There is nothing quite like the feeling of biting down on a fresh, crisp apple. A satisfyingly sweet fruit that fills grocery stores and has become a staple in many people’s diets. However, imagine for a moment that you are deprived of nature’s candy due to the simple fact that people are not picking any apples and instead are leaving them on the branches to rot. This is Northern India’s reality.
The Jammu and Kashmir region currently suffers under a cultural lockdown that is crushing the economy of one of the world’s largest apple-growing regions. As it stands, the lockdown is cutting transport links with buyers’ homes and abroad (Al Jazeera, Kashmir Economy). Farmers receive better economic benefits to not pay anyone to pick apples and instead have the apples rot over picking the apples and having no one buy them. On August 5th, India decided to abrogate Article 370 of its Constitution which removed the Kashmir region’s higher autonomy, including its own constitution and flag (Al Jazeera, Kashmir Special). This repeal has not just affected the apple farmers, 3.5 million people, but it has also hurt the tourism and handicraft sectors of Kashmir’s economy (Al Jazeera, Kashmir Economy). Known for its beautiful scenery, Kashmir attracts many tourists to the region; however, the Indian government has been actively warning tourists to stay away from the area due to fear of a violent reaction by Kashmiri people. Thus, tourism has plummeted and in turn, the money the tourists would’ve spent on the handicrafts is no longer circulating in the market.
These economic sanctions are crippling the lives of these people who live in this Muslim majority territory – which is important to note when we consider the Indian government that implemented these sanctions is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, infamous for his hardline Hindu nationalist movement (New York Times). Despite claims that the government will soon bring investors and new jobs to the region, the government does nothing to change the current consequences of the new policy change. What these sanctions have done is shown that the government has the power to restrict the economy of the region without the region’s consent – giving the government power over its citizens.
The country may claim that it is representing a fair democracy, but in reality, it is running a majoritarian regime by promoting the majority population while giving little consideration to protecting the country’s minorities. The government does this so effectively, perhaps, due to India’s government’s slow transitional shift into a one-party system. This new system would aid Modi’s goals of further eliminating his opposition. Their “democratic” government breaks down even further when they admitted to cutting the region’s “mobile, telephone, and internet connections” as this action does not uphold the democratic ideals of being treated equally as other Indian regions do not fall under such consistent scrutiny. The Indian government is actively taking steps to minimize and silence its Muslim population and redefine what it means to be Indian.
With Kashmir being such a rich region two wars have been fought with Pakistan over the territory (BBC). One might think India would do its best to keep the people there on its side and therefore want to remain part of India. Yet, it seems India wants to keep the land but not the people. The arrests of businessmen and opposition leaders and the raiding of homes of people who proclaimed their dissatisfaction compares more similarly to autocratic regimes than democratic ones (Al Jazeera, Kashmir Economy). The government institutes oppressive measures to actively limit the power of the minorities through controlling their access to the internet, thereby limiting their power of free speech. India’s 2018 Freedom House score for Internet Freedom rates as “partly free” citing the blockage of social media and political content as major issues (Freedom House). This reigns eerily similar to Russia and China, two autocratic countries, where those governments heavily control internet usage and communication technology (Just Security). Those countries are easily definable as un-democratic, with Russia’s selectorate being Putin himself, and China’s selectorate being the Politburo Standing Committee (or 5-9 people, which just so happens to include China’s current president as well).
We should not only limit our concerns to India alone. Democracies around the globe are sliding further away from ensuring the rights of all the countries’ citizens and instead are leaning to more majoritarian democracies. Many right-wing nationalist politicians are gaining ground in their perspective countries by inciting hate towards immigrants – even those immigrants who have gained citizenship. With people like Boris Johnson (UK), Marine LePen (France), Narendra Modi (India), and Donald Trump (USA) arising to greater popularity, it is no far off dream that one of their countries could begin to take on classically authoritarian traits. They spout chauvinism rhetoric that suggests foreigners and minorities who don’t fit into their perceived idea of what a citizen of their country should look like need to be excluded. From an American citizen perspective, should we be concerned about our democracy and how the traditional rules and social standards are being tested and questioned daily by our latest government? It’s unlikely we’ll see a big change in policy, but rather several small changes, such as restrictions on apple picking, that will turn the tide of politics. Could the US, the “land of the free”, be capable of falling from its procedural democracy to a minimalist democracy set by Ronald Dahl’s standards?
Al Jazeera. “Kashmir Economy in Tailspin as Apples Rot in Orchards.” India News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 19 Sept. 2019, www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/apples-rot-kashmir-orchards-lockdown-puts-economy-tails-190919084034824.html.
Al Jazeera. “Kashmir Special Status Explained: What Are Articles 370 and 35A?” India News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 5 Aug. 2019, www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/kashmir-special-status-explained-articles-370-35a-190805054643431.html.
Gettleman, Jeffrey, and Hari Kumar. “India Plans Big Detention Camps for Migrants. Muslims Are Afraid.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/08/17/world/asia/india-muslims-narendra-modi.html.
“India.” India Country Report, Freedom on the Net 2018, 11 Feb. 2019, freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2018/india.
Kartha, Tara Kartha, and Jalil Jilani. “India’s Digital Path: Leaning Democratic or Authoritarian?” Just Security, 2 Apr. 2019, www.justsecurity.org/62464/indias-digital-path-leaning-democratic-authoritarian/.“Kashmir: Why India and Pakistan Fight over It.” BBC News, BBC, 8 Aug. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/10537286.