Kashmir: The Tragedy of a Forgotten Struggle
In the shadows of the Himalayas stands the forgotten struggle of the Kashmiris, whose plight remains precarious as India tightens its grip, placing the future of the territory in even more uncertainty and insecurity.
When Islam came to Kashmir in the thirteenth century, there was no India or Pakistan. A centre of Buddhist and Hindu religion, art, culture and knowledge, when Islam arrived in Kashmir, so did greater syncretism. However, there was also conflict. The Muslims, the Sikhs and the British battled over the province from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Hindu rule from the mid-1800s until partition in 1947 led to prevarication on the part of the ruler Hari Singh over the question of whether Kashmir was to succeed to either India or Pakistan. He ultimately sided with the former. Since then, Jammu and Kashmir became semi-autonomous, although both India and Pakistan continued to stake a claim to the territory as a whole. Because of these disputes, both countries were to war in 1947 and 1965 and nearly again in 1999, when an incident in Kargil was ready to explode into nuclear war. While the United Nations granted a plebiscite to the Kashmiris in 1948, that opportunity has yet to be realised. It leaves the Kashmiris caught between two bitterly opposed neighbours. When tensions mount in the territory, India and Pakistan argue that it is a bilateral matter and the world switches off, leaving the Kashmiris with no voice.
Today, a wave of authoritarian populist religious nationalism is sweeping India. The recent election placed these paradigms at the heart of the campaign. Now Narendra Modi, a youth member of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), implicated in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, is compelled to sustain a particular worldview that calls into play the status of Hindu India on a global stage. Over recent years, the institutions of India have been carefully and systematically marginalising Indian Muslims, some of whom face random mob attacks based on spurious claims of smuggling beef or forcibly converting Hindu women, all of which appeal to the idea of Islam as an invasive and uninvited force. At the same time, Pakistan, now under the leadership of Imran Khan, is still getting to grips with issues of development, cronyism and corruption that have plagued the country for generations. With a population that is likely to double to 350 million within 30 years, there are numerous challenges in Pakistan relating to education, land and property rights, and representation.
While Pakistan provides regional autonomy to Azad Kashmiris, on 5 August 2019 India revoked article A370, which effectively eliminated a range of rights once held as sacrosanct. It is now possible for people outside of India-occupied Kashmir to purchase property, permitting the accumulation of capital by external interests, which is likely to undermine the delicate balance already in Jammu and Kashmir. While many of the Hindu pundits fled the region in the 1990s due to rising Kashmiri insurgency supported by Pakistan in instances, authority and control persist in the hands of the Hindu minorities.
Presently, there are 8 million Muslims surrounded by over 900,000 Indian troops who have been locked in for 91 days. All forms of communication, travel, transport and trade are halted. Telephone lines were temporarily opened only two weeks ago, allowing Kashmiris to talk to their loved ones inside and outside of the territory for the first time in many months. There are talks of as many as 15,000 young men ‘lifted’ in the middle of the night and taken to jails, often hundreds of miles away, and without the knowledge of their families. Young men who resist on the streets face being pelleted, and then they are searched, and those found with marks on them are not treated but whisked away to faraway jails. Medical supplies have been dramatically reduced, and the economy has suffered drastically as the main markets remain shut and transport is unavailable. Traders, workers, travellers have all lost opportunities. The Indian government now wants to shut down seven departments in Jammu and Kashmir (Information Commission, Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Electricity Regulatory Commission, Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights, Human Rights Commission, Commission for Persons with Disabilities and State Accountability Commission). There seems to be a concerted effort to break the will of the Kashmiris who have continued to face the tragedies of occupation for over 70 years.
The tensions in the region are also affecting Kashmiris in the diaspora. The recent visit by ‘Howdy Modi’ to the US illustrates the extent of Indian influence there. Nearer home, the UK has the largest expat community of Kashmiris in the world. There are approximately three-quarters of a million Azad Kashmiris across the country, with concentrations in the Midlands and in the south. But there are approximately 500 Kashmiri families in the UK. The vast majority of the British Azad Kashmiris herald from Mirpur. They were originally displaced in the 1960s due to the building of Mangla Dam, which submerged over 200 villages and hence moved many, with a significant number coming to the UK as part of the chain migration processes of the time. However, many of these Mirpuris are not recognised as Kashmiris, being reminded that they are Pakistani. However, a number of Azad Kashmiris reject the title of Pakistani. They argue that Pakistan has done little or nothing for the Azad Kashmiris in reality. They are therefore many Kashmiris caught between different identities. Political demonstrations in relation to the recent events in Kashmir in the major cities of the UK often become a stage for some to focus on the idea that it is a conflict between India and Pakistan, further silencing the voice of the Kashmiris.
Within not only the region itself but also elsewhere across the world the voices of Kashmiris are almost without representation. It appears that the only real way to resolve this matter is for the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris. They must determine their future independently of the interests of both neighbours. However, this is a long way from occurring unless the fair-minded of the world appreciate the tragedies of the reality of Kashmir for what it is, on its own terms. If these nations dramatically diminished spending on defence and security, more could be put into education, trust and peacebuilding between neighbours, all of which were underpinned by economic and cultural interdependency that was the hallmark of a greater India before the beginning of the colonial interests of divide and rule – a legacy that continues to this day.