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Enduring Kashmiris’ Sufferings

Photo: nytimes.com

By Rameez Raja      

The history of Kashmir is full of sorrow and pain because it was harshly ruled by Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, and Dogras. Kashmiris never forget their history because their independence has been snuffed by the foreign rulers since 1586. Kashmir is known as ‘the heaven on earth’ and at the same time it is the most highly militarized zone in the world at present. Currently, Kashmir is under the de facto Indian military control and the sorrow endures because of the undemocratic movements by the Indian government in Kashmir.

Before Kashmir’s annexation with the Dominion of India in 1947, Kashmiris faced unlimited hardships under the autocratic Dogra raj. Maharaja Gulab Singh paid the sum of seventy-five lakhs of rupees to British East India Company in an infamous Treaty of Amritsar in 1846 to rule Kashmir. This treaty marked the beginning of the autocratic Dogra rule in Kashmir. Gulab Singh taxed everything needed for the support of human life except water and air. Astonishingly, even grass, which Kashmiris needed to pasture their cattle, was heavily taxed in the valley.

The rule was so harsh and unbearable that it ultimately invited the Muslim reaction in the valley in the 1920s and in the Indian subcontinent in the 1930s under the British rule. Subsequently, a call to unite all Muslims was given by the head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat (AMJ), Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmood Ahmad, in July 1931. A meeting was held on 25 July, 1931 in which it was decided to help Kashmiris in their struggle for basic rights. Thus, the All India Kashmir Committee was formed. Mirza Mahmood Ahmad was selected as the head of the Committee on the same day with many leading Muslims including Sir Muhammad Iqbal as its member. Due to the Committee’s pressure on the Maharaja, Muslims in Kashmir received help from Mirza Mahmood Ahmad. A famous Kashmiri leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah frequently visited Qadian (headquarter of AMJ in Punjab, India) to seek political advice. However, Mirza Mahmood Ahmad resigned from the presidency of the Committee after Muslims (Ahrars) pointed fingers at AMJ’s faith. The British government supported the Ahrars’ criticism of the Committee because it suspected that the Committee might become a danger for the British government in future. Also, Muslims in Kashmir suspected AMJ as a religiously motivated body to propagate Ahmadiyya faith in Kashmir rather than help Kashmiris from the cruel Dogra rule. Eventually, the Committee failed to achieve its objectives. Kashmiris again were left with no option but to continue as an oppressed people under the cruel Dogra rule due to an unfortunate disunity among Muslims in India.

Before the partition of British India in August 1947, all the princely states including Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) were given a right to accede to either Indian dominion or Pakistani dominion. After the partition of British India into two independent states, India and Pakistan in August 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh of the princely state of J&K signed an Instrument of Accession with the Dominion of India on 26 October, 1947. Furiously, Pakistan objected and the First War on Kashmir was fought between Pakistan and India in 1947-48. Pakistan’s objection to J&K’s accession to India was based on the ground that Kashmir as the majority Muslim princely state should have acceded to the Dominion of Pakistan. However, Kashmiri leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah endorsed the Maharaja’s decision to accede to Indian Dominion due to the secular principles of its constitution. Also, Pakistani undisciplined tribal invasion was a mixture of loot, plunder and rapes of women in Kashmir which became the base for Sheikh Abdullah and other Kashmiri leaders to accept India’s offer of the implementation of article 370 in the valley. Subsequently, article 35A was added to give special status to the people of the J&K under the Indian constitution. India, however, violated the state autonomy from time to time. Sheikh Abdullah himself was jailed for 22 years by the Indian government and Kashmiris started resisting against the Indian rule in the valley. Kashmiris’ suffering continues under a democratic India.

Before the unfortunate partition of British India, the Muslims of Jammu including Poonch demanded annexation to Pakistan under the Muslim Conference and progressively asserted control and challenged the Maharaja’s authority at every front. The repressive policies of the Maharaja in relation to the Muslims of the state in general, and of Poonch in particular, had led to a wave of anti-Maharaja sentiment among the Muslims of not only the state, but across the border. The Poonch rebellion of 1947 was an eruption of the pent-up anger of Muslims against the Maharaja’s policies. The Maharaja failed to put an end to the rebellion in Poonch which spilled to other parts of the state. Meanwhile, the news of the Maharaja’s failure had spread to the neighbouring tribal regions of what now constituted Pakistan. The tribals soon crossed the borders with a resolve to take control of the whole state and ‘liberate’ it from the Dogra autocracy. The ‘invasion’ of tribals led to the flight of the Maharaja from Srinagar to Jammu. Soon afterwards, the Muslims of Jammu were ordered to leave Jammu, but were killed in lakhs on their way out. The tribal incursion to Kashmir led to the hastened accession of Kashmir to India, which has been challenged by Pakistan as well as some scholars. The state’s accession to India ultimately culminated in a first full-fledged war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. However, Pakistan’s tribesmen succeeded in taking two-thirds of the territory of J&K.

