“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
DES MOINES — An hour before kickoff at a game this month at Hoover High School, the opposing football team, Indianola High, pulled up and unloaded the large video monitor that would let its coaching staff analyze plays, moment by moment, throughout the game. The coaches at Hoover High, where most students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, would have to make do with watching the old-fashioned way. Another loss, a Hoover student told the principal, seemed imminent.
Indianola ran 84 yards for a touchdown on their first play, the running back shedding Hoover’s smaller players like a video-game villain. The game ended in a 35-7 loss for Hoover, to no one’s surprise.
During the past decade, Hoover High and Des Moines’s four other large public high schools have a cumulative record of 0-104 against rivals with more affluent student bodies from the Polk County suburbs, according to figurescompiled by The Des Moines Register. They rarely do any better against similar opponents from beyond the county, like Indianola. The disparity has been the topic of news articles and impassioned conversations across the state, from Sioux City to Davenport.
With all that losing, leaders in places like Des Moines are contemplating a change in how high school athletic teams are matched up against one another: What if the poverty level of a school’s student body was used to decide which teams it played?
The concept, now in use or under consideration in numerous American states and cities, turns on its head old notions of athletics as an equalizer. The thought of intentionally lumping poor schools into lesser divisions, separate from richer schools that have fancy equipment and larger and more specialized coaching staffs, rankles some educators, who say it sends a terrible message.
“Our kids don’t want to be classified as poor kids who have to play lower-level competition,” said Mitchell Moore, a coach at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines. “I’m a big believer that socioeconomics has nothing to do with catching a football.”
But at Hoover, where losing has gotten exhausting for players and fans alike, moving down to a lower division would be a welcome relief, many parents and students say. The idea of judging teams based on wealth may sound distasteful in concept, but the reality of losing night after night, year after year, feels far worse. And schools with extra resources for special training and technology, they say, simply do better on the field — so why not acknowledge that in the matchups?
“On just about every Friday night, they outsize us, they outman us, and they outnumber us,” Sherry Poole, Hoover’s principal, said about the suburban powerhouses on the school’s schedule that routinely win state championships. “Your heart just kind of stops whenever someone gets crunched.”
Dustin Hagler, a 17-year-old senior who plays on both the offensive and defensive lines for Hoover High, and is also the senior class president, said that he saw students in the hallways who would make good football players, but that they consistently resisted his recruiting efforts.
“It’s hard when you lose,” he said. “But it’s not just losing. It’s almost like you feel beat down. Like the odds are stacked against you.”
Over the past few years, officials overseeing high school sports in states including Minnesota, Oregon and Colorado have added provisions allowing schools with high poverty levels to drop down to lower athletic divisions. Washington State will introduce the idea next year, and Iowa is considering it.
Schools are commonly assigned to athletic divisions based on their enrollment, and Hoover, with more than 1,000 students, has long been placed in the state’s top athletic division, competing with the largest of Iowa’s public and private high schools. Its traditional rivals include city schools with relatively high poverty rates, but also suburban schools that have won the past nine state championships.
Ways of gauging poverty levels vary, but state athletic officials typically rely on the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. At Hoover, about 75 percent qualify, compared with about 10 percent, on average, in neighboring suburban schools. At Indianola High, Hoover’s opponent on that recent game night, about 21 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
The debate over whether economic status should have a place in deciding a sports team’s competition has been fierce. The issue has led to awkward conversations among school administrators, parents and teammates, raising questions about fairness and the meaning of high school sports.
Supporters say the approach, intended to give poorer schools a better chance of winning games, will help students gain confidence. They also say it could reduce the risk of concussions and other injuries against teams with more expensive and elaborate training resources and access to better nutrition.
“We don’t feel like we are coddling these students; we feel like we are trying to put them on an even playing field,” said Peter Weber, executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association, which oversees high school athletics. “We need to match kids up with competition that is safe for them so they can walk out on a field and be competitive.”
