In July, I joined a group of young men plodding glumly through verdant paddy fields in Bijbehara, a picturesque town tucked inside a network of lofty mountains in the Kashmir Valley. It was the middle of the monsoon season. One of the men was recounting a midnight raid conducted by the Indian Army in a nearby village, Arwani, in August last year.
“They were bloodthirsty,” he said, in a wobbling voice. “We live in the shadow of violence,” another man replied. There have been similar raids recently, he said. “They pick up boys without provocation.”
The young men were discussing all that has changed in Kashmir since Aug. 5, 2019, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked Article 370 of India’s constitution, and with it, the region’s special status as a semiautonomous state. The move divided the former state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories: a smaller Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. India’s Hindu nationalist government presented it as a patriotic project to bring economic development to the Kashmir Valley, the mountainous, restive area along the border with Pakistan that is also claimed by Islamabad. But to these young men, and many Kashmiris, the change in the region’s status is part of an attempt by Modi’s administration to “flood outside settlers into Kashmir”⎯one of the only Muslim-majority regions in India⎯“and realign its demographics.”
Although the change in Kashmir’s status took place without consulting local political leaders, it was widely supported within India and backed by most of Parliament. On Aug. 5 and for days after, Indian TV channels were flooded with images from across India that showed men and women distributing candy, beating drums and dancing to celebrate Kashmir’s so-called “integration.” But more than a year later, Kashmiris feel more alienated than ever before.