On the 15th of August, 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was freed from British rule, and decided to remain as an independent state—neither part of India, nor Pakistan. But, on October 20th, following the invasion of Kashmir by the Pakistani-backed Azad Kashmir Forces, a fragile J&K state requested military assistance from the Central Government of India. In exchange for India’s protection, Article 370 was drawn up to protect Kashmir, its people, and its culture from unwanted foreign influence. Article 370 gave Kashmir the following abilities:
Exemption from the Constitution of India. Kashmir was permitted to have its own Constitution.
The Central Government, at the time would have limited powers in defence, foreign affairs, and communications.
State legislation, and the State’s Constituent Assembly, would have to approve Central Government legislation, in order for Central Government legislation to be ratified in Kashmir.
Article 370 could be abrogated or amended only by the State’s Constituent Assembly.
Since its creation, the mandate of Article 370 has been reduced significantly due to several Presidential Orders—aimed at watering down the Article’s roles and powers.
Unlike the “one country, two systems” employed by China with respect to Hong Kong, Article 370 has no definite end-date. In fact, the Supreme Court of India, in 2016, ruled that Article 370 should remain in place, permanently.
Today, however, I am of the opinion that Article 370 has a limited purpose, not only for the welfare of India, but also, the welfare of Kashmir and Kashmiris. In later articles I will explore alternatives to Article 370, when it comes to promoting Kashmir, Kashmiri culture, and Kashmiri articles. For now however, let’s discuss Article 370 in isolation.
For context, it is important to remember that prior to the creation of the Indian nation-state, the land now known as India was once 500 separate princely states. Unifying these 500 princely states into the 29 states we see today was an immensely challenging task. The States Reorganisation Committee, responsible for forming 14 states and 3 union territories at the time, had to bring together millions of people, without sacrificing their cultural or individual differences.
The creation of Article 370, in some ways, is emblematic of this very issue. Specifically, it attempts to preserve the identity of the Kashmiri people, yet still bind the state to the rest of the Indian Union.
Today, however, Article 370 does not simply preserve the Kashmiri identity. Article 370 encourages the state to remain in awkward state of limbo—Kashmir is neither fully independent, nor is it fully integrated with India. Kashmir lacks a clear, defined identity of its own, preventing it from developing meaningful relationships, and creating joint-initiatives to drive the economic development and prosperity it so longs for. And, as uncertainty regarding the states’ identity remains, elements of religious extremism seep in—filling the vacuums left behind by unanswered questions with hate-filled, extremist rhetoric. Accepting religious extremism, or any similar ideology which encourages a violent “us versus them” mentality, in the long run is detrimental to the cause of the Kashmiri people.
Of course, the role of successive Indian and Pakistani Governments in continuing political gridlock on the Kashmir issue also plays a significant role. Successive Governments across both sides of the border have been unable to bring about lasting, peaceful and meaningful solutions.
Article 370 now features regularly in arguments that claim complete independence from India, which is a misguided notion. The constitution of J&K itself states that “the State of Jammu & Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India”. Kashmir’s right to draft a Constitution of its own should not make Kashmir less Indian than any other part of the Union.
Despite believing that Article 370 today stands atop less-than-stable grounds, I am not advocating for its abrogation. However, I do believe that it needs to be gradually phased out, and replaced with aggressive yet productive diplomacy—social acceptance campaigns, infrastructure investments, education, and job creation.
We need not stoop to a level below the values enshrined in our constitution, and engage in needless bickering and fear-mongering. By proudly bearing our greatest virtues—plurality, creativity, and unity—we can provide Kashmiris with the ability to redefine themselves.
Kashmir needs to be more than a state pressed between two walls, and restricted by pieces of Government policy formulated 70 years ago.