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India’s Constitutional Coup in Kashmir Is Sowing the Seeds of Renewed Rebellion

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The Kashmiri Muslim community, a unique culture that for almost 70 years had its rights protected by special provisions in the Indian Constitution, is deep in sorrow, despair, and anger.

In stunning decrees on August 5 and 6, which a leading Indian journalist, Siddharth Varadarajan, suggests amount to a constitutional coup, those protections have been swept away by the Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is known for his failure to prevent or stop a deadly pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 when he headed the state government there. The limited political autonomy and property rights that safeguarded traditional life in the Kashmir Valley are gone, enabling the most conservative Hindus’ goal of remaking the demography of India’s only Muslim-majority state with an influx of Hindus.

Now under direct rule by the central government as a “union territory” backed by hundreds of thousands of Indian military and paramilitary troops, Kashmir may experience more violence, experts say. By India’s own reckoning, tens of thousands of Kashmiris have died since waves of insurgency began in the late 1980s. A lot of the action was directly promoted or funded by Pakistan, though the Pakistanis did not create the insurgency, despite Indian claims. Many thousands more Kashmiris have “disappeared” in Indian military or police custody, Kashmiri human rights activists say.

Delhi had long ago lost the allegiance of frustrated young people in Kashmir, and a new generation of them are now demonstrating again at their peril in the streets of Srinagar, the Kashmiri capital and religious and cultural center. Tragedy has entered every neighborhood and touched most families. “Kashmir at war is a private purgatory,” Paula Newberg, a professor on rights and the South Asian state at the University of Texas, wrote in a prescient 1997 book, Double Betrayal: Repression and Insurgency in Kashmir.

Significant international criticism of India’s assault on democracy has so far been scant. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, a world-famous cricket star who came to power a year ago with a new party he created, has pledged to work with India, though he expelled the Indian high commissioner and cut trade with India after Delhi’s August decrees. Pakistani diplomats have been measured in their remarks, focusing on how to bring to the UN Security Council the issue of the sudden constitutional changes, which violate a 1948 Security Council resolution (38) still on the UN agenda, stipulating that any changes on the ground cannot be made unilaterally without consulting the council. Islamabad said on Saturday that it had gained China’s support to take a motion to the Security Council, but Pakistan has not received much support from other major nations, suggesting that its odds of success are slim.

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