Article 370 and the Reorganization of Kashmir: A Teachable Moment

(Reposted from: The Peace Blog – weblog of the Education for Peace Initiative at Prajnya.  August 6, 2019)

by Swarna Rajagopalan

Your students (or kids) may have missed the news about the security build-up and the rising tensions in Kashmir over the last week. They cannot possibly miss the headlines about the amendment of Article 370 and the reorganisation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, however. Around them, people are bound to be talking about this news, either jubilant or distressed. In your classroom, they will hear both points of view.

This is a moment with rich learning potential.

I. What is the news, factually, and what does it mean?

A great starting point is always to clarify the news, because we do not always access it fully in reports and then, some of what happened is obfuscated by what people think. What actually happened on August 5th in Parliament? What changed, and what was proposed?

  • What was Article 370? Why did it exist? What did it provide? Why was it important?
  • Why did the government say they wanted to change it?
  • What will happen because it is changed?
  • Why do people object? What are all their various objections?

II. Why is Jammu and Kashmir always in the news?

This week’s developments allow you to open the door to reading and discussing history.

The formation of the Indian state in the last decade of British rule and the various stories of accession make for interesting narration anyway, as you piece the current map of India together through them. You can take a contemporary political map and then discuss how each part became a part of India as we know it.

This will also allow you to talk about the Pakistan movement and Partition; the creation of linguistic states; other movements that spoke of a separate state (like Dravida Nadu, if you are in Tamil Nadu); and about the linguistic reorganisation of states. You can review India’s federal structure and the differences between States and Union Territories, especially because J&K’s status has been downgraded.

The long history of conflict in and over Kashmir will and should come up, and this is a chance to calmly and safely disentangle questions about all the layers of conflict. Why has their been so much discontent and anger in the Valley? What do people mean when they bring Pakistan into the conversation? Why is Kashmir so important to both states?

It is important here to keep the conversation at the level of fact, and since ‘facts’ themselves are now subjective, I would suggest using encyclopaedias or timelines such as those on the BBC site to reconstruct the story.

In fact, as you do so, you have an opportunity to discuss what ‘facts’ are in this age. Always subject to nuancing through the use of particular frames and words or through the structure of an argument, today even the core of a fact can be manipulated. It is useful to discuss this with students who are now consumers of news-like content on multiple media. Learning to sift and think critically are citizenship skills.

III. How are nations formed?

A discussion on Kashmir and on this particular set of changes is an excellent opportunity to discuss nations, nationalism and the distinction between states and nations. “Is India a nation?” used to be a popular essay question, with the argument being more important than arriving at a single ‘correct’ answer. Now there is a  correct answer being proposed, but a teacher’s job is to alert students to the possibility of multiple journeys and multiple answers.

If it is possible, as in a political science class, this could be a good time to review the rich writing on nationalism. But even if that is outside the training of the teacher, it is a good idea to ask what makes people hang together or want to split apart. In turn, this brings us to a discussion of democracy, legitimacy and conflict. Under what circumstances is a government legitimate? (What is legitimacy?) The interplay between democracy and legitimacy and democracy and conflict are important to understand what has been happening in Kashmir over the last few decades.

What happens to democracy when an area is declared insecure and military measures are introduced? What are the rights we trade off for safety? This conversation begins with Kashmir and also takes in more general freedom and privacy concerns. For instance, CC-TV cameras, which are often suggested as a safety measure.

Don’t let not knowing  about something yourself deter you from pointing to it as a question or topic of interest. You can always commit to learning together with the students or ask them to come teach you. Do admit to your ignorance honestly; that is an important life-lesson too.

IV. How do we make laws?

Less in the news but also contentious is the method adopted to introduce these changes yesterday. Without directly engaging with them, we can also use this to review how laws are usually made, how constitutional amendments are supposed to be done, and what some of the other sources of law are.

This teachable moment does not have to cover all this ground, and in a class of 25-60, given just about 30-40 minutes, you simply cannot. You can open by asking what people have heard on the news, ask for one or two takes, pick up a thread in what they say, and follow that interest.

A teachable moment is an open window. There are countless things outside and you could focus your attention on just one or a few. You are teaching your students or children about one thing, but more critically, you are teaching them how to ask questions and learn about any of the countless things just outside that window.

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