By Eric Vandenbroeck 7 August 2019
Pakistan has warned war could break out with India after its neighbor announced plans to revoke the semi-autonomous status of the disputed region of Kashmir. Pakistan's powerful army chief said his troops stood by Kashmiris in their "just struggle".
Neighbouring China has also voiced opposition to the Indian move, describing it as "unacceptable".
India's BJP-led government in turn is hailing its decision to strip the state of Jammu and Kashmir of autonomy after seven decades, characterizing it as the correction of a "historical blunder".
While several opposition parties support Modi’s decision, there may yet be a challenge from the country’s Supreme Court. And while the prime minister’s long-term plan could be to populate Muslim-majority Kashmir with Hindus from other parts of the country, there will likely be resistance in the restive Kashmir Valley. India has already moved tens of thousands of new troops to the region.
The now-canceled article 370 allowed the state a certain amount of autonomy - its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws. Foreign affairs, defence and communications remained the preserve of the central government.
This means the separate constitution of Jammu and Kashmir ceases to be in operation in the state. With state constitution rendered inoperative and Articles 1-2 applicable to Jammu and Kashmir, the central government got the power to redraw the map of the state.
The move fits in with Narendra Modi's desire to show that the BJP is tough on Kashmir, and Pakistan. The BJP has also been attempting to erase India’s Mughal legacy both from the landscape and from the history books.
The history of the Kashmiri region, in particular, is extremely convoluted, and could, and indeed has absorbed volumes of scholarship that is hardly relevant here. Buddhism was introduced into the region in the 3rd century BCE, but by the 9th century CE, it had evolved into a major center of Hindu worship and study. It was the birthplace of Shaivism, one of the major traditions within Hinduism, and a center of Sanskrit scholarship. One can suppose that its extraordinary natural beauty, mild climate, and ease of living made it a perfect place for religious contemplation, and if one was searching for proof of divine bounty, one really needs to look no further.
By the mid-14th century, however, a new and pervasive religious order began to make its presence felt in the region, as Muslim invaders began to arrive. Kashmir was ruled by the Mughals from 1587 to 1752, which is a period generally regarded as peaceful, tolerant and progressive, although, of course, in such a polarized region, there would be many like Narendra Modi 's BJP would profoundly disagree with this.
Is is generally accepted that Kashmir is a victim of the disputed division of British India during the transfer of colonial power in 1947. A border was created on religious lines, and states with a Muslim majority formed the newly created Pakistan alongside a predominantly Hindu India. When India and Pakistan became independent, it was generally assumed that Jammu and Kashmir, with its 80 percent Muslim population, would accede to Pakistan, but Kashmir was one of 565 princely states whose rulers had given their loyalty to Britain but preserved their royal titles. The partition plan, negotiated by the last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, excluded these princely states, which were granted independence without the power to express it.
Initially the British create the state of Jammu and Kashmir from a disparate group of territories shorn from the Sikh kingdom placing it under the rule of a Dogra Raja, and during the late nineteenth century, they directly intervened in the administration of the state. The consequent land settlement of the region led to the breakdown of the state monopoly on grain distribution, the emergence of a class of grain dealers, the creation of a recognizable peasant class, and the decline of the indigenous landed elite. Additionally, the slump in the shawl trade beginning in the 1870s meant that shawl traders were in a state of financial and social decline by the late nineteenth century. At the same time, the Dogra state became more interventionist, centralized, and the "Hindu" idiom of its rule became increasingly apparent.
But contrary to popular belief, it was not the isolation of the Kashmir Valley that produced narratives of regional and religious belonging; rather, it was the Valley's links with the world outside that helped reinforce the poetic discourse on identities in the mid-eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries.
Rather, the axiom of Kashmir as the paradise on earth, which even then belied the reality of the condition of the Valley and its inhabitants, was coined by the Mughal emperor Jehangir.1
He builds some of the more scenic architectural marvels of the region, such as the Mughal Gardens and the Pari Mahal. And the emperor was so enamored of the Valley that he even took an interest in the concerns and complaints of its people. He dismissed one of his high-ranking officers, Qulich Khan, then governor of the Valley (1606-9), on receipt of complaints against him: "O protector of administration! complainants are many, your thanks givers few/Pour cloud water on the lips of the thirsty or get away from the administration.” 2
The Mughal era was one of intense cultural regeneration in Kashmir when Kashmiri poets and ideologues built on existing cultural forms through contact with poets from the Delhi court and the court of Persia. Persian became the medium of literary expression, not only for those who migrated to Kashmir but also for native Kashmiris.
