August 5, 2020 marks the first anniversary when India scrapped Article 35-A and 370, placed the population of around 14 million people under curfew, put its political leadership in detention, denied people access to the internet and employed its kinetic power in muzzling Kashmiri dissent. This plight was only to be compounded with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and reinforcement of the lockdown in Indian-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJK). The information blackout by the Indian government denied people access to critical information needed to counter COVID-19. It also disabled access to medicine, information on health facilities, and critical services such as telemedicine when Out-Patient Departments remained closed. As per the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), India has imposed over 155 internet shutdowns in IOJK in 2020, whereas, as per the Software Freedom Law Centre, 213 days of continuous internet shutdown stayed in place since August 4, 2019. So far, internet access to mere 2G services is available in IOJK from March 4, 2020. The revocation has led to a new wave of violence with 366 people killed, including civilians, armed fighters and security forces personnel. By the end of June 2020, this number has touched the figure of 227 killed; 175 of the killed comprise of Kashmiri fighters and civilians.

Before the breakout of the pandemic, and after having illegally annexed Jammu and Kashmir, India also issued a new map for disputed territories on November 2, 2019. This new map characterised what analysts’ term India’s “cartographic aggression.” This map is seen as a series of acts to change the status-quo in Jammu and Kashmir through legislative, cartographic and systemic attempts to change its demography. In her recent write-up for The Wire, Ghazala Wahab, revealed how India was using the new domicile law—the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)—as a weapon to change J&K’s Muslim majority demography. As per Ms Wahab, in June 2020, India granted 25,000 domicile certificates to Hindu refugees who settled in IOJK in decades after partition. This systemic move will eventually change demography in a decade when India finally cedes to holding a plebiscite.

India also wants to de-couple disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir before multilateral forums. It wishes to present Ladakh—which also forms a part of Jammu and Kashmir—as a territory in dispute with China, whereas, the now termed Jammu and Kashmir “Union Territory” as territory disputed by Pakistan and India. This is likely to be raised as a bargaining chip by India to limit the territorial contours of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir issue, IOJK and Gilgit Baltistan. By changing demography, India may become comfortable to concede to the demand of a plebiscite, even if it yields to include Ladakh under the scope of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir. However, such a plebiscite will not be reflective of genuine democratic views of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Rather it will bring out a rigged and tampered view, skewed through obvious underhand machinations by New Delhi.

The question that confronts stakeholders desiring a civilised outcome is how to obviate such systematic attempts at Jammu and Kashmir’s demography. This certainly demands a refreshed multilateral action from the United Nations Security Council on the Kashmir dispute. It may need to come in the form of a new resolution. Such a resolution should dictate a clear path for delineating and preventing India from changing demography. It should set new equitable terms for India and Pakistan to prepare reasonable grounds for holding plebiscite or reiterate commitments enshrined under previous resolutions. This will certainly require rising to the occasion—especially by powers such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany—drawing a red line and costs for India’s attempts to change Jammu and Kashmir’s legal and demographic visage. If the 21st century demands commitment to norms, then the Kashmir dispute appears as one of the most reliable litmus tests.

The question of the Kashmir dispute needs to stop being seen only as a territorial dispute between Pakistan and India. The central focus should be the people that are critical to determination of its political future. Presenting it solely as a territorial dispute removes the Kashmiri people, who are one of the critical linchpins of this dispute. The primacy of determining Jammu and Kashmir’s future should lie in the hands of the Kashmiri people through plebiscite. It can’t be seen as a colonial price for India or BJP’s Hindutva-driven aspiration for a forceful integration with India.

For the international community, the complexity of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute should be seen through shades of multiple case studies of international politics; Germany, Vietnam, and South Africa are among the most relevant. For example, the German reunification by Helmut Kohl was spearheaded in 1990 to unite German people that were divided in Western and Eastern wings after World War II. It was equally indispensable for the German Chancellor to unite German people and the divided territories. The same, but through war and insurgency, can be seen in Vietnam when it was reunited on April 30, 1975 after a violent takeover of South Vietnam by North Vietnamese and Vietcong. But most important of them is South Africa, which the international community denied, simultaneously riding the boats of apartheid and ineffectual democracy. The black majority was forced into political oblivion for decades in their own country until 1994. It is a similar apartheid by BJP which will seek to change Kashmiris’ demography by converting them into a minority. And a future outcome, if unchecked, will be determined by outside settlers. Let’s not forget, on the first anniversary of the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Prime Minister Modi will lay the foundation of the Ayodhya Temple. Symbolising Jammu and Kashmir’s future in Ayodhya couldn’t possibly make for a better comparison.