What is happening in Hong Kong? Answers you need to know

It’s been almost eleven weeks since protest erupted in the streets of Chinese controlled Hong Kong. The protest that started over an extradition bill soon turned into a protest demanding the resignation of Hong Kong’s top executive, Carrie Lam, among other demands. As you read this article, thousands of people are taking the streets in protest against their leader, a debated extradition bill and against ongoing police brutality on peaceful protesters.

To understand what’s happening in Hong Kong, we must go back to its founding roots as a special administrative region.

What’s the deal with China and Hong Kong?

What is happening in Hong Kong? Answers you need to know

Hong Kong became a British colony in 1842 after China handed over its ownership to Britain after the end of the first opium war. After almost a century and half of the British rule, Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997 and Hong Kong would become China’s special administrative territory under the “One country two systems” framework.  

Why is Hong Kong Special?

What is happening in Hong Kong? Answers you need to know

One of the pros of 150 years of British rule is the Sino-British Joint Declaration. This treaty signed in 1985 allowed Hong Kong to retain its freedom of speech when its ownership was transferred back to China, something which Chinese nationals of the mainland don’t have the luxury of enjoying. The outcome? Thanks to this catch, residents of Hong Kong can exercise their democratic right of protestation and free speech without brutal government intervention.

How did the protest start?

What is happening in Hong Kong? Answers you need to know

It all started with a murder. In February of 2018, a Hong Kong-based couple went to Taiwan on a weeklong vacation. A week later, the boyfriend, Chang, returned to Hong Kong and confessed to murdering his girlfriend. The Hong Kong government couldn’t prosecute him because the murder happened in Taiwan. And they couldn’t extradite him to Taiwan because Hong Kong does not have an extradition policy with Taiwan, a part of Chinese territory. That’s when Hong Kong lawmakers proposed an extradition bill that would allow the extradition of arrested individuals to Taiwan and other parts of Mainland China.

Hong Kong residents do not trust the Chinese legal system.

This proposal sparked a protest among the civilians against the bill. That is because Hong Kong residents do not trust the Chinese legal system. For the lack of democratic procedure, the Chinese legal system allows the government to prosecute a convict without trial and government fuelled abductions are not uncommon.

Is this the first protest?

What is happening in Hong Kong? Answers you need to know
The 2003 protests

It’s not. There have been major demonstrations in Hong Kong since 2003. In 2003, Hong Kongers took the street and protested against a bill that would allow punishment for those who spoke up against China.

In 2014, the people of Hong Kong Protested against China’s increasing influence over Hong Kong’s election. In 2016, the Chinese government even suppressed a small scale pro-independence movement.

But what sets the 2019 protests apart is the sheer size and demographics of the movement. The scale of the movement is unlike any of the past ones and although the forerunners are the youth, Hong Kong’s older generation and professionals like lawyers, doctors and politicians are also taking the street.

“I have friends… They don’t want their children to grow up in a just another Chinese city with no future for the next generation.”

60-year-old Lau, who holds a foreign passport.

Why is it so difficult for Hong Kong to be pro-democratic?

What is happening in Hong Kong? Answers you need to know

Hong Kong has a peculiar government structure. The top executive, an equivalent to our prime minister, is not elected by the people rather by a small committee and finally approved by China. The parliament, known as LegCo, is essentially divided into two segments, pro-democracy and pro-Chinese. And people get to vote for these seats.

But not all of them. Right of voting for about half of the seats are reserved for big corporations and industries. And the corporations, wanting to keep a good relationship with Beijing, never vote pro-democracy. Meaning, in every election since 1998, the majority people of Hong Kong voted for the pro-democracy legislature and yet the cabinet has stayed pro Chinese.

Where is all these heading to?

Remember when Hong Kong became the special administrative region in 1997? The special status came with an expiration date. Hong Kong will be fully integrated with Mainland China in 2047. That was the deal signed between Britain and China during handover. It would mean every right and freedom Hong Kongers enjoy as a separate region from China would be abolished and Chinese law would be applicable everywhere.

The problem is, China is not waiting for 2047.

