A Year of Siege:


Politics of Annexation and Settler Colonialism in Kashmir

By: Ather Zia, Haley Duschinski, Mona Bhan

This Introduction is part of APLA’s newest Speaking Justice to Power Series, which focuses on Kashmir and marks the one-year anniversary of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution (August 5, 2019). The Series page is available here

One of the most significant historic transformations in the modern era of state and nation building is currently playing out through modalities of border warfare, permanent emergency and counterinsurgency in Kashmir, producing spectacular levels of violence and terror that have captured the world’s attention for the past year. On August 5, 2019, India’s right-wing Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government initiated a multi-pronged military approach for the final and complete annexation of the portion of Kashmir occupied by India. Long recognized as one of the most highly militarized and yet invisibilized conflict zones in the world, Kashmir has been under an intensified military siege since August 2019, when the Government of India initiated the revocation of the special status of the autonomous State of Jammu & Kashmir — an action with potentially devastating consequences for Kashmiri identity and community.

A paramilitary trooper stands guard in the city centre Lalchowk, Srinagar as the authorities in Kashmir announced a complete five-day lockdown in areas that have been categorized as red zones due to a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in July 2020. Image Credit: Masrat Zahra. 

Seeking to quell popular resistance to this unilateral action, the government instituted severe restrictions on movement and assembly and an unprecedented communications blackout by shutting down all internet, mobile, and landline services in the region. The Indian government put eight million Kashmiris under curfew and unprecedented communication lockdown. Strict restrictions were put in place on mobility, and all forms of media, internet, landlines, and cellphones. As India’s communications blockade shut down all landlines, mobile technologies, and internet connections in the region, the Indian government’s policy intensified its policies to curb Kashmiri dissent by indirect and direct military action. Hundreds of Kashmiri client politicians, civil society members, resistance leaders, activists, human rights defenders, and businessmen were put under detention or house arrest. Many were booked under Public Safety Act (PSA), preventive detention legislation known as the “lawless law,” with an estimated 240 flown to prisons outside of the state. The number of civilians under arrest grew to the extent that the government forces began looking to rent private property to use as detention centers. The fact-finding report Women’s Voice counters the state narrative of “return to normalcy,” indicating that 13,000 boys and young men were detained illegally after August 5, including some as young as 14, with some imprisoned for up to 45 days, and with families paying as much as 60,000 rupees ($850) for their release. 

Despite the intensification of state sponsored violence to clamp down local dissent, Indian government officials and journalists claimed that the situation on the ground was normal. Kashmiri and international journalists who managed to cover the situation reported anxious and resistant populations, with massive protests erupting from time to time, resulting  in more than 100 injured and several killings by the end of the year. On August 15, Genocide Watch called upon the United Nations and its members to warn India not to commit genocide in Kashmir.

The plans for the evisceration of Kashmiri rights through Kashmir’s forced integration into India has been an Indian national policy across political parties for decades. At the same time, Kashmir’s final integration with India is rooted in the BJP’s Hindu supremacist ideology, which claims indigenous origins for its Hindu majority population, while excluding Muslims, Christians, and other minorities from citizenship rights. The abrogation of Article 370 represents the BJP’s long-standing aspiration to integrate Kashmir into the Indian state and dilute its Muslim-majority character through a series of settler colonial interventions.

In 1947, the Maharaja of the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir signed the instrument of accession as a temporary legal and political arrangement born of necessity at a moment of war and instability during transition and partition on the subcontinent. In writing the constitution of the new nation, India’s Constituent Assembly included Article 370 to incorporate the conditional and provisional accession into the Constitution. The State of J&K’s position in the Indian federation was and remains different than that of every other state. Although since the 1950s, India has eroded Kashmir’s autonomy through clientelist regimes and an array of administrative, military and judicial means, Article 370 granted special semi-autonomous status to J&K and recognized that Kashmir’s integration into India was and remains provisional and temporary, that Kashmir’s legal status was and remains unresolved, and that Kashmir’s political resolution was and remains an international issue. An accompanying Article 35A ensured the territorial sovereignty of Kashmir and the right to employment, education, property ownership and electoral franchise for the indigenous populations.

The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution removed important legal protections that restricted non-Kashmiris from purchasing land, establishing residency rights, and settling in the region. Many legal commentators decried the Indian government’s unilateral abrogation as “ illegal,” calling it an “unconstitutional deed,” which was “accomplished by deceitful means” (Noorani 2019). The state was bifurcated into the provinces of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and demoted to two separate union territories to be directly administered by the Indian government. This has enabled massive demographic changes that could make Kashmiris minorities in their own homeland and render inoperable the UN Security Council mandated plebiscite that gives Kashmiris the right to determine their political future.

The elimination of autonomy has also severely impacted people’s ability to earn a livelihood and access to land and natural resources, as these assets are being removed from the ownership of J&K state government and private individuals and corporations, and assigned to the ownership of the Indian central government and newly allocated domiciles from India. India’s unilateral annexation of Kashmir has also had significant geopolitical consequences. China is now claiming sovereignty over part of the disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir, resulting in the recent India-China standoff. India’s unilateral actions therefore risk further militarization and destabilization of the contested region.

