India: Key Bills about Kashmir Passed Too Swiftly!

Jammu and Kashmir residents have been confined to their homes and communications to the outside world have been cut © AFP Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Save to myFT

by Nilofar Suhrawardy 8 August 2019

What has the present Indian government gained and is expected to achieve by the sudden speed with which it has taken a decision over a highly sensitive and also controversial issue, Kashmir? The fact that this decision, that of withdrawing the special status earlier accorded to Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and passing several Bills through the Parliament regarding the area, has not been preceded by any discussion with Kashmiris cannot be sidelined. This is hardly suggestive of India having taken a democratic movement in this direction. The hype raised by Indian Home Minister Amit Shah about these Bills being necessary to “integrate” J&K with rest of the country is hardly convincing. Now, the disputed area would be recognized as two union territories, J&K and Ladakh.

The fact that ordinary Kashmiri Muslims continue to be discriminated against in most parts of the country cannot be sidelined. Besides, in India-controlled J&K, they have been subject to violence from several quarters, including that of militants. The trend of their being targeted for no fault of theirs in other parts of India is showing no sign of decreasing. These include students pursuing an education; traders engaged in business and other Kashmiri Muslims outside their home state. Certainly, extra-efforts are needed to make Kashmiri Muslims feel a part of the Indian mainstream. If they continue being discriminated against and are frequently subject to violence, how can they be expected to feel “at home” in other parts of India? Yes, each time, a Kashmiri Muslim is targeted, the criminals play the role of not merely engaging in violence but also tarnishing the image of India and Indians across the world. When they do so, in addition to creating problems for Kashmiri Muslims, they provide an opportunity for Indian rivals to substantiate their claim of their (Kashmiri Muslims) being ill-treated here. Kashmiri Muslims refer to Muslims residing in the Indian state, J&K.
Reports indicate that when attacking Kashmiri Muslims, certain right-winged, extremist elements also hurl abuses at them and “blame” them for their linkage with Pakistan. Humanitarian abuse apart, this is equivalent to their alienating Kashmiri Muslims from the Indian mainstream. If Kashmiri Muslims are visible in other parts of the country, whether to pursue education, for their professional interests, to reside or for other similar aims, they need to be encouraged further. But when they are targeted and attacked violently, it is suggestive of the criminals questioning their national identity? Who has given these elements the right to target Kashmiri Muslims from this or any other angle?

Sadly, this can create a fear-phobia among Kashmiri Muslims and restrain them from moving outside the Valley to other parts of the country. Yes, certain right-winged elements, linked with the saffron brigade, still bear a negative approach towards Muslims in general. Also, whenever a terrorist incident takes place, there appears to be an immediate tendency to target Kashmiri Muslims, who may be miles away from the site and in essence have no role in a terrorist incident.

Yes, the aftermath of Pulwama-case is a tragic indicator of this harsh reality. How can the Kashmiri traders, students, and other Kashmiri Muslims be blamed for what happened in Pulwama? What else was indicated by the irresponsible manner in which Kashmiri Muslims were attacked following the Pulwama-tragedy (February 14, 2019)? Little attention has been paid to sufferings faced by Kashmiri Muslims residing in the Valley and elsewhere. Terrorism keeps surfacing now and then. But has any attention been paid to the harsh fact that they are victims to it as is anyone else staying there, including the security forces? Sadly, though Indian officers are doing their job, the risk of Kashmiri civilians in J&K being caught between former’s encounters with terrorists cannot be ignored.

It is possible right-winged, communal elements are perpetually on the lookout for opportunities to display their aggressiveness against minorities. Pulwama-case provided them with this. This is being referred explicitly as several parts of the country witnessed incidents of Kashmiri Muslims and their property being attacked. These points have been made to point out that Kashmiri Muslims are not responsible for the attitude held towards them. Merely changing of laws affecting their life and property is least likely to change things as they stand. The crux is that discriminatory attitude, a bias held towards them, is responsible for their alienation from the rest of the Indian community. Greater importance needs to be given to changing this approach towards Kashmiri Muslims.