But others, including many coaches, say the change adds new barriers for impoverished students, and suggests they are too weak or too poor to compete against richer rivals. Why, they ask, should students’ athletic potential be limited by their parents’ bank accounts? And some opponents say tinkering with longstanding athletic matchups in an attempt to even the odds is a way of babying young people — a “medals for everyone” mentality that undermines lessons in resilience and grit.
“They’re out there making do with what they have, and that’s the right thing to do,” said Gabe Murray, 19, a former Hoover football player.
Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, said the sports achievement disparity between wealthy suburban public schools and their urban counterparts has degenerated into “a competitive gap that is similar to the income gap” in the nation.
“The divide has always been there,” he said, “but it has widened.”
The discussion comes at a critical juncture for youth sports, where participation rates for many activities — particularly football — are in declinebecause of fears about brain injury and because children’s interests more than ever fall outside engagement in traditional sports, according to studies.
For the moment, switching leagues is not yet an option in Iowa, where the Iowa High School Athletic Association isscheduled to discuss the issue later this year. If a request by the Des Moines Public Schools and other districts is approved, Hoover and other schools could apply to drop down a division.
Ángel Luís Román Martínez in his home, which was severely damaged structurally by Hurricane Maria. Photo: Christopher Gregory for The Intercept
COLORFUL HOUSES LINE the winding streets of the San Isidro neighborhood of Canóvanas, Puerto Rico, some missing walls or windows, others with roofs that are partially caved in. In late summer, the fruit trees are weighted with passionfruit, starfruit, and bananas, alongside intermittent piles of bricks and dilapidated vehicles. Driving through his neighborhood, Luis Colón points out what recovery looks like two years after Hurricane Maria.
Colón, a member of the local community board, stops by the home of 38-year-old Melissa Velázquez and her four kids. Her roof leaks every time it rains, but she was denied assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, because, like most of her neighbors and about half the population of Puerto Rico, she does not have a formal title for her property.
Nearby, Daisy Dolores Morel’s home is still inundated with an inch of fetid water the color of pea soup. Morel was denied aid after Maria in part because she had previously accepted funds from FEMA. The agency often conditions recovery money on the purchase of flood insurance; those who can’t afford it are penalized when the next storm hits.
Photo: Christopher Gregory for The Intercept
Colón’s tour pauses to take in the view from the limestone hills overlooking San Isidro. A sea of grass blankets one side of the neighborhood and numerous blue tarps cover the rooftops below. Like many of Puerto Rico’s most impoverished communities, San Isidro was built informally on the island’s coastal plains in response to a housing crisis. Homes were constructed without permits, land titles, or urban planners on a public wetland so environmentally precarious that for years federal officials prevented Puerto Rico from even providing public utilities like drinking water in the area.
Most of the neighborhood’s residents meet the poverty threshold, many are immigrants from the Dominican Republic, and some are undocumented. Located in a flood zone at the heart of the Atlantic hurricane belt, San Isidro is one of the most vulnerable communities in the world to the intensifying climate crisis.
Now, the island is set to receive a new round of relief funding intended for low-income residents whose homes remain in a state of disrepair. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s R3 program stands for Repair, Reconstruction, and Relocation, but for much of San Isidro, the first two R’s are unlikely to apply. Instead, the only option for relief will be to relocate. That’s because the HUD funds come attached to a new FEMA flood map that designates more than 250,000 homes across Puerto Rico as virtually ineligible for reconstruction because of their susceptibility to flooding. Another portion of the HUD money will go to flood mitigation, but those funds won’t be available until long after relocations have begun. And for those unable to prove they own their homes, there may be no help offered at all.
The need to reduce the vulnerability of people living in flood zones is undeniable. But for Puerto Ricans whose only reliable resource during Maria was their community, relocating select neighbors, one by one, to different parts of the island may only serve to deepen deadly isolation during the future storms that will inevitably come. Determining how to justly relocate low-income neighborhoods in flood zones, and who will benefit after they leave, are among the most pressing climate justice questions of our time.
Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in his own home told a 911 dispatcher, “I thought it was my apartment” several times as she waited for emergency responders to arrive. Guyger is charged in the September, 2018 killing of Botham Jean. AP
Jury selection began earlier this month, one year to the date of the slaying of Jean, which happened on Sept. 6, 2018. Jean was an up-and-coming associate at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Dallas and a native of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
Guyger has admitted to the shooting but claims it was an accident. Her account of key events aren’t expected to be disputed during the trial.
She has pleaded not guilty to murder.
According to Guyger, she was returning home from a double shift and mistakenly entered Jean’s apartment after she parked on the fourth floor of her apartment complex, instead of the third floor where her apartment is located. She walked to the apartment on the fourth floor directly above her own. Guyger said she went to insert her electronic key and the door pushed open. She walked into the dark apartment and saw a man inside. Thinking he was an intruder, she fired twice and fatally shot Jean in the chest with her service weapon. Guyger said she only realized she was in the wrong apartment afterward when she turned on the light.
She then called 911.
“I thought I was in my apartment. I shot a guy, thinking it was my apartment,” she said on the 911 call. On the call, Guyger repeats more than a dozen times, “I thought it was my apartment.”
Fossils and mathematical modeling are helping to answer long-standing questions about these bizarre animals
The Mesozoic era, which spanned the time from 251 million to 66 million years ago, is often referred to as the age of dinosaurs. But although dinosaurs reigned supreme on land back then, they did not rule the air. Instead the skies were the dominion of an entirely different group of beasts: the pterosaurs.
Pterosaurs were the first vertebrate creatures to evolve powered flight and conquer the air—long before birds took wing. They prevailed for more than 160 million years before vanishing along with the nonbird dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period, around 66 million years ago. In that time, they evolved some of the most extreme anatomical adaptations of any animal, living or extinct. The smallest of these aerial predators was the size of a sparrow. The largest had a wingspan that rivaled that of an F-16 fighter jet. Many possessed heads larger than their bodies, making them, in essence, flying jaws of death. Pterosaurs patrolled every ocean and continent on Earth. No animal in the Mesozoic would have been safe from their gaze.
Winner: Game of Thrones. Loser: Also Game of Thrones.
Heading into the 2019 Emmys, the conventional wisdom had it that not only would Game of Thrones win Outstanding Drama Series, but it would smash its previous record for most Emmys won by any TV show in a single season. Conventional wisdom also held that the Outstanding Comedy Series category was a dogfight between The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Veep, the most recent two shows to win that category. And it held that Outstanding Limited Series was a race between Chernobyl and When They See Us, with an outside shot for Fosse/Verdon.
The actual Emmys, as they so often do, had other ideas.
Some of the above happened, but a lot of it didn’t. Game of Thrones won its fourth Drama Series trophy, but failed to break its own record. Neither Mrs. Maisel nor Veep could vanquish Fleabag in several comedy categories. And while Chernobyl won Limited Series, it did so seemingly in a walk; When They See Us ultimately managed just two wins out of 16 nominations, only one of which was broadcast during the primetime awards.
If there was an overall theme to this year’s awards, then, it was a dislike of inevitability. What the 2019 Emmys made clear is that, in an age when more and more broadcasters are dumping huge amounts of money into their awards campaigns in hopes of snagging a prize, the voters are still going to vote for what they like, no matter how many TV Academy members take home paychecks signed by HBO or Netflix brass. The result was a wild, unpredictable night — as well as a genuinely entertaining TV broadcast.
Here are eight winners and five losers from the 2019 Emmy awards.
Winner: Game of Thrones
Look, on the pure level of “Did Game of Thrones win Emmys?” … yes. Yes it did. The show won a staggering 12 awards total, tying the record it set in 2015 for its fifth season. It won Outstanding Drama Series for the fourth time, joining the august company of Hill Street Blues, LA Law, The West Wing, and Mad Men. It made Peter Dinklage one of the few performers to win four times for the same role and the first since Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston to do so for a drama.
But sometimes these things aren’t about actual winners. They’re about perception. And from that point of view…
Loser: Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones should have won more than 12 Emmy Awards. It just should have. After its record-shattering 32 nominations, after its 10 wins at last week’s Creative Arts Emmys, after everything — it should have been able to take home more than two awards during the Primetime awards.
