India repeals Kashmir status after clampdown

People rally to protest and express support and solidarity with Indian Kashmiri people in Lahore on Monday. (AP)
Updated 06 August 2019

India repeals Kashmir status after clampdown

  • Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy, says political leader Mufti

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Monday scrapped Article 370 of the constitution, which gave the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir a special autonomous status under the union.

In an unprecedented move, New Dehli divided the state into two union territories. The majority Buddhist Ladakh will become a union territory and the Hindu and Muslim areas of Jammu and Kashmir will become another union territory with a legislative assembly. 

A union territory is an administrative division directly governed by the center and their representatives. The local assembly under such administrative divisions has limited power.

Home Minister Amit Shah informed the Upper House of Parliament about the presidential decree before moving a resolution in Parliament abrogating Article 370. 

“The entire constitution will be applicable to the Jammu and Kashmir state,” Shah said.

He described the decision as “historical,” arguing that the scrapped law was preventing the integration of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian union.

In 1947, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir signed an instrument of accession with India. This was later formalized into the constitution in 1952, bestowing a special status to the state.

Under Article 370, New Delhi needs the approval of the local assembly to pass any bill except on those relating to defense, foreign affairs, finance and communication.

The decree also has the support of Article 35A, which gives residents of Kashmir special rights to live in the state.

The abolition of the article has drawn sharp reactions from the political parties in the valley and outside.

“Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy,” former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti said.

In a series of tweets, she said that the “decision of the Jammu and Kashmir leadership to reject two-nation theory in 1947 and align with India has backfired. Unilateral decision of government of India to scrap Article 370 is illegal and unconstitutional, which will make India an occupational force in Jammu and Kashmir.”

She warned that “it will have catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent. Indian government’s intentions are clear. They want the territory of the state by terrorizing its people. India has failed Kashmir in keeping its promises.”

Omar Abdullah, leader of the National Conference, said the change is a “total betrayal of the trust that the people of Jammu and Kashmir had reposed in India when the state acceded to it in 1947.”

He called the decision to scrap the law as New Delhi’s “aggression against the people of the state.”

Opposition Congress Party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad described it as “a murder of democracy and an aggression against the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Abdullah, Mufti and other political leaders have been under house arrest in Srinagar since Sunday evening.

The state’s communication network has been blocked since yesterday, preventing people from reacting to the political upheaval.

Since Friday, the state has been put on high alert with the government issuing an advisory asking tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave immediately. 

In the last week, more than 38,000 additional troops have been sent to the state to deal with potential unrest. The Jammu region of the state has also been put on alert.

“The government has imposed section 144 in Jammu to ban any kind of gathering,” said Amjad Shah, a Jammu-based journalist from Rising Kashmir.

Constitution expert A V Gupta said that “this is a foolish decision by the government of India.”

“Article 370 was the only link between India and the state of Jammu and Kashmir. By scrapping it, you are making the state a separate country,” Gupta added.

He told Arab News that “the government’s decision is highly undemocratic and against the spirit of the constitution and democracy.”

“Article 370 has been challenged in the Supreme Court many times and the court rejected any move to scrap it. Now if the matter goes to the court, I suspect the apex court will refer it to the larger constitutional bench,” he added.

Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, editor of the Kashmir Times said: “Constitutional experts believe that the article is the only link between India and Jammu and Kashmir and if you remove it then there remains nothing.

“This is a government which does not believe in constitutional and judicial propriety.”

She told Arab News that “New Delhi took an unprecedented political decision affecting the 7 million people of Jammu and Kashmir by putting the entire state under curfew.

“This might invite violent backlash and unheard of reactions. This might push the valley further into the vortex of deep uncertainty”.

Amnesty International said that New Delhi’s decision “is likely to inflame prevailing tensions, alienate the people in the state and increase the risk of further human rights violations.”

Afghan writer’s book of poems gives voice to refugees stranded in Indonesia

Updated 28 February 2020

Afghan writer’s book of poems gives voice to refugees stranded in Indonesia

  • The book is titled after the red ribbon Haidari untied from his dead sister’s hair while fleeing an attack on his village

JAKARTA: An Afghan writer who fled war to Indonesia six years ago has penned a book of poems giving voice to the plight of his fellow refugees.

“The Red Ribbon,” by Abdul Samad Haidari, tells the story of asylum-seekers stranded in Indonesia and their protracted wait for resettlement to a third country.

Launched on Sunday, the book is titled after the red ribbon Haidari untied from his dead sister’s hair while fleeing an attack on his village, Dahmarda, in the Arghandab district of Zabul province.

Having worked as a freelance journalist in his country, Haidari, of Hazara ethnicity, told Arab News he had sought solace in poetry when he realized there was little else he could do while a refugee in Indonesia.

He described the book’s publication as a miracle, given the challenges and limitations he has faced.

“It took me more than five years to complete it, with persistence, faith, sweat, tears, and an empty stomach in a humid room some 60 km away from Jakarta, in a remote village,” he said during a launch event at a cultural center in Jakarta.

The poems chronicle Haidari’s life and the circumstances on the night he fled his home to Indonesia, where he has since suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, loneliness and separation.

One of his verses, titled “Dedication to evergreen Indonesia,” is a tribute to the country which for the past seven years has given him shelter. Indonesia’s arms were “warmer than the arms of those who had thrown me out of my hometown,” the poem reads.

Writer and author Carissa Finneren described the poems as “honest and raw,” while poet Ruby Astari told Arab News that she hoped Haidari would become the voice of fellow Afghan refugees and those who were oppressed.

Haidari arrived in Indonesia in 2014 and in 2016 was granted refugee status by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which makes him eligible for resettlement to a third country.

He is one of some 14,000 refugees — more than half of them from Afghanistan — registered with the UNHCR office in Indonesia, who have been waiting for years to be resettled.

Indonesia acts as a transit country, as it is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Its national laws bar refugees and asylum seekers from working. Some of them have access to basic education and healthcare, although very limited.

Their wait has been stretched further as countries that are party to the convention have reduced their refugee intake. Australia, which used to be the main destination for asylum seekers transiting in Indonesia, froze its resettlement program on July 1, 2014.

“The book is a much-needed manifestation of what refugees bring to the world when they are allowed to, encouraged to, given space and opportunities to do so,” said Ann Mayman, UNHCR representative in Indonesia.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to Indonesia, Faizullah Zaki Ibrahimi, said the poems made readers feel the pain of a generation that had suffered due to Afghanistan’s long and deadly conflict.

A new hope, the ambassador said, was sparked by a reduction in violence in Afghanistan, which has been in place since Saturday, ahead of an expected peace agreement between the US and the Taliban. If extended, it could eventually lead to peaceful dialogue and eliminate the main cause of Afghans seeking refuge around the world, the envoy added.

“We hope that someday peace comes back to Afghanistan and democracy thrives.”