Even as the poets of the Mughal period glorified the beauties of the Valley, their poetry did not obscure the realities of the land and the lives of its people. Although clothed in philosophical terms, the following verse articulates poignantly the curse of the Valley and its inhabitants:
The path of poverty [fagr] is evident from the road leading to Kashmir: Its very first step means the renunciation [tark] of the world. How can one pass this path with ease:
For the very first condition means relinquishing life? How can a traveler escape this calamity, Except that a slip of the foot may become a cause of his rescue.3
The land of Kashmir, as articulated in the works of Kashmiri poets of the Mughal period, may have existed for the most part only in the imagination of the Mughal emperors and their court poets, but it is undeniable that its cultural expression informed later articulations of Kashmiri identities.
If the Mughal period is seen as the beginning of the end of Kashmiri independence by Kashmiri historians, the Afghan period is seen as its end. Most historians of Kashmir agree on the capacity of the Afghan governors, a period unrelieved by even brief respite devoted to good work and welfare for the people of Kashmir. According to these histories, the Afghans were brutally repressive with all Kashmiris, regardless of class or religion. Merchants and noblemen of all communities were assembled and asked to surrender their wealth to the first Afghan governor, on pain of death. Kashmiri peasants, Jagirdars, nobles and merchants alike were buried under the burden of heavy taxation. The Jizya or jizyah, or the poll tax on Hindus, was revived and many Kashmiri merchant families fled the Valley for the plains during this period. With the departure of merchants and with the peasantry avoiding cultivating the land for fear of exactions, the Kashmiri economy was effectively ruined.
Without detailing the oppression of various Afghan governors, for there were many, suffice it to say that the Kashmir Valley underwent a period of immense political and economic crisis over sixty-seven years of Afghan rule. Despite its near accuracy, this tale of plunder and woe needs to be qualified through mention of Kashmir's position at the crossroads of trade routes from the north, north-west, and east during the Afghan period. The axis of the Mughal empire-the Grand Trunk Road-was completely redirected by the Afghans. The new route, in the eighteenth century, circumvented the Punjab and Delhi and from Durrani Kashmir, the caravans could now reach Peshawar and Kabul without touching Sikh territory.4
This lament for the just rulers of their land continued through a more explicit Kashmiri discourse on regional belonging during the rule of the Sikhs, who followed the Afghans in 1819. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, entered into a treaty with the British in 1809 whereby the British agreed to abstain from interference in territories north of the Sutlej if he gave up a claim on territories south of the river. After the conclusion of the treaty, Ranjit Singh began his campaigns to conquer principalities north of the Sutlej and expelled the Afghans from Multan, Dejarat and Kashmir. He valued the Kashmir province not only for its revenues but also for its strategic position which facilitated his numerous military campaigns. The Sikh governors deputed to administer Kashmir on behalf of Maharaja Ranjit Singh were "hard and rough masters,"(particularly as Kashmir was a considerable distance from Lahore. More significantly, they consistently followed anti-Muslim policies in Kashmir, thus subjecting the majority of the population of the Kashmir Valley to severe hardship in relation to the practice of their religion. The second Sikh governor, Deewan Moti Ram, ordered the closure of the Jama Masjid in Srinagar to public prayer and forbade Muslims from saying the azan (call to prayer) from mosques in the Valley. He also declared cow-slaughter a crime punishable by death." Lands attached to several shrines were resumed on order of the state. Sikh governors began the policy of declaring mosques, such as the Pathar Masjid, as the property of the state.
The continuation of this policy under the Dogras in the late nineteenth century would provide the fuel for the organization of Kashmiri Muslims as their leadership took up as a cause the return of state-owned mosques to the community. The Sikhs thus established a specifically "Hindu" tone to their rule, setting the stage for the Dogra dynasty which began ruling Kashmir in 1846. The Sikh rulers did not formulate these "Hindu" policies specifically for the Kashmir Valley to harass Kashmiri Muslims; they tried hard to ban the slaughter of sacred cattle in all the lands they conquered. Their emphasis on asserting Hindu and Sikh beliefs was part of an attempt to articulate a Sikh identity separate and distinct from that of the Mughals.5
While there is clear evidence for oppressive conditions under a Sikh rule, it is also important to remember that historians of Kashmir and European travelers had their own reasons for presenting Sikh rule in a negative light. Historical evidence points to the fact that, despite its anti-Muslim overtones, the Sikh rule also stabilized the economy of Kashmir.