At the very least, it seemed to have Outstanding Drama Series, Supporting Actor in a Drama (Dinklage), and Directing for a Drama in the bag, which would have made for 13 total wins. But it lost Directing (to the incredibly same-y visuals of Ozark!) and it couldn’t manage to best Julia Garner (again of Ozark) in Supporting Actress or overcome its own network mate Succession in Writing. And that’s to say nothing of the lead acting races, where it was thought to have less of a chance at winning (it did, indeed, lose both, to Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer and Pose’s Billy Porter).
What has to be most galling to the folks behind Game of Thrones is that a resounding night at the Primetime Emmys was supposed to be the best argument they’d have going forward against the idea that the final season was kind of bad. Instead, the best they can now argue is that their haul was more of a pyrrhic victory than anything else — yeah, technically they won a couple, but they lost many more at the Primetime ceremony.
A healthy suspicion is that vote-splitting felled the show many times, meaning that in categories where it had multiple nominations, it kept robbing votes from itself. (It’s really hard to explain how Ozark won Directing otherwise.) But then consider that Dinklage overcame two of his castmates to win his category, and that Game of Thrones lost the Writing category (where it had but one nomination and when the scripts were by far the most criticized element of the final season). Suddenly, a larger picture becomes clear: The show was over-nominated and people got a little tired of it.
In a few years, when people look at the Emmy record books and see that Game of Thrones won 58 awards across its eight seasons, including Outstanding Drama Series four times, and that it had two years where it won 12 awards total — they’re going to think (rightly!) that the Emmys loved this show. But from the vantage point of right now, in 2019, it’s not hard to feel like team Thrones hoped everything would go differently.
Even with Game of Thrones’ unsteady evening, HBO pretty well cleaned up. It won nine total awards on the night, leading to a smashing total of 34 when you add in the Creative Arts Emmys. And its wins were from a wide spread of programs — Barry and Chernobyl and Game of Thrones and Last Week Tonight and Succession. Plus it had the two biggest winners of the year when all Emmys ceremonies are added together, thanks to Game of Thrones’ 12 and Chernobyl’s 10.
Yeah, it was probably expecting to perform better in the Comedy categories (where only Bill Hader won for his lead performance in Barry), but you can’t have everything. The HBO Emmy party should be pretty happy all things considered.
But we can’t abandon HBO entirely just yet. For the network had one other fairly significant loser…
Loser: Julia Louis-Dreyfus
The Emmys have bestowed favor on Julia Louis-Dreyfus many, many times in the past. She’s won eight awards as an actor, a record she shares with Cloris Leachman. (She’s also won three awards for producing.) But though six of her eight acting Emmys are for her starring role on Veep, she didn’t win for the show’s final season of eligibility. The award went to Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge instead.
Louis-Dreyfus was heavily favored to win this year, and not only because she’d been on an unbroken winning streak for playing hapless politician Selina Meyer — the most wins any actor has received for playing the same character. In 2017, the day after she won her sixth Veep Emmy, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A little over a year later, in October 2018, she announced that she was cancer-free. Veep’s seventh and final season, which had been delayed for Louis-Dreyfus’s treatment, premiered last spring.
That cancer-beating narrative made it seem like Louis-Dreyfus was due for a record-breaking win. But after she lost the Emmy to Waller-Bridge, when she and the rest of the cast of Veep arrived on stage to present a different award, she seemed to take it all in stride, cracking jokes in character as Selina Meyer: She lamented that she’d been told she’d be up there alone to present, and referred to co-star Timothy Simons as “Jonah,” his character’s name. And given that Louis-Dreyfus has never failed to earn a nomination for any TV show where she’s been a series regular since Seinfeld’s third season, it’s pretty clear this won’t be her last time at the Emmys.
In the race among the big three streamers to see who can become the biggest Emmy darling, Amazon has jumped out to a commanding lead. Hulu’s eight Handmaid’s Tale wins in 2017 feel like a distant memory, and Netflix stillhasn’t won one of the big three awards (Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Comedy Series, and Outstanding Limited Series) in its time competing.
