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Two years since the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which rescinded the special status of erstwhile Union Territories Jammu and Kashmir, the struggle for restitution of statehood continues.
On August 5, 2021, local shopkeepers in Srinagar marked the second anniversary of the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two separate territories by closing shops and staying home in silent protest. However, lest the facade of normalcy is exposed, Indian military and police officials forced open shutters, even resorted to breaking locks and calling up shop owners to keep the business running. Orders were passed to ensure that markets remain open, however, most shopkeepers continued the strike.
Meanwhile, preparations for holding assembly elections are underway with a Delimitation Commission meeting held last month, in which poll constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir were redrawn. The panel was led by former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai, chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra, and J&K election commissioner, KK Sharma.
As per Section 60 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, seats in the Legislative Assembly will be increased from 107 to 114. However, 24 of these seats lie in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The BJP has demanded the release of these 24 seats. The party also seeks to reserve seats for PoK refugees, 3 seats for Kashmiri Pandits, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and other minorities as well as equal representation for the party itself.
The assembly segments will be redrawn based on the 2011 census. Reserved constituencies will be introduced for the first time and seven seats will be added to the region.
The National Conference - the largest mainstream party from Kashmir, requested that delimitation be held after the restoration of statehood. A representative from the party stated, “The delimitation exercise would be a credible effort in strengthening democracy only after full statehood is restored to J&K.”
The delimitation process was initiated in March 2020 and aims to restore the balance between the representation of Jammu and Kashmir. Once a three-tier government is set up, the development will soon follow. Initiatives such as “Back to Village” and “Awaam ki Awaaz” have been introduced by Jammu & Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to promote connectivity and provide a platform for interaction between residents and the government.
The Empowerment Web Portal and Property Management Web Portal is another initiative that is set to increase transparency in policy-making and governance.
However, locals of Indian-administered Kashmir remain skeptical of the Indian government’s motives for such projects. Their fears are not without reason.
New domicile laws after the repeal of Article 35(A) in March 2020 have led to systematic land grabbing by foreign corporations and are a threat to indigenous tribes like the Gujjars and Barakwals. Ignoring all environmental regulations, illegal riverbed mining, and deforestation to pave the way for industrialization pose a risk to the biodiversity of the region.
Indian-administered Kashmir has been portrayed as an “investment paradise”, where investors can lease land for up to 99 years. In June 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir Forest Department became a government-owned corporation, allowing public forest land to be sold to private entities.
With over 50,000 acres of land already under unauthorized military occupation, another 6,000 acres were classified as “land banks” for investors. 467,700 hectares of agricultural land have now shrunk to 389,000 hectares. This has led to a fall in agricultural production and food insecurity among the masses.
The economy has been crumbling under the added burden of the pandemic, with unemployment rates at an all-time high.
In a region with 1 ventilator for 71,000 people and 1 doctor for 3,900 patients, the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the debilitating healthcare facilities; with locals alleging negligence and discrimination in handling of the pandemic. On May 6, an order was passed which restricted NGOs and allowed only designated hospitals and army sectors access to life-saving oxygen.
Human rights violations, stringent censorship, surveillance by the army, attacks by insurgents, continuous haggling over who owns Kashmir, have made life difficult for residents. August 5 marks a dark day in the turbulent history of Kashmir’s fight for autonomy. It is the most heavily militarized region in the world, with one soldier for every 30 civilians, a ratio higher than even Afghanistan during the war. The future of the region remains uncertain as the promises and assurances made by the government are still a distant dream.
This article has been written by Sr. Content Editor Shazia Farooqui for The Paradigm
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