Hindu-Americans, Pandits hail Modi's revocation of special status to Kashmir

Hindu-Americans celebrate the removal of Article 370 at an event hosted by the OFBPJP on Oak Tree Road in Iselin, N.J., Aug. 5.

There is a widespread support among the Indian-American community for India’s decision to revoke Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Along with abolishing a provision that allowed Jammu and Kashmir to have its own flag and constitution, the government also moved a separate bill to split the state into two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

However, the government’s move was met with mixed reaction by the expatriate Kashmiri-American community in the U.S., comprising both Hindu Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims.

The Kashmiri Hindu community in the U.S. let their hair down and celebrated the government’s announcement about the abrogation of the Article 370, under which Indians outside the state were blocked from permanently settling, buying land, holding local government jobs and securing education scholarships in Kashmir. The controversial provision also gave Kashmir’s assembly the power to vet national laws passed by New Delhi and gave the state a separate constitution and a flag.

Article 370 was deemed as sensitive because it guarantees significant autonomy for the Muslim-majority state.

“Today is a very historic and special day for me. Sitting here I can now smell freedom in the air, and I am sure there are many others like me,” Dijottam Raina, a Srinagar-born engineer turned entrepreneur in Atlanta told this correspondent sharing his joy.

Raina, 55, who went to BITS Pilani to study engineering and came to the U.S. do MBA in 1987, blamed the central and state government policies over decades for today’s problems.

“All the previous governments tried a band-aid approach for solving the problems in Kashmir as result of which ordinary people have suffered irrespective of their religion and community. This is the first time that a positive step is being taken to right the wrongs of decades. Thus, removing this 370 and 35A will go a long way to solve the problems although its effect will not be immediate,” Raina said.

Subash Razdan, a member of the Hindu Pandit community in the U.S., and a former President of NFIA, said Article 370 introduced a couple of years after India’s Independence in 1947, allowed Jammu and Kashmir to have separate citizenship and rights laws than the rest of India and restricted government of India’s role to foreign affairs, defense, finance and communication. Article 35A allowed buying properties, government jobs and educational benefits in Jammu and Kashmir only to the residents defined by the states constituents and not to the rest of the citizens of India.

“The Jammu Kashmir Reorganization bill of Aug. 5, 2019 will provide hope and new opportunities to bring peace and development for the people both in Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh which naturally will spill over to benefit the entire Indian subcontinent.

“We hope the Hindus/Pandits of Kashmir can return and settle peacefully and safely and hope Kashmir becomes the Switzerland of India,” Razdan, who hails from Badgam, Kashmir, told India Abroad.

Calling it “a dream come true,” Surender Kaul, international coordinator of Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora, told India Abroad that Aug. 5 is “the brightest day for Kashmir in a long, long time.

In a statement, GKPD, a body representing the community across the world, said it will extend unqualified support to the Government of India in countering any attempts by third parties to destabilize the internal situation in Kashmir which is unambiguously and irrevocably an integral part of India.

Kaul, of Houston, Texas, said the historic decision will open vast vistas of social, cultural, economic and industrial development of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh as union territories. “The region will not remain confined to the tourist industry alone, but entrepreneurs will be more than willing to invest in various industries there which are bound to create employment opportunities for hundreds of thousands of young people groaning under discrimination and deprivation,” he said.

Members of the Kashmiri Pandit community said they were planning to hold celebrations during the week and the weekend over the abrogation of Article 370.

Organizations such as the Overseas Friends of BJP, the Hindu American Foundation and the Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora also lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for taking the “courageous decision.”

OFBJP president Krishna Reddy Anugula praised the move as a “permanent solution” which will solve a lot of problems in the region. “This is the end of terrorism in Kashmir,” he told India Abroad, adding that by removing Article 370, the government of India has initiated the complete integration of Kashmir into the rest of the country. He said it’s a matter of time that things in the region will significantly improve with the opening of jobs, higher education, and lifting of land restrictions and opening of businesses.

Applauding the decision, the Hindu American Foundation, in a statement, said that “as a secular pluralistic democracy, it is vital that all citizens of India enjoy the same rights and are subject to the same laws, regardless of where in the country they reside.”

Samir Kalra, managing director of the HAF told India Abroad in an email that “the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, which were only intended as temporary provisions, is an important step in this direction and will help better integrate the residents of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh into the rest of India and apply one set of equal laws across the country.”

The group says the bill will also “help create conditions for the full rehabilitation and resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir Valley.”

Right-wing Hindu groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad also issued statements supporting the revoking of Article 370.

“Today is the day to pay tribute to thousands of soldiers who have sacrificed their life for Kashmir since 1947,” Indian media quoted VHP Working President Alok Kumar as saying. Describing the action as a “fearless move,” Kumar said “now the development of Kashmir is easy and possible.”

Urging everyone to rise from selfish motives and political differences, the RSS the step was “very essential for the interest of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the entire country.”

Other Indian-American groups also chimed in. “We congratulate Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for taking this bold step. It was long due, but it took the courage and vision of Prime Minister Modi to remove this unjust provision,” said Jagdish Sewhani, of American India Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies told the Press Trust of India that “the temporary constitutional provision had created a permanent situation of bloodshed in the valley and choked prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir.” FIIDS expressed hope that the newly-passedbill will bring peace and development in both Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Indian American Forum for Political Education president Sampat Shivangi told PTI that it “is a historic and a very bold act” by Modi and Shah. They have “given a gift to the nation” in the run-up to the Independence Day celebrations on Aug. 15, he added. However, the Kashmir Global Council and the World Kashmir Awareness Forum rejected and condemned the move by the Indian government.

“Any attempt to amend or abrogate article 370 and 35 A would be deemed as an act of further aggression and assault on the Rights of the people of the state,” a statement issued by the group and sent to India Abroad said.

“The Kashmiri diaspora leadership stands committed to carry on the struggle till the final settlement of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.”

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