But Amazon not only won Comedy Series for the second year in a row (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in 2018; Fleabag in 2019). It also had the second highest awards total of the night with seven, and it boasted the night’s winningest show with Fleabag, which won four awards. (Fleabag also won the Casting award at the Creative Arts Emmys, which brought its overall total to five.) On top of that, Mrs. Maisel won eight awards in total — making it the third winningest program of the year. All together, those wins show just how well Amazon’s Emmy strategies have paid off.
And as if that wasn’t enough, it pulled off a pretty stunning upset in the Supporting Actor in a Limited Series category, where Ben Whishaw vaulted over several contenders from the much more hyped Chernobyl and When They See Us to win for his work in A Very British Scandal. Which brings us to…
Winner: Openly queer performers
No openly gay actor of color has ever won the Lead Actor in a Drama Series category — that is, until Billy Porter did for Pose. And though other openly gay actors have won in the supporting categories before, Whishaw thanking his husband Mark Bradshaw from the stage is the sort of thing that still feels new at the Emmys, which have often lagged behind the Tonys and the Oscars in terms of queer representation.
And even when the 2019 Emmy winners weren’t queer themselves, they often took a moment to shout out, say, trans rights (as Supporting Actress in a Limited Series Patricia Arquette did, nodding to her sister Alexis Arquette, a trans woman). Or you’d have someone like Fleabag’s Andrew Scott, an openly gay actor who wasn’t even nominated but was such a big part of season two that creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge spent a significant portion of her Comedy Series acceptance speech praising his work.
And speaking of Phoebe Waller-Bridge…
Winner: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is on top of the world. She won three Emmys — for starring in, writing, and producing Fleabag — and as if that weren’t enough, she created Killing Eve, which won Jodie Comer the Lead Actress in a Drama Series award. Waller-Bridge is a British writer and actor whose demeanor combines “acidic” and “goofy” into a cocktail that works surprisingly well, and now she is headed off to help write the next James Bond movie, and could theoretically do just about anything she wants going forward. (Her next TV project is an HBO series called Run. We’re instantly into it.)
She may never have it this good again, but in 2019 — it’s really good to be Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
The streaming giant came into the evening poised to win big, with 27 nominations. That meant it was second only to HBO (which had 34).
But while HBO won nine of its awards, Netflix only won four. Jharrel Jerome took home the lead actor in a limited series Emmy for his performance on When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s miniseries about the Central Park Five.Bandersnatch, the choose-your-own-adventure Black Mirror movie, won in the television movie category. And Ozark took home two awards: one for supporting actress Julia Garner, and one for Jason Bateman for directing.
That’s a disappointing showing for Netflix, which for the past several years has been eager to rack up major awards. In 2013, the Netflix original series House of Cards became the first streaming-only TV series to be nominated for major awards, garnering four nominations and winning one (for director David Fincher). Its paltry haul this year likely hurts even more next to streaming rival Amazon, which turned its 15 nominations into seven wins, with shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Fleabag taking home some of the night’s biggest honors.
What’s more, When They See Us was considered Netflix’s prime contender to win lots of Emmys, but it could only manage two wins out of its 16 nominations — for Jerome and for its casting (awarded earlier, at the Creative Arts Emmys). Director and writer DuVernay couldn’t overcome the Chernobyljuggernaut.
But Netflix has repeatedly poured money into awards campaigns and shows no signs of slowing, with movies like Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman on the docket for the upcoming Oscar season, as well as a slate of TV and movies in contention for the Golden Globes, which take place in January. With deep pockets, big ambitions, and development deals with many hot talents like Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, it’s likely that Netflix has years of Emmy showings in its future.
Winner: Michelle Williams’ speech
Williams won Lead Actress in a Limited Series for her tremendous work in FX’s Fosse/Verdon, and she gave the night’s biggest and best speech, calling for equal pay for women — especially women of color — and declaring that she’s ready for a world where women might thank their bosses, as she could, “for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.”
