Sunday, 24 September 2023

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Top India court to weigh legality of Kashmir direct rule

SRINAGAR, INDIA — India’s top court on Tuesday began considering a challenge to the 2019 imposition of direct rule in Kashmir, a snap decision accompanied by mass arrests and a months-long internet blackout.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government suspended a section of the constitution that guarantees limited autonomy to the disputed region, home to a long-running insurgency against Indian rule.

The Supreme Court in New Delhi will weigh whether the move was legal despite lacking the endorsement from parliament usually required for constitutional change.

Modi’s government defended the decision in an affidavit sent to the court on Monday, saying the change had brought “peace, progress and prosperity” to the restive territory.

But Kashmiri politician Omar Abdullah, whose National Conference party helped bring the case, said the government’s rationale for its decision was irrelevant.

The court would have to weigh “the illegality & unconstitutionality of what was done,” he said on Twitter. “Not whether the (government) has a strong enough political case.”

A bench agreed the case could continue and adjourned the case for oral arguments in August.

India has for decades stationed more than half a million soldiers on its side of divided Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan.

An armed rebellion against Indian rule has killed thousands in the Muslim-majority territory since 1989.

Consolidating New Delhi’s rule over its portion of the territory has long been a key plank of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The imposition of direct rule in 2019 was accompanied by the preventative detention of thousands of people across Kashmir including almost all local political leaders.

A months-long internet shutdown throttled communication in the territory as India bolstered its armed forces in the region in an effort to contain protests against the move.

Critics say that authorities have since curbed media freedoms and public protests in a drastic curtailment of civil liberties.

The suspension of Kashmir’s semi-autonomy also allowed Indians from elsewhere to buy land and claim government jobs in the territory, a policy denounced by critics as “settler colonialism”.

Hundreds of new laws, replacing local ordinances, have since been promulgated by the region’s New Delhi-appointed governor.

The frequency of armed clashes between Indian soldiers and insurgents has dropped significantly in recent years as India works to fortify its rule over the territory.

Last year, at least 223 combatants and 30 civilians died in the region, according to official records.


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