And Kashmiriyat rises to the foremost vociferously in the historical narrative of the Dogra period. The Kashmir Valley came under Dogra rule (1846-1947) with the ominous terms of the Treaty of Amritsar signed between Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu and the British in 1846, whereby the British "transfer and makeover forever in independent possession to Maharaja Gulab Singh and the heirs male of his body all the hilly and mountainous country with its dependencies situated to the eastward of the River Ravi including the Chamba and excluding Lahul, being part of the territories ceded to the British Government by the Lahore State ..."6
Kashmiris, regardless of their religious affiliations, launched a national movement against the Dogra This narrative, of course, is prejudiced by its insistence on locating unified, cohesive Kashmiri nationalist movement, untarnished by religious, regional, or class distinctions within the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Furthermore, it fails to point out that the Kashmin national movement of the 1930s and 1940s was preceded by a Kashmiri discourse on identities that focused primarily on defining the religious community, not the Kashmiri nation. And finally, the narrative on Kashmiriyat ignores the contradiction that forms the substance of the Kashmiri nationalist movement: this movement, which supposedly rescued Kashmiriyat from the jaws of the Dogra regime, based its demands squarely on the socio-economic distinctions between the two main religious communities in Kashmir, Pandits and Muslims. This contradiction is rooted in the story of the political, social and economic transformations introduced on to the Kashmiri landscape during the Dogpra period. Although subjects of the greater British Indian Empire, Kashmiris formulated their identities under the rubric of the apparatus of legitimacy deployed by the Dogra state, which continually attempted to balance its definition in terms of the idioms and instruments of Hinduism and the ideal of non-interference with religions so dear to the British.
To suggest that a Kashmiri identity, Kashmiriyat, defined as a harmonious blending of religious cultures, has somehow remained unchanged and an integral part of Kashmiri history over the centuries as seen above, thus is a historical fallacy.
Then, by the early 1930s, the worldwide economic depression had begun to have an impact on a wide cross-section of Kashmiri society. The slump in trade beginning in 1930 and fall in the price of agricultural produce led to increased rural-urban migration. However, the urban factories that had provided jobs to the immigrants in the 1920s were now in a state of collapse.' Newspaper editorials from this period lamented the rise in unemployment, the decline of factories such as the silk factory, and the acquisition by moneylenders and mahajans of those lands that had been made over to the peasants as part of the conferral of proprietary rights by the government.
Although the government had passed a Land Alienation Act in 1926 to control the transfer of land by sale or mortgage, which disallowed the transfer of the newly acquired rights to any but a member of the agricultural classes and prohibited an alienation of more than 25 percent of any holding for a period of ten years, the peasants exercised this right in full for the liquidation of debt. These sales increased the fragmentation of holdings and transferred much of the land to members of agricultural classes who were not cultivators. This, in turn, resulted in the reduction of the state's aggregate food supply and difficulties of feeding a rapidly increasing population. Additionally, it led to soaring land prices, which the richer classes in the Valley, usually non-agriculturists, were willing and able to pay.7
Also, events in Jammu and Kashmir should be viewed in the all-India political context of the period. Although Kashmir was far removed from the Purna Swaraj resolution adopted by the Indian National Congress in 1929 and the Civil Disobedience campaigns of the early 1930s, the people of Kashmir, particularly their leadership, were greatly affected by the heated political atmosphere in India. By far the most significant impact by 1931 was the entry of the term communal into the Kashmiri political arena. From 1931 onwards, Kashmiri politics and politicians, not unlike their Indian counterparts, would come to be judged on the communal national gauge. The communal/national dichotomy had been in use in British Indian provinces since the early twentieth century. In Bengal, for instance, the gradual distancing of leading Muslim associations headed by Abdul Latif and Syed Amir Ali from the Indian National Congress in the 1890s prepared the ground for the use of these dichotomous terms by "nationalist" politicians. However, their use became more widespread and loaded during the time of the Swadeshi movement (1905-8). By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, Bengali Muslims had begun to discuss defensive interpretations of communalism in the format of "good" versus "bad" communalism.8
Finally, in 1931, The state in general and the Maharaja, in particular, were caught between the overwhelming upsurge of Kashmiri Muslim public opinion and the rancor of Kashmiri Pandits at being the objects of sacrifice to placate Muslim demands.9
Apart from the two communities, the pressure from the British to resolve the crisis was increasing daily as the Ahrar jathabandi continued in the Jammu province. The Government of India was sufficiently concerned that the Viceroy wrote in his telegram to the Secretary of State for India, "So long as active jathabandi continues, there is cause for considerable anxiety ... The danger will remain that justly or unjustly Kashmir will be made a pretext for Muslim organization when this seems likely to serve the community's [Punjabi Muslims] purpose."10
British troops had already entered the state and the Resident was pressing the Maharaja to accept a deputation of outside Muslims to conduct an inquiry into the happenings of 1931. A ruler who had declared in his accession speech that "my religion is justice" was faced with the prospect of keeping his word. The foremost issue that the Maharaja ordered the Glancy Commission to investigate was the "complaints ... in regard to any conditions or circumstances which might tend in any way to obstruct free practice of any religion followed by any community in my State."11
He did not, however, accept the Government of India's view on allowing a deputation of outside Muslims to conduct an inquiry in the state, so as to prevent demands of a similar nature by Hindus.
