Since 5 August, when the government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the floodgates of righteous rage from the usual suspects from India and the rest of the world have opened. Hardly surprising. This was the jackboot, the blood-soaked end of democracy, a rape of the Constitution, the trampling of fundamental rights of Kashmiris, and so on. These hyperventilating flag-bearers of freedom (or whatever) should calm down and consider one historical fact. Which is this. The “temporary and transitional" provision Article 370 made an exception to the fundamental rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Indian Constitution. These fundamental rights have now been restored. And this is shockingly easy to explain.

A New York Times columnist has wailed that the government has now converted “the people of Kashmir to second-class citizens, if not subjects". Sorry, but the truth is that some of these people—specifically the male Kashmiri Muslim—enjoyed far greater rights than any other Indian citizen; they have now been brought down to equal status. And many other inhabitants of the erstwhile state had fewer rights than normal Indian citizens; they have been granted equality. One would think that anyone who believed in democracy would see that as a good thing.

To explain this, we must come to “majoritarianism", over which much chest-beating is going on. Some people have seen the government’s action as “unabashed majoritarianism". Whereas, if there ever was any unabashed and constitutionally sanctioned majoritarianism anywhere in India, it was in J&K through Article 370. The Constitution of this Muslim-majority state did not have the word “minorities" anywhere in it. Unlike in the Indian Constitution, their rights were not protected. J&K was also the only Indian state with no tribal rights (and the state had no right to education either). And it should be our national shame that we allow these hypocrites to freely talk of majoritarianism while staying silent about the 20th century’s swiftest forced exodus of a minority community—Hindu Pandits from Kashmir in 1990.

There is extensive scare-mongering that the removal of Article 35A will lead to land grab by non-Kashmiris, because the law permitted ownership of immovable property in the state only by permanent residents (PRs). But this law also stipulated that J&K women who married non-PRs, lost their PR status and inheritance rights. When we spoke to an old family friend, a Kashmiri lady engineer married to a non-Kashmiri, who played a key role in the Chandrayaan-2 launch, she was tearful; all she could think of was building a little home in her homeland. Article 35A also ensured that the thousands of descendants of Valmikis (Dalits) who were brought in from Punjab as government sweepers in 1957 were never allowed to get any government jobs other than sweepers. And they could not even get a Scheduled Caste certificate from the state government, so were not eligible for any benefits under central schemes. Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Pakistan remained non-PR second-class citizens, while Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang were granted PR status. And we are supposed to believe that Kashmiri Muslims have become second-class citizens, when in reality, actual second-class citizens now have full citizen rights.

Majoritarianism? Watch the video of Ladakh MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal’s Lok Sabha speech on 6 August to know what majoritarian oppression means to a religious and ethnic minority. Fear is being spread about the government plotting demographic change in Kashmir, like China settling Han Chinese in Tibet. But systematic attempts to change demography have been in progress for years in J&K, through settling Muslims in Buddhist-majority Ladakh (Namgyal mentioned this), and recently, Rohingyas in Jammu.

The vast majority of Indians have never understood why J&K deserved special status, and certainly Sardar Patel and B.R. Ambedkar were vehemently opposed to Article 370. Patel told his secretary, V. Shankar: “Jawaharlal royega (Jawaharlal will weep over this)", and Ambedkar refused to attend the session that passed the motion. And the fact that many Opposition parties supported the revocation, that even Congress is divided over it, obviously indicates that politicians know that the people of our democratic republic feel that it’s time for all Indians to be equal citizens.

The real test begins now. With J&K a Union territory, the central government must ensure that funds are deployed properly and don’t line the pockets of a few families and their cronies. However, it will take time before industry feels that the valley is a safe bet. Pakistan will try to up its terrorist game. Also, when the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, some of the Taliban’s resources will be available to Pakistan to be re-directed towards Kashmir. But, most importantly, the doubting Kashmiri Muslim must realize that Article 370 made him special in a very negative way. It kept him alienated from his nation for seven decades. No Malayali, Gujarati, Assamese, and no Dogra or Ladakhi has lost his identity because he is an Indian. India has opened her arms. It is now up to sceptical Kashmiris to accept the offer.

Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines

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