Updated: Mar 11, 2021
By Tahmina R.
“We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. We will not, and cannot back out of it.”
- Jawharlal Nehru, India’s First Prime Minister, 2 November 1947.
They say the closest you’ll ever get to paradise on Earth is Kashmir. Situated at the foothills of the Himalaya, its magnificence and beauty is renowned. With the current news cycle fixating on the roles of India and Pakistan in the ‘fight for Kashmir,’ the Kashmiri voice is being silenced. The details of India’s oppression and repression have been swept aside in favour of Bollywood drama and dangerous dialogue focused on what it means to be ‘pro-Indian,’ ‘pro - Pakistani’ or ‘patriotic.’ Every one of these arguments contributes to the white noise complicit in further silencing the Kashmiri people in their fight for self-determination and quashes any hope for a free and fair election in Kashmir.
ON THE GROUND
The current crisis is occurring in Indian-Administered Kashmir. On August 5th of this year, the Kashmiris were forced into a lockdown after Article 370 and Article 35A were repealed from the Indian Constitution. A curfew was imposed. All mobile phones, landlines, televisions and internet connections were cut to ensure a total communication blackout. Kashmir usually has 180 daily newspapers, but only five are currently publishing. On Eid Al-Adha, the streets were silent. Strung with barbed wire and anti-missile netting, it has been one of the most densely militarised places in the world for almost forty years. With the most recent deployment of soldiers there is now one soldier for every 17 people.
People who had been visiting Kashmir before the lockdown have been taking to social media to share their stories. On the first day of the lockdown, they woke up to an announcement that all tourists and ex-pats must leave immediately. When checking for flights they found that all the wifi and phone lines had been cut. One Australian-Kashmiri tourist, who prefers to remain anonymous, shared, ‘my family is used to this, they stock up on all supplies, because everyone is under house arrest and they can’t leave the house in case they get killed.’ She finished by saying, ‘all of us stood together and cried for hours, silently, because we didn’t know what could happen.’ As of one week ago, there have been 2000 Muslims arrested without warrants, in one of the biggest mass arrests of civilians by India in decades.
With Narendra Modi in power, India executed what is effectively an annexation of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 gave Kashmiris the right to a state flag, the right to a government and the freedom of movement. Along with with it, 150 state laws were also repealed. This arbitrarily placed Kashmir under the Indian Prime Minister’s rule and erased any, albeit slim, legal possibility of self-determination for the people in India-Administered Kashmir.
Understanding Kashmir's history is important in being able to understand what's happening now. It would be impossible to accurately summarise 72 years of complex post-colonial history, so we will highlight some major developments that have played a part in creating the current crisis.
There have been three Indo-Pakistani wars, and two have been fought over Kashmir. When the British drew their careless border through the subcontinent in 1947, they acted on the assumption that there was a ‘whole’ that they could divide. In drawing this border two countries were created - India and Pakistan. Pakistan would later split to create an independent Bangladesh. The British failed to come to an agreement with the Kashmiris so their fate was left undecided. In a strategic move, the British appointed the Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, in Muslim - majority Kashmir. He was to decide whether Kashmir would join India, Pakistan or remain independent.
In the first two years of Maharaja Singh’s reign there was significant internal conflict, resulting in an estimated 20-100 000 Kashmiris being killed in civilian violence. This statistic has such a large margin of error that it’s practically useless, but we‘ve mentioned it because it’s reflective of the traceless bloodletting that occurred after decolonisation. Wanting India’s assistance in subduing the population, Maharaja Singh signed the 'Instrument of Accession,' indicating his willingness to accede and become a part of India. In fear of losing Kashmir, the Pakistani armed forces were subsequently sent in to protect their claim to those territories. A UN resolution was passed on 13 August 1948, asking both India and Pakistan to withdraw their forces, but neither did. The armistice line became a de-facto border, splitting Kashmir in two.
Narendra Modi is the head of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the recently elected Prime Minister of India. He recently described Kashmir as a part of the “new India” he hopes to build. Giving a public address on the 15th August, he said, “the work that was not done in the last 70 years has been accomplished within 70 days after this new government came to power.”
He also pledged to “free” Jammu and Kashmir of “terrorism.” Note, this same man oversaw religious riots as Chief Minister of Gujarat, where almost 2000 Muslims were killed in a three day massacre in 2002. The current crisis must not be written off as another of a long list of conquests to consolidate the elusive vision of a more powerful India. There has not been a single year since Independence that the Indian Army has not been deployed within the Indian borders against its own citizens, crushing rebellion against the government. The list is long: Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Hyderabad, to name a few.
Article 370 preserved the Kashmiri territories for the Kashmiri people, but its repeal last week, means that this land is no longer ‘off-limits’ and that Indian citizens can now buy and settle in Jammu and Kashmir. This is the strongest way to change the demographic makeup of Kashmir and weaken their fight for independence. India’s richest Industrialist, Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries, has already promised investments in Kashmir. But the argument of economic development has never, and could never, legitimise such a violation of rights in a democratic state. If that is what India claims to be, then promises of elusive economic benefits come off as insincere efforts to justify the occupation of Kashmir which is first and foremost, an unjustifiable abuse of power.
In writing about Kashmir, prize winning author-journalist, Arundhati Roy, wrote, “Eventually the dead will begin to speak. And it will not just be dead human beings, it will be the dead land, dead rivers, dead mountains and dead creatures in dead forests that will insist on a hearing.”
We have chosen not to discuss the situation in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, although there have been significant restrictions on civil and political rights there for several decades now. This piece focuses on recent events in Indian-Administered Kashmir. We have also decided not to focus on Jammu and Ladakh because the Kashmiri Valley is currently the only area under complete lockdown.
This article only scratches the surface of the disturbing details that plague the history of Kashmir’s fight for independence. We cannot attempt to summarise their history in one article. This piece exists to further our understanding of the plight of Kashmir’s people, to inspire empathy, raise awareness and encourage us to check our own assumptions.
Lead editor: Irisa R.
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