ACAPS Short Note: Jammu & Kashmir lockdown: 2019 Lockdown: A Humanitarian Perspective (20 April 2020)

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A presidential decree on 5 August 2019 revoked Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution, which granted Jammu and Kashmir state special autonomous status (Economic Times 05/08/2019). The move stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its political autonomy and was accompanied by a complete lockdown, unprecedented in Kashmir’s history, that began in August 2019 and continued through March 2020.

During the lockdown, schools were closed, access to healthcare was severely disrupted, livelihoods reliant on internet connection were brought to a standstill, and protection risks increased. While the strongest measures have eased, including re-opening of schools and restoration of internet in 2020 (News18 22/02/2020, Al Jazeera 05/03/2020), people in Kashmir continue to suffer the effects of the lockdown.

Disruptions in education have created massive learning gaps, thousands of jobs have been lost, and industries and workers have been unable to recover economically from the lockdown period. Restrictions in movement continue to impede access to health services.

Crisis Impact

On 5 August 2019, India’s Home Minister, Amit Shah, announced a presidential decree revoking Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution (Economic Times 05/08/2019). Article 370 and 35A had outlined Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status, granting jurisdiction over all matters not relating to finance, defense, foreign affairs, and communication (Govt of India 1954). At the same time, the state was divided into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh (Economic Times India 06/08/2019). The two political measures placed Jammu and Kashmir under the complete jurisdiction of India’s central government, without its own constitution, flag, or laws (Al Jazeera 30/10/2019).

In the days before the decree was announced, a massive security clampdown was implemented in Jammu and Kashmir. Security forces flooded the region and widespread detentions of Kashmir politicians, journalists, and civilians took place (HRW 16/09/2020).

Hindu pilgrims and foreign tourists were advised to leave due to security concerns (Deutsche Welle 03/08/2019). Movement restrictions were ramped up, including curfews, closure of businesses and schools, and additional checkpoints and roadblocks to limit movement within and into the Kashmir Valley (India Today 05/08/2019).

A communications blackout was implemented: internet, mobile networks, cable television, and landline services were suspended (UN 22/08/2019). Restrictions on landlines and certain mobile networks began to ease in October; however, it was not until January 2020, when a Supreme Court order ruled the internet shutdown illegal, that internet access was slowly reinstated (Economic Times 14/10/2019, BBC 10/01/2020). In January, this applied to only 301 websites approved by the government, and in March 2020, internet services were restored but slowed to 2G speeds (NYT 26/01/2020, Al Jazeera 05/03/2020).

During seven months of complete lockdown, the 8 million people in the Kashmir valley experienced a sharp deterioration in living conditions, which are likely to have long-term effects on education, livelihoods, and health.