Since the First Kashmir War, India has been claiming Kashmir as its integral part, while Pakistan looks at Kashmir as an “unfinished” business, leading to an extended crisis which is still unresolved. Also, India and Pakistan fought another war on Kashmir in 1965. After the 1971 war, which Pakistan lost but was not fought on Kashmir, India and Pakistan agreed to solve the Kashmir dispute bilaterally. Initially, both states settled to solve the Kashmir issue through a plebiscite under United Nations after demilitarization from both sides of Kashmir.

In May 1998, the Indian prime minister, Vajpayee witnessed five nuclear devices being detonated in Pokhran, Rajasthan, to which, Pakistan responded with six nuclear tests in the same month. On 18 May, 1998, the BJP member and the then Home Minister, Lal Krishan Advani, drew the first-ever direct relation between nuclear weapons and the future of J&K. Escalating the situation further, former Union Minister Madan Lal Khurana challenged Pakistan to fight the battle ‘at a place and time of its choosing’ and warned of a fourth war with Pakistan. The challenge was met with a positive response from the then Army Chief of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf and resulted in the 1999 Kargil War on Kashmir. Both the nations were on the verge of using nuclear weapons and exchanged nuclear threats (13 times) during the same war. Thus, the atomic tests in May 1998 by India and Pakistan nuclearized the Kashmir issue leading to the Kargil War being fought under the nuclear shadow.

Although Pakistan succeeded in internationalising the Kashmir issue, it failed in achieving the war objectives of occupying Kashmir. There were several planks floated by the BJP in the 1990s and going nuclear was the most important of them. After the demolition of the Babri masjid in December 1992 by the right-wing groups of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the May 1998 nuclear tests by the BJP, the abrogation of article 370 (which provided Kashmir with a special constitutional status) was the only thing left.

On 5 August, 2019, Amit Shah, the Indian Home Minister, diluted and abrogated articles 370 and 35A after taking the governor of the J&K into confidence and bifurcated the state of J&K into two Union Territories (Ladakh & Jammu and Kashmir). This was accompanied by the communications and media blackout, engulfing millions of Kashmiris inside and outside the region into chaos, while Hindu nationalists danced on the India streets to rejoice. Articles 370 and 35A cannot be abrogated by a presidential order without the consent of the constituent assembly of the J&K. The governor of J&K does not have a say as far as article 370 is concerned. Astonishingly, article 367 of the Indian constitution was simultaneously amended by the BJP to give powers to the governor in this regard to make way for the effective dilution and abrogation of these articles. The abrogation of article 370 was already an agenda of BJP; however, bifurcating a state into two Union Territories was a shocker from the party. In other words, diluting and abrogating the said articles were completely unconstitutional or simply a murder of democracy. The Indian government has violated the J&K’s state autonomy by 47 presidential orders from time to time.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation said that the dilution and abrogation of articles 370 and 35A will bring prosperity and happiness to the valley and it will terminate militancy in Kashmir. The decision to revoke the autonomous status enjoyed by the former state of J&K was a nightmare to its people. The Indian leadership justified the act by falsely declaring Kashmir as a ‘poor and underdeveloped’ state, with articles 370 and 35A as major hurdles hindering the development and prosperity in Kashmir.

Being a student of Political Science and resident of the valley, I do not subscribe to Modi’s rhetoric. Though Modi claims to have taken the decision in the wider interest of the people of J&K and vowed to turn the region into India’s most developed state, it is fraught with frailties. Contrary to the claim, there is no ‘absolute poverty’ in Kashmir. As a researcher, you won’t be able to find a Kashmiri without shelter, sleeping on footpaths or cooking food under the flyovers. The valley is rich in resources, and tourism is an important source of livelihood for the people in Kashmir. Kashmir performs far better than other states in India on Human Development Index (HDI). Questioning Modi and Amit Shah’s assertion that dilution and abrogation of these articles will bring development in the state, economist Jean Dreeze says, “It is not correct to say that Kashmir is a backward state, therefore it was a must to remove Article 370. Of course, there are economic problems but living standard is actually quite good, nutrition is much better in Kashmir than Gujarat”. Thus, branding Kashmir a so-called ‘poor’ state is practically wrong. Also, terminating the special status of the valley for development is illogical. If article 370 was a major hurdle for the development of Kashmir, why did other states fail to develop? Thousands of people from Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and other places come to Kashmir to earn a living as the wages are quite high compared to other states. It suggests that it is actually India that is dependent on Kashmir rather than Kashmir being dependent on India. The available government data do not substantiate the claims of the ruling party and their lies stand naked as per the HDI.