Increasing influence and authority over Hong Kong has been the core of the disappointment for the residents for years. And the frustration is culminating in the latest protests.

The protestors are heading to train stations and airports to convey their messages to visitors and citizens from Mainland China. The protestors want increased democratic scopes and at the time of writing this article, updates of Police brutality and protests turning violent have been coming in.


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Kashmir, a paradise lost?

Midnight is remarkably intertwined with the fate of India. It was the wee hours of midnight when India overthrew its colonisers of 200 years and won its freedom almost 72 years ago. It was the past midnight on 5th of August, 2019 when India unforgivingly discarded everything its founding fathers believed in and decided to tear down Jammu-Kashmir. 72 years later, complete darkness has now engulfed the paradise on earth.

Kashmir’s struggle

Before 1947, Kashmir was a princely state called Jammu and Kashmir. The lush green mountains with the backdrop of the Himalayan range and forever blessed with clear blue skies had rightfully earned its name of Paradise on Earth. But Kashmir was troubled. It has always been.

During partition, thanks to Kashmir’s then-ruling King Hari Singh, Kashmir had joined India instead of Pakistan under few special conditions, all of which were met. According to these conditions, Kashmir remained the only specialised state in India, complete with its own flag, constitution and prime minister. Kashmir had the freedom to make its own laws and decisions, except for foreign affairs, military moves and communications which remained under the central’s control.

REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Thanks to this certain degree of autonomy, Kashmir could make rules regarding property ownership and fundamental rights, even bar Indian residents of other states to buy properties in Kashmir, a law which protected the locals from being outnumbered by their own countrymen from different states.  

Many aspects of this autonomous facility of Kashmir became a futile gesture under the Indian state in the years to follow.

Prime Minister became Rajyapal. Its constitution became merely a booklet in the corner shelf.

But Article 370 still protected the residents of Kashmir. It protected the ownership rights and the constitutional autonomy of the only Muslim majority state in India, at least formally in papers.

Revoking Article 370 was in the 2019 election manifesto of BJP. But few had thought it would actually get implemented. Few had assumed that BJP would have the audacity to tear down the only string that still kept the troubled Kashmir bound together with India and risk riots, communal turbulence and to speak of the worst, outright war with Pakistan.

The fall of Kashmir

But it happened. The sign was clear from the first few days of August. Thousands of additional troops were deployed. An emergency was declared. Tourism, schools, pilgrimages were called off. And when everyone was assuming that only section 35A of the constitution, which allowed special rights to Kashmir, would be scrapped, Modi’s Government revoked almost the entire Article 370, stripping Kashmir completely of its autonomy.

Kashmir will also be divided into two federally governed regions. One will combine Muslim majority Kashmir and Hindu majority Jammu. The other will be the Buddhist majority and Tibet influenced Ladakh.

Kashmir lost its flag, its constitution. Kashmir’s leaders were put under house arrest. Its people are now susceptible to general Indian laws and rules. Any Indian national can now buy property in Kashmir and Kashmiris no longer hold the right to decide their own fate.

BJP’s complex relationship with Hindu right-wing

REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Hindu nationalist and right-wing groups are welcoming it while protests are breaking out in Kashmir. Amit Shah says the move amends “mistakes in the past” and that will pave the path for development in Kashmir. But in reality, it’s a catastrophic decision. Especially considering the fact that Kashmir has had a troublesome history with Indian ruling since the last 30 years. Separatists sentiment had been growing steadily with movements and unrest breaking out every now and then.

Many fear that the new move will allow Hindu right-wing majority to take over native Kashmiri land and turn the locals into a minority group. Some go even further assuming an ethnic cleansing on the plate, given BJP’s extremist sentiments in the past.

Midnight’s children no more

Kashmiris had long been dreaming of and fighting for an “Azaad Kashmir”. With this new move in place, that dream is long gone. With populism quickly rising in world politics, India has sealed its fate for the foreseeable future. First with the landslide victory of BJP in the 2019 elections and now with the stripping of Kashmir’s autonomous status. India has put the final nail in the coffin and is on its way to becoming the monster it defeated 72 years ago.