As It Happens

'Murder of democracy': Kashmiri activist plans Supreme Court challenge against India

Kashmiri politician and activist Shehla Rashid is in the midst of preparing a Supreme Court challenge to the revocation of Article 370.

Shehla Rashid says the Indian government's revocation of Article 370 is 'unconstitutional' and 'illegal'

Shehla Rashid, a Kashmiri activist and general secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir People's Movement political party, is taking India to court over Kashmir. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

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Friday marked 11 days since the Indian government made the dramatic announcement that it was removing the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The territory had been semi-autonomous for more than 70 years. But earlier this month, the central Indian government revoked Article 370 of the constitution, effectively taking Indian-administered Kashmir under the umbrella of the union.

It's a move Shehla Rashid says is unethical, undemocratic and illegal.

The Kashmiri activist and politician with the recently-formed Jammu and Kashmir People's Movement party is now preparing a Supreme Court challenge against the government.

Rashid is currently in Delhi with limited access to the state, which is currently under military lockdown. More than 500 people have reportedly been detained.

She spoke to As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal. Here is part of their conversation.

I want to ask first how your friends and family back in Kashmir are doing?

It is very difficult at the moment to get in touch.

For example, I have spoken to my mother only twice since the 4th of August. I have spoken to my team members, again, only twice.

They have to go to a police station or the district administration office and they have to cue up. By the time that they get to their turn, there are already people behind them asking them to hurry up. 

So it's a very limited conversation. You cannot discuss much of consequence.

From what we hear, people can still get access to food, baby food, etcetera, but at great difficulty because there is a curfew-like situation. 

People are being kept inside their homes. People are not being allowed to visit the neighbouring village so they don't organize.

It's like a mass imprisonment. It's like an open-air prison where people are just allowed to move only if they provide a damn good reason to move.

Kashmiri women shout slogans at a protest after Friday prayers during restrictions after the Indian government scrapped the special constitutional status for Kashmir. (Danish Ismail/Reuters)

You've publicly condemned the Indian government's decision to revoke Article 370. But you're taking things further than that.

We are taking matters to the Supreme Court because we believe that it is an unconstitutional order that the government has issued. It is illegal. It is unethical and undemocratic. 

The government cannot do this because there are constitutional provisions that are safeguards that are there to ensure that Article 370 is not simply overturned. 

When the state of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India, it was a sovereign state. A decision, a treaty, or some terms of agreement between two sovereign states must be respected. I think it makes India look really, really bad if they cannot even respect the terms that they have arrived at. 

The Indian government has argued that they are abiding by constitutional law. What's your response to that?

We have a very strong petition drafted and we are going to court very soon.

We believe that the government is in really poor legal standing. You know, they have to lock down an entire population. They have to lock down the leaders, cut off the communication, arrest journalists. That just shows that our position is strong and the government's decision is weak. 

In the Indian mainstream press and on social media, many non-Kashmiri Indians are celebrating this move. They say it strengthens India and that it doesn't stand to reason to have states that can enjoy certain freedoms and exemptions when others do not.

India is a very diverse country and there are thousands, literally thousands, of different cultures and languages and culinary traditions. So I don't think that India can be ruled according to one specific arrangement.

This is meant to preserve the ecological balance, the cultural sensitivities, of certain places, which acceded to India on different arrangements. So those terms must be respected.

And as far as celebrations are concerned, there is nothing to celebrate about the murder of democracy and the murder of constitution. 

That phrase that you just uttered, murdering the constitution, it has caused problems, it appears, for the other prominent member of the Jammu and Kashmir People's Movement party, Shah Faesal. He was reportedly arrested for speaking out, for saying that phrase. Are you worried about retaliation?

Yes. But, you know, that is not the point right now. This is about a much larger cause.

If we don't act, if we don't speak up, thousands of people are going to feel that they are without any representation and they might hit the streets — and they are hitting the streets as we speak in Kashmir.

They are getting shot at. They are getting injured. They are getting blinded because the security forces are using disproportionate violence. The government should actually allow opposition leaders, activists to speak out.

If people want to protest against the government's decision, they are well within their rights in a democracy to do that.

India cannot expect to call itself a democracy, India cannot expect to rub shoulders with the [UN Security Council] league while engaging in this kind of barbarism back home. That is simply not acceptable.

How can one political party, which is the ruling party, decide what is good for people then put all other opposition leaders in jail? That's not how a democracy functions.

The UN Security Council has been meeting for the first time in decades on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, behind closed doors. What sense does that meeting give you? Does it give you hope?

Yes. You know, it is considered very unpatriotic in India to talk about international intervention on Kashmir. But when such gross abuse of human rights takes place, it is no longer an internal matter.

Sections of the Indian media have been very, very muted about what has been happening in Kashmir. There is censorship. People are afraid of [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi. They don't want to talk about him because they are subject to Modi's jurisdiction.

But at least the international powers, the international community, other countries, the UN Security Council — they are not subject to his arbitrary laws and his rule.

So, yes, our only hope right now is the international community, which can call a spade a spade.

India is trying to get away with what it's doing in Kashmir by implying, by suggesting, that this is a way of fighting terrorism. This is not a way of fighting terrorism. This is terrorism. And this will, if anything, encourage more terrorism in Kashmir.

Written by Ashley Mak and John McGill. Produced by Ashley Mak. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


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