While Kashmiris see the revocation as an attack on their ethnic, religious and national identity,  the Indian government has repeatedly claimed that Articles 370 and 35A were an impediment to Kashmir’s development, and their abrogation would eventually make Kashmir peaceful and prosperous. Yet India’s own analysts have shown that the development indices for Kashmir were better compared to other Indian states because of extensive and far-reaching land reforms in the 1950s. The Indian government’s arguments about how the abrogation and annexation will allow the implementation of corruption-free governance as well as educational equality, minimum wages, minority rights, and social reservations are misleading, disingenuous and false. The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A are the culmination of longstanding processes of settler colonialism and its attendant evils of dispossession and cultural imperialism.

The global pandemic and India’s response to institute a nationwide emergency lockdown has intensified the suppression of Kashmiri rights and civil liberties even further. Since initiating a nationwide public health lockdown across India and Kashmir in March, the government has used the pandemic as a ruse to intensify police and military repression of Kashmiris by escalating its search and cordon operations, criminalizing Covid suspects, and destroying people’s homes in routine night raids.

May 24, 2019 – Noorpora, Jammu And Kashmir, India – Kashmiri people inspect the war ravaged house. Thousands of Kashmiri’s attended the funeral of militant comander Zakir Musa killed in an eleven hour long gun battle in Noorpora area of Pulwama district of Indian controlled Kashmir. (Image credits: Masrat Zahra)

“The whole purpose of revoking Article 370 was to settle outsiders here and change the demography of the state. Now this provides the modalities and entitles so many categories of Indians whose settlement will be legalised over here.” – Kashmiri law professor and legal scholar Sheikh Showkat Hussain (Al Jazeera, April 1, 2020).

These changes to property laws in Kashmir allow for the state government to transfer J&K state property to non-Kashmiri corporations and Indian investors. Following the abrogation, and under conditions of a blanket communication lockdown for Kashmiris, India announced a Global Investors Summit to be held in Srinagar and Jammu to attract national and international investors to the region. Initially scheduled for October 2019, the Summit was postponed due to security concerns and then rescheduled for the third week of April 2020, but postponed again for public health concerns.

Indian auctioning of local resources, however, has continued apace. For instance, legal and political transformations have opened Kashmir’s rivers to exploitation by non-state businessmen and outsiders. While India was already exploiting Kashmir’s rivers for hydropower, mining businesses from different parts of India have expanded into J&K for the first time, as companies from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have participated in public auctions and won leases to mine the union territory’s reserves of coal, marble and limestone, among other things. Deforestation projects have also been rapidly enabled without oversight of India’s own environmental review process. Kashmiris fear that India’s extractive infrastructure in Kashmir along with the fortification of military settlements will further the process of land and resource alienation and normalize the discriminatory systems of segregation and apartheid.

In this APLA Speaking Justice to Power Series, we bring together 10 Critical Kashmir Studies scholars who have been conducting ethnographic research on themes of sovereignty, counterinsurgency, occupation, and resistance in Kashmir across the past decade. Their research-driven insights illuminate this current moment of human rights and humanitarian crisis — one that has the potential to usher in an era of settler colonialism and irrevocable demographic transformation, destabilize the subcontinent, and wreak ecological havoc on already fragile landscape, posing a grave threat to international peace and security in the region.

For further readings, please see #TheKashmirSyllabus at https://www.standwithkashmir.org/the-kashmir-syllabus

Photos for this piece were provided by Masrat Zahra, a Kashmiri photojournalist and recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) 2020 Anja Neidringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award.

Ather Zia is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Northern Colorado. She is a political anthropologist, poet and short-fiction writer. Zia is the author of Resisting Disappearances: Military Occupation and Women’s Activism in Kashmir (University of Washington Press 2019) and co-editor of Resisting Occupation in Kashmir (University of Pennsylvania Press 2018) and A Desolation called Peace (Harper Collins 2019). She has published a poetry collection “The Frame” (J&K Cultural Academy of Arts and Languages 1999) and another collection is forthcoming. Her ethnographic poetry on Kashmir has won an award from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. A widely published columnist, Zia is the founder-editor of Kashmir Lit and is a founding member of Critical Kashmir Studies collective. 

Haley Duschinski is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director and Graduate Director of the Center for Law, Justice and Culture at Ohio University. She is a legal and political anthropologist with research specializations in violence, war, and power; law and society; and human rights, militarization and impunity in South Asia, especially Kashmir. She is co-editor of Resisting Occupation in Kashmir (University of Pennsylvania Press 2018), and she co-edited special issues of Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law and Critique of Anthropology on occupation and settler colonialism and Himalaya on war in Kashmir. Duschinski is a founding member of the Critical Kashmir Studies collective. Her current research focuses on international interventions for human rights and global accountability in Kashmir.


Mona Bhan is the Ford Maxwell Professor of South Asian Studies and Associate Professor of Anthropology at Syracuse University. Bhan has authored Counterinsurgency, Development, and the Politics of Identity: From Warfare to Welfare? and co-authored with Andrew Bauer Climate without Nature: A Critical Anthropology of the Anthropocene. She is also co-editor of Resisting Occupation in Kashmir, and a founding member of the Critical Kashmir Studies collective. Bhan is co-editor of HIMALAYA, the flagship journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, and on the editorial board of AGITATE, published through the University of Minnesota Libraries. Her writings and interviews have appeared in several media and print outlets such as the BBC, Al Jazeera, Scholars Circle, CGTN, Scholars’ Circle, Indus TV, TRT, Kindle, Open Democracy, and Outlook.

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