Watch the full speech below:
Loser: Diversity (especially racial diversity)
The Emmys rallied after the early winners provided white face after white face. After all, both the Limited Series lead actor Jharrel Jerome and Drama Series lead actor Billy Porter are black, and as mentioned above, this was a good year for queer representation.
But by and large, the 2019 Emmys were among the whitest in recent memory. Of the 12 acting winners, only Jerome and Porter were winners of color, and the three writing and three directing categories were all won by white folks, with only Waller-Bridge’s win in Comedy Writing adding a woman to a mix that was otherwise comprised entirely white men.
Some of this is just a function of the shows that were up for awards. Popular, racially diverse series like Atlanta weren’t even eligible for this year’s ceremony.
Still, for whatever reason, the Academy didn’t nominate plenty of very good actors of color who might have been terrific winners (like, say, anybody from Pose who wasn’t Porter). The Emmys’ strides in diversity over the past five years have been heartening, and there was plenty to celebrate in 2019. But it also felt as though all involved had taken a step back, even if moments like Jerome’s win were electrifying.
Winner: The casting categories
Don’t look now, but the casting categories at the Creative Arts Emmys are becoming some of the most important harbingers of larger success. For instance, Fleabag won only one Creative Arts award — but it was for casting, which has now called the correct Outstanding Comedy Series winner for the last five Emmy ceremonies.
The record for calling Outstanding Drama is a bit spottier, but the Creative Arts award for casting has called three out of the last five. And Limited Series casting has called seven of the last eight (though the one that missed was this very year, as When They See Us won for casting but ultimately lost Outstanding Limited Series to Chernobyl). If you want to win your Emmy pool, this is a category to pay attention to.
Winner: Thomas Lennon
The always entertaining actor and writer Thomas Lennon was the guy providing quick jokes to shepherd viewers in and out of the ceremony’s ad breaks, and his “random facts” about the various winners as they marched up to the stage were often very funny, like this bit about the cast of Saturday Night Live.
He was a highlight in a production that mostly moved efficiently, to the degree that toward the end of the show, a female announcer simply started reading off lists of nominees to keep things moving, a decision that mostly worked.
And, also, the show featured this gag, which is great, even if Lennon had nothing to do with it. (Consider this “winner” slot one for a telecast that mostly succeeded.)
The Emmys’ 2015 switch to a voting system where everybody in the TV Academy gets to vote on the awards (rather than restricting voting to specific members of blue ribbon panels) initially coincided with dull years when shows swept their way to the win — see also that first time Game of Thrones won 12 Emmys. But the 2019 Emmys showed that the new system has introduced a sense of wild unpredictability to the awards. Would a show like Fleabag ever have won under the old system? Probably not. The same is true for Succession’s win for writing, a decision surely bolstered by the show’s stellar second season airing while voting took place.
Emmy voters in 2019 seemed to chafe against the inevitability of certain narratives. Sure, they would give Game of Thrones some trophies — but not enough to shatter any records. And they might have enjoyed Veep and Mrs. Maisel at one time or another, but this year, they loved Fleabag more.
It turns out that passion still counts for something at the Emmys, even with how big and bloated and corporate they’ve become. Game of Thrones can win 12 awards. But it can’t win everything. And in and of itself, that’s a good sign for the Emmys’ future.
In a sweeping and controversial move on August 5, India transformed its relationship to the disputed territory of Kashmir. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to eliminate Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which for seven decades had granted Kashmir a special status within India. The decision effectively quashed any lingering Kashmiri hopes for self-determination and bound Kashmir more closely to India, reducing it from a state to a “union territory” administered directly from New Delhi. Anticipating outrage and protest, the Indian government placed the Kashmir Valley—where most of the state’s Muslim-majority population lives—under lockdown, arresting local politicians, cutting off communications, limiting movement, and flooding Kashmir with troops.
Though it took many by surprise, the decision to abrogate Article 370 didn’t come out of nowhere. Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had long harbored the desire to revoke Kashmir’s nominal autonomy and normalize its status within India. For Indian nationalists, Article 370 and its associated provisions had become a symbol of Kashmir’s “incomplete” integration into the rest of the country. While the annulment of Article 370 sparked condemnation around the world, it won broad and immediate support within India, including across the gamut of opposition parties.