With the claims for development and prosperity of the region standing exposed, Jeremy Bentham’s concept of ‘Felicific Calculus’ could be used as a yardstick to measure the pleasure and pain of the people in the valley after the dilution and abrogation of articles 370 and 35A. By compromising and bypassing the constitutional procedures and sidelining the Kashmiri leadership in order to dilute and abrogate the two articles, the valley has been put under a siege, promoting confusion and chaos. The decision has affected Kashmiris within and outside the valley. Thousands of Kashmiris are studying outside the valley in different colleges and universities across India. Owing to the communication blockade, students are not able to contact their families and friends and are also facing severe financial hardships. The illegal restrictions are taking a serious toll on the minds of Kashmiri populace, who are being pushed to the wall. Recently, on Eid, the governor of J&K tried to invite Kashmiri students for lunch organized at university premises as a publicity stunt. The students at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh refused the invitation outright, as they are not happy with the turn of the events and the tactics adopted by the government.

By diluting and abrogating articles 370 and 35A, the BJP government even violated the 1972 Shimla agreement (between India and Pakistan) which restricted both states from any unilateral action that will alter the situation in Kashmir. People from the valley rejected the decision and claimed that the articles were the only justification for being a part of India in the first place and its revocation meant deprivation of separate sets of laws that ensured permanent residents of J&K state government jobs, exclusive right to own property, citizenship and other fundamental rights. The deterioration of the situation in Kashmir is not just due to the removal of “special status” as it has been a disputed territory ever since India moved its troops in 1947.

Article 370 was a not a temporary provision in the Indian constitution which BJP claimed for its abrogation. It would have been a temporary provision in case India allowed a plebiscite in Kashmir. Over the past 70 years, India has sufficiently eroded Kashmir’s autonomy. Kashmir has no special status but a de facto military rule and the latest move is an illegal annexation of a territory by overriding the legislative assembly and larger will of people and holding them down under a siege. Further, dividing up the territory along religious lines offers another testimony to the right-wing Hindu fascism that now controls India. The latest move by the Indian government is bound to face challenges in the Indian Supreme Court. Many analysts believe PM Modi’s government is pushing for a demographic change. However, such a move is bound to backfire and prompt Kashmiris to take up arms and join militant ranks.     

Jihad as such is a low-cost strategy promoted by Pakistan to challenge India’s rule in Kashmir, according to S. Paul Kapur in his book, Jihad as Grand Strategy. Kapur argues that Pakistan implemented jihad as a strategy because it is economical and has prevented the Pakistani military from a direct confrontation with the Indian forces in Kashmir. In 1947 war, Pakistan’s undisciplined tribesmen attacked Kashmir and took one-third of the state of J&K. Before the tribal attack, General Auchinleck warned Jinnah against an attack on Kashmir because of limited ammunition supplies that could have lasted for five hours only. Thus, jihad became the low-cost strategy to challenge India’s rule in Kashmir and Pakistan played a nuclear card since 1998 to support jihad with new directions in Kashmir. By diluting and abrogating articles 370 and 35A, India has provided impetus to Pakistan to escalate tensions to new levels in Kashmir.

Disguised as a plan to address ‘monumental injustices’ meted out to Kashmiris in the past, Modi government’s designs are set to make the future of J&K bleaker than ever before. Prime Minister Modi’s logic for diluting and abrogating articles 370 and 35A is unscientific. Currently, chauvinist personalities like Modi and Amit Shah, not issues like economic slowdown, dominate voters’ choices in India. The BJP government is using a ‘language of weapons’ to suppress the democratic movement in Kashmir. The detention of politicians, controls on the media, blocking Muslims from praying in grand mosques, and suppression of free speech will further invite rage, agony, protests, frustration, isolation, economic and human loss in Kashmir with happiness nowhere to be seen.

There is no end to sufferings of Kashmiris in the valley. Kashmiris are ethnically and culturally different from Hindus and Muslims in India and Pakistan. The majority of the Muslims in Kashmir might prefer to join Pakistan in case a plebiscite takes place. I am afraid Kashmiris’ sufferings might not end due to an ethnic violence in Pakistan. Similarly, India is heading towards an authoritarian state, a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Polity), where minorities including Kashmiris are bound to suffer. The Kashmiri separatist groups such as Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) believes in an Independent Kashmir. However, India and Pakistan would not allow Kashmiris to think beyond these two nations. Due to water insecurity of India and Pakistan and J&K’s strategic location, both states will push Kashmiris towards hell. This will ensure that Kashmir remains in news but not Kashmiris.

Bio:
Rameez Raja is a Kashmiri researcher based in New Delhi. He completed his Ph. D. in Political Science from the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. His Ph. D. topic was “India’s Nuclear Policy Since 1998: Perspectives and Challenges”. He does not agree with nuclear deterrence in the context of India and Pakistan.

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Rohingya Refugees: Identity, Citizenship, and Human Rights”, edited by Chapparban Sajaudeen, Central University of Gujarat, India.

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