In all probability, the alacrity with which parliamentary decisions have been taken regarding J&K and a few other vital issues hardly suggests that the government’s prior motive is directed towards “resolving” these matters. These include Bills linked with the controversial issue of triple talaq and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Bill. What is stunning is the sudden speed with which the present government has rushed into ensuring passage of these Bills through both Houses of the Parliament. With Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoying a majority, their passage was inevitable. However, considering that the country is supposed to be a major democracy, it would have been appropriate if more time had been spent on discussing and debating on each of these Bills. Also, the government has just assumed power. It has plenty of time to have deliberated on the pros and cons of each of these issues. But it has chosen not to do so. Instead, the impression has been created of the government has acted in a quite a dictatorial manner in ensuring immediate passage of these Bills.

The question of every Muslim woman facing the trauma of triple talaq does not exist. However, such a notion has been spread. Clearly, through this Bill, the present government has tried spreading the message about its concern for so-called “aggrieved” Muslim women. As Muslim women constitute less than seven percent of the Indian population, their electoral importance bears little importance for BJP and its saffron associates.
The reality that the majority of non-Muslims are not too familiar with rules and norms linked with Muslim marriages cannot be sidelined. Also, Modi-government is acutely conscious of “secular” perceptions entertained by a considerable section of the non-Muslim Indian community. This has been proved by the failure of its communal card linked with Ayodhya and other issues. In all probability, the government has moved ahead with this Bill to convince the Indian community at large about its “secular” stand.

In lieu of the tendency to easily label Muslims as terrorists, before their being judicially pronounced as guilty, the anti-terror Bill may have a communal bias linked with it. It is perhaps a means of the government trying to convince the country of its determination to root out terrorism. The passage of this Bill has failed to create as much drama as Triple Talaq Bill and of course those linked with J&K.

It is possible, a key motive of the government may have been to gain substantial media coverage through these Bills. Ahead of parliamentary proceedings on J&K Bills, Hindu pilgrims, travelling to Amarnath, were asked to come back on account of “terror” threat. Besides, there were reports of more troops being deployed in J&K. The government was apparently apprehensive of terrorism surfacing here following parliamentary proceedings regarding J&K. The government would not have lost much if the same Bills had been introduced and passed in the Parliament after pilgrims had returned from their Amarnath yatra. Amarnath cave is open for Hindu pilgrims only for a short period in summer. The timing of J&K Bills only suggests that the government cared little for Kashmiris (Muslims and Pandits) as well as Hindu pilgrims travelling to Amarnath from other parts of the country.

The question of three countries, India, China, and Pakistan, coming to any agreement over Kashmir-dispute because of Modi government’s change in its approach towards the region remains non-existent. While Line-of-Control (LoC) separates the area between India and Pakistan, Line of Actual Control (LAC) demarcates the disputed territory controlled by India and China. While India has not refrained from hurling diplomatic missiles against Pakistan for it allegedly supporting and arming Kashmiri terrorists, it has mostly remained quiet towards China. It may be noted; China does not recognize Arunachal Pradesh also as a part of India. Paradoxically, not much media coverage has been accorded to India’s dispute with China. In essence, the drama over J&K Bills remains an internal issue. These Bills will not help India gain control of Pak-administered-Kashmir and that administered by China.

Nevertheless, the government’s apparent motive has been to convince people that it has achieved significant success against Pakistan through these Bills. Also, the religious-tag cannot be de-linked from J&K Bills. An attempt has been made to create an impression that the government has gone all out (through J&K Bills) to take a strong stand regarding Kashmiri Muslims, viewed in general by non-Kashmiris as pro-Pakistanis.

The government has probably rushed towards passing these Bills to divert people’s attention from economic problems afflicting them, such as rising unemployment and inflation. With the economic situation being extraordinarily challenging and problematic, chances of the country getting out of this tight situation soon are not bright. The government is apparently hopeful that its new stand on J&K will help distract people’s attention. The sudden alacrity with which these and other key Bills have been passed certainly indicates this. But within less than a week of J&K Bills being passed, people have begun questioning as to why isn’t government showing similar concern for the development of other parts of the country?

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