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Explainer: Why has Kashmir lost its special status and what now for the contested Indian region?

Once a territory of the British empire, Jammu and Kashmir chose to join India over Pakistan in 1947.

Army troops are deployed to the region as tensions rise.
Army troops are deployed to the region as tensions rise.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

INDIA’S GOVERNMENT OVERTURNED a 70-year-old law which governed the special administrative region of Jammu and Kashmir since it was returned by the British Empire. 

Article 370 was introduced following the liberation of the region from British rule in 1947 and made a number of provisions that governed its laws and land for 72 years. 

It gave it special status and allowed it to make its own laws as an Indian-administered region. 

The current government, led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party abolished this yesterday, and put forward a new bill dividing the region into two territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. 

The former will have its own assembly while the latter territory, with a sizeable Muslim population will not. 

Both territories will now be governed by the Union of India’s federal government. 

So, just one day after the law was removed from the constitution, why has Kashmir’s special status been removed and what happens now for the contested Indian territory?

What is Article 370?

In 1947, Jammu and Kashmir, which was at the time a princely state of the British empire, became an independent state of India.

Following independence from British colonial rule, Jammu and Kashmir had a choice to join either Pakistan or India, and it opted for India on the terms outlined in Article 370.

This gave the region the autonomy to make its own laws, separate to India’s constitution, except in the areas of defence, finance, foreign affairs and communications, and also allowing it to establish its own flag. 

A northern part of Kashmir, however, is governed by Pakistan which sits to the east, while the Chinese-administered Aksai Chin sits to the west of the region. 

What is Article 35A?

This was a piece of legislation – known as permanent residents law – introduced in 1954, eight years after Article 370 was established. 

It protected land and property for Jammu and Kashmir residents, preventing it being sold to outsiders and also denying people from outside to settle there. 

Much speculation in the lead up to yesterday’s announcement had pointed to this piece of legislation being scrapped, not the whole of Article 370. 

Why has the Government of India abolished it? 

In an unexpected move, the government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party vowed to scrap the laws, and bring the region into the Union of India, after previously winning a majority of support from parliament. 

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This means it is now governed directly by the federal government of India, instead of having its own legislative autonomy. 

The governing party, a Hindu nationalist party. has targeted Muslim populations during previous campaigns, and more recently included it in the party’s manifesto for the 2019 elections. 

The Jammu and Kashmir region has a large Muslim population and now that Article 370 has been overturned, it is thought Hindu people will settle in the region, acquiring property, and potentially turning it into a majority-Hindu population. 

So what happens now?

Jammu and Kashmir has had a difficult relationship with India and insurgents have been making waves for years now. 

Tensions are expected to escalate further as protesters mobilise and take to the streets in protest. 

Schools have shut and tourists have been asked to leave as Indian troops in their tens of thousands have landed. 

Some politicians and activists are set to mount a legal challenge to Modi’s move to abolish Article 370, and with divided opinions on the legality of it, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the battle makes its way to the highest Supreme Court. 

Either way, it looks set to be a long road ahead as the contentious issue continues to threaten peace in the region. 

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