A lament for Kashmir from Mumbai

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]T has now been ten days since the Union Government began the information blockade in Jammu & Kashmir. Sitting here in Mumbai I have little idea what is actually happening on the ground there. The Government says it is for security reasons that this blockade has been imposed. That this blockade is essential to ensure law and order in the territory.

Last week I was asked to celebrate the fact that Article 370 of the Constitution of India ceased to operate. In one legislative and executive swoop, an entire way of life for the people of Jammu & Kashmir was erased. It was replaced by the Constitution of India, in its full might and force. By the end of the week, Jammu & Kashmir would no longer be a State within our Union. It would become a territory under the Administration of the Central Government. All of this is lawful I am told. I have spent the better part of last week trying to wrap my head around it. I too have concluded that what happened was lawful. I too have concluded that what happened was constitutional. I too have concluded that what happened changed the history of our people.

I am a citizen of India and I pledge my loyalty to the Constitution and the Constitution alone. The Constitution is my Sovereign, the Constitution is my King. I do not pledge loyalty to any Government, nor do I pledge loyalty to any officer. My loyalty is to this document that is the Constitution, within which I find the promise of a preservation of my way of life.

I have lost more in these past few days than the people in Jammu & Kashmir have. To them, the Constitution never perhaps truly came to life. Their rights and liberties as Indian citizens were always in question. Even now they are locked within their homes, unable to by their morning milk, unable to take their children to school. Kalashnikovs are ubiquitous on the streets of Srinagar and an entire people have been placed under military occupation. Even during World War I and World War II, when we had Governments armed with much more draconian laws, I cannot find an example of Indian people being subject to such a barbaric assault on their freedoms. But such an assault is happening today, it is happening right now, and it is happening in the name of the Constitution.

The Accession of Jammu & Kashmir to the Union is a complicated one. It is rooted in history that is still living today. To put it simply though. Jammu & Kashmir didn’t join the Union on 15 August 1947. It was under a Maharaja. During this period Jammu & Kashmir was under attack from Pakistani backed levies and militias. They were engaging in the worst forms of plunder and rapine. Hari Singh appealed to India for aid and India answered. We told Hari Singh that if he acceded to India, India would protect the people of that state. Hari Singh apprehended that such integration may result in J&K losing her way of life. We promised the state that we would not interfere with their way of life. We told them that they could live under our protection and find self-determination within the Constitution of India. We gave them our word that no harm would come to them and their culture so long as they were a part of India. This was the Instrument of Accession and this was Article 370.

Article 370 is not just the legal link between Jammu & Kashmir and India. It is the spiritual link. It is a Rakhi. Article 370 is a symbol of India’s protection. We promised the people of Jammu & Kashmir that so long as they wished to remain different, they could. So long as they wished to protect their lands and culture they could. We gave them our solemn bond that our protection would not be conditional on them erasing their identity. We promised them that this link, Article 370 would only be erased with their consent. It would go only when the people of Jammu and Kashmir would freely walk into the covenant that is this Union.

But what did we do to that Rakhi? We used legal manoeuvring to tear the Rakhi apart and forced ourselves into their quarters. We now refuse to leave. We no longer wish to honour our promises.

I have lost more than a resident of that territory. For I, an Indian citizen, can no longer hold my head high and say that my Sovereign is one that keeps their word. That promises made by India are promises that would be kept. In our culture, we have this maxim, death before dishonour. It is preferable to die than not keep one’s oath. The Government of India, with its recent actions, has taken away this core feature of our way of life. It has reduced me to a position where I can no longer look the rest of the world in the eye and tell them I am a citizen of great power. That I am the heir of Asoka Maurya and Akbar the Great. That I am the heir to a tradition older than time itself. All of this is now meaningless. These actions by the Government of India do not make me a citizen of a glorious republic. They make me a subject of a Rump State of the Former British Empire.

My forefathers did not fight to be subjects. They fought to be citizens. If I am a citizen, so is the person in Srinagar right now. They must be guaranteed the same freedoms as I have for, they are all equal under the Constitution, our Sovereign. Things that are equal to one, must be equal to each other. If the person in Srinagar has no freedom, I have no freedom.

When a Government fails to obey the spirit of the Constitution but uses the letter of law to wiggle away from sacred obligations, it can only mean two things. Either the Government has decided that it is not a creature of the Constitution but that the Constitution is merely an instrument of its Government. Or the Government claims authority from something other than the Constitution. But one thing is common in that, to this Government, the Constitution has ceased to be Sovereign.

As a citizen, I will only pledge allegiance to my Sovereign. But today I no longer live in a land that is under its control. Today the power over India is wielded by someone who claims it by popular mandate rather than Constitutional sanction. I have lost more than Jammu & Kashmir. For I am now a foreigner in my own country, a dishonour no invader in history has ever subjected my people to.

(The author is an advocate practising at Bombay High Court)

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