasingly tense region.

Around midnight in Kashmir, government forces laid steel barricades and razor wire on roads and intersections to cut off neighborhoods in Srinagar, the region’s main city. The government issued a security order banning public meetings, rallies and movement and said schools would be closed.

Authorities also suspended internet services on cellphones, a common tactic to prevent anti-India demonstrations from being organized and to stop the dissemination of news.

The order affects about 7 million people living in the region.

The security deployment in recent days adds at least 10,000 soldiers and other forces in Kashmir, to what was already one of the world’s most militarized regions. India also has ordered thousands of tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave the region.

Stranded Indian tourists walk to a railway station during restrictions in Jammu, India, August 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

Prominent local politicians Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were placed under house arrest by Indian police on Sunday evening, ahead of the government announcement.

“I believe I’m being placed under house arrest from midnight tonight & the process has already started for other mainstream leaders. No way of knowing if this is true but if it is then I’ll see all of you on the other side of whatever is in store. Allah save us,” Abdullah tweeted.

“To the people of Kashmir, we don’t know what is in store for us but I am a firm believer that what ever Almighty Allah has planned it is always for the better, we may not see it now but we must never doubt his ways. Good luck to everyone, stay safe & above all PLEASE STAY CALM,” he wrote. “Please don’t take the law in to your own hands, please stay calm. Violence will only play in to the hands of those who do not have the best interests of the state in mind.”

Tensions also have soared along the Line of Control, the volatile, highly militarized frontier that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, which both claim it entirely.

Indian firing along the Line of Control on Sunday wounded one woman, Pakistani police said. In Pakistani border villages, residents were moving to safer places or building and strengthening bunkers and shelters protecting them from cross-border fire.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the shelling by India and warned on Twitter that the situation has the potential to “blow up into a regional crisis.” He reiterated that “the only road to peace and security in South Asia runs through a peaceful and just settlement of Kashmir.”

Pakistan and India routinely blame each other for initiating border skirmishes.

Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won reelection early this year on a platform that included promises to do away with special rights for Kashmiris under India’s constitution.

Indian army soldiers guard during curfew like restrictions in Jammu, India, Monday, August 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

At the Srinagar airport, hundreds of Indian and foreign visitors, including some Hindu pilgrims, congregated outside the main terminal, seeking seats on departing flights. Tourists and pilgrims also took buses out of the region, with authorities busing out hundreds of Indian students from Srinagar colleges.

Rebels in Indian-controlled Kashmir have been fighting Indian control since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control. About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian crackdown.

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