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Removal Of Special Status Roils Muslim-Majority Kashmir


Going to focus in now on the disputed region of Kashmir. It's disputed because both India and Pakistan claim that territory. Now India's government has taken an extraordinary step - revoking the special status that has long-governed the Indian side of Kashmir. That would tighten the Indian government's control over its territory. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Without explanation, India, over the weekend, sent tens of thousands of troops to its northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The center is now rushing about 25,000 more paramilitary personnel to the valley...

FRAYER: As that news spread, panicked tourists evacuated. The government cut phone and Internet service and put Kashmiri politicians under house arrest. Then India's home minister, Amit Shah, announced what it was all about.


AMIT SHAH: (Speaking Indian).

FRAYER: He told Parliament the government was revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which gave special status to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It's had this status since just after India's founding. A Muslim-majority state in the Himalayas, it agreed to join India on the condition that residents would enjoy special property rights and access to government jobs. Now those are all being revoked.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

FRAYER: Protests broke out in India's capital, New Delhi, last night with people chanting, Kashmiri people, we are with you and, don't mess with the Constitution. People are angry that Kashmiris themselves were not consulted on what is the biggest legal change for their state in India's democratic history.

Bilal Ahmed (ph) is a Kashmiri living in Mumbai. He manages a carpet shop. And he hasn't been able to get in touch with his parents and sister back home amid the lockdown there.

BILAL AHMED: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "We are so saddened by this," he says. "If India wanted to win our hearts, this is not the way."

The government says it's scrapping Kashmir's special status in order to better integrate the state into the rest of India. It has a strong separatist movement. Indian troops have put down many protests there and have been accused of human rights violations. One of the people celebrating this legal change, though, is Sunil Rajan Kowal (ph).

SUNIL RAJAN KOWAL: I am really elated, delighted and happy.

FRAYER: He's a Kashmiri Pandit - a Hindu who fled the majority-Muslim region amid violence. And now he's hoping to go back.

KOWAL: We have property there. We would like to go back. Now that Article 370 has been removed, our children will also see a future there. And that is a place where one would love to live.

FRAYER: He hopes others from across the country will move to Kashmir. But that's exactly what Muslim Kashmiris fear - that their culture will be diluted by Hindus moving in and their Muslim majority lost. Sameer Patil is a former government official who now works at Gateway House, a Mumbai think tank. He says revoking Article 370 was a campaign promise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But it was done by presidential decree, not by Parliament.

SAMEER PATIL: Certainly, this was the most unconventional way in which the article was scrapped.

FRAYER: Patil says this is a gray area of constitutional law. And he expects this to wind up in India's Supreme Court. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.