For Kashmiris, the triumphalism in the rest of the country was a final blow in a long series of betrayals and humiliations at the hands of the Indian state that have eroded Kashmir’s constitutional and political identity. In India, much of the debate following the withdrawal of the territory’s special status revolved around the history and principles of the Indian constitution. But in Kashmir, speaking the language of constitutionalism can feel incongruous in the face of unending trauma on the ground. Kashmir has been under a state of siege for the last three decades. The Indian government’s intermittent crackdown on militants and dissidents alike has bred allegations of widespread human rights abuses, including torture and rape. At the same time, cross-border infiltration from Pakistan has fueled further violence in the valley. Increasing numbers of locals celebrate homegrown militancy with a morbid, cultish passion. And there still has not been a reckoning for the ethnic cleansing in the 1990s when militants and locals expelled Kashmiri Hindus en masse, nor for the disappearance of hundreds of men at the hands of the security forces and the insurgents.
Kashmir has been under siege for the last three decades.
It is important for all sides to acknowledge this violence, which has raised barriers between communities. But there is a much deeper evisceration of human sympathies that lies at the heart of India’s imagination of Kashmir: the territory itself has become more important than the plight of its people. As a result, the government has failed to accept the full effect of the violence and oppression it has inflicted on Kashmir. It is this collapse of empathy that allows a democracy to endorse mass arrests, human rights violations, pellet guns, barbed wire, and the suspension of liberties and rights. India’s actions in Kashmir reflect the corrosion of its own democracy.
India in the Mirror of Kashmir
The abrogation of Article 370 has worrying consequences beyond Kashmir, revealing a country where there are fewer and fewer checks on the writ of the prime minister. The BJP government claims that the move represents the will of Parliament, since it was confirmed through bills in both the upper and lower houses of the legislature. But that formalism cannot hide two dangerous trends: the weakening of all independent institutions in India and the marginalization of Indian Muslims.
Indian democracy has always been messy, but the fragmentation of power across political parties and institutions has helped provide checks and balances against untrammelled executive might. Recent years have witnessed a troubling consolidation of power. Politically, the opposition is weak and divided. Modi and the Hindu nationalist BJP face no strong challenge from their political rivals. The rudderless Congress Party—the center-left, secular party that has ruled India for most of its existence—is mired in an internal leadership battle and is divided on the issue of Article 370, unable to mount an effective ideological resistance to Modi. Many regional parties, such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, were decimated in the last election; the Trinamool Congress, which holds sway over West Bengal, also suffered surprising defeats to the BJP. Enfeebled and embattled, regional parties cannot provide a much-needed check on central power.
Modi’s nationalism has thrown the entire opposition into a kind of intellectual stupor.
More tellingly, the opposition doesn’t have the intellectual self-confidence to take on the rising tide of nationalism stoked by the BJP, even when that ideology threatens core constitutional values. Nothing exemplifies this failure better than the hypocritical conduct of the Aam Admi Party, which rules in the capital city of Delhi and sits with the opposition in Parliament. This party had no compunctions in signing off on Modi’s plan to downgrade Kashmir from a state to a union territory even as the party campaigns for Delhi to be transformed from a union territory to a state. Modi’s nationalism has thrown the entire opposition into a kind of intellectual stupor, in which it is unable to defend democratic values.
Timidity and weakness are not the opposition’s only problems; it also lacks credibility. Several major opposition figures face corruption charges, notably the former finance minister and Congress Party leader P. Chidambaram, who was arrested in August under suspicion of embezzlement and money laundering. Security agencies like the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation were never entirely impartial under previous governments, but Modi’s government uses them to target political opponents at an unprecedented level. The public sees these prosecutions not as malicious abuses of state power but as part of the prime minister’s drive to create a new India by uprooting the corrupt old order—in other words, as of a piece with his actions in Kashmir. By ensnaring the opposition in a discourse of corruption, Modi has effectively blunted its voice. As a result, many opposition leaders feel compelled to redeem themselves by taking strongly nationalist positions.