The Maharaja's attempts at keeping Kashmir isolated from the outside world had already failed. Kashmiri Muslim politics continued to be played out as much inside as outside the state. The leadership of the 1930s made full use of the financial and moral support of organizations sympathetic to their cause in British India. Further attesting to the imbrication of politics in British India and Kashmir, the developments during 1931 and its aftermath, brought with it the language of inclusionary Indian nationalism into the Valley. "Communal" became the pejorative term with which to slander one's, political opponents. Although not in widespread use yet, the term "national" would soon appear as the foil of communalism.
The emergence of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah on the Kashmiri political landscape and the foundation of the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference illuminate the intricacies of this.But if Sheikh Abdullah had succeeded in introducing the idea of a Kashmiri nation into the political discourse of the Valley, he certainly failed in the 1940s to translate this into concrete politics. By the way there are more than 400 works that wholly or in part examine the 1940s. Some examples are: Hassnain, Freedom Struggle in Kashmir, Sardar Mohammad Ibrahim, The Kashmir Saga, 2nd edn (Mirpur: Verinag Publishers, 1990); Devendra Swarup and Sushil Aggarwal, eds., The Roots of the Kashmir Problem: The Continuing Battle between Secularism and Communal Separatism(Delhi: Manthan Prakashan, 1992); Verinder Grover, ed., The Story of Kashmir, Yesterday and Today, 3 vols (Delhi: Deep and Deep Publications, 1995); Hari Jaisingh,Kashmir: A Tale of Shame (Delhi: UBS Publishers, 1996); and Prem Shankar Jha, Kashmir 1947: Rival Versions of History (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996).
However, it is essential to debunk the view that the re-creation of the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference in 1940-1 was a triumph for the forces of Muslim revivalism in Kashmir, which would ultimately lead to the province's de facto partition between India and Pakistan. This perspective is an integral aspect of the myth that the National Conference represented the majority of Kashmiris, a myth that was perpetuated by the organization itself in the face of increasing opposition from various sectors of the population of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the 1940s. Furthermore, according to this view, the Muslim Conference stood for the ideals of the Muslim League, which was in favor of the creation of a separate state of Pakistan and the ultimate accession of Kashmir to this Muslim state, while the National Conference supported the Indian National Congress and stood for united nationalism. I believe that this is an exceedingly simplistic reading of a very complicated and, more significantly, evolving relationship between these four organizations through the 1940s, a subject that has to be dealt with elsewhere, however.
Since 1947, the region has been characterized by political repression and economic underdevelopment plus since then have not been allowed the right to decide their own future. Thus one could argue that the dispute and the more recent insurgency that have riddled the region were neither inevitable nor the result of the clash between a Muslim-majority region and a Hindu-majority nation-state.
Of the 565 princely states, 552 agreed to become part of India but the remainder posed problems: Hyderabad and Junagadh had Muslim rulers but Hindu majorities and were surrounded by Indian territory. Indian troops occupied the states and overthrew the Muslim rulers. In Kashmir, a Hindu nobleman, Sir Hari Singh, was the Maharaja, or governor. Two months after the independence of India and Pakistan, he was still unable to make up his mind.
The formal accession of Kashmir to India was announced on 27 October 1947 when Indian troops were airlifted to Srinagar airport and waged a successful defense of the maharajah’s forces that came under attack from invading Pashtun fighters who were driven out into the surrounding mountains with as the result a war between Pakistan and India within three months of their independence.
The United Nations brokered a peace deal, which left Kashmir with an arbitrary ceasefire line curling through its territory and divided between the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled segments. A UN Resolution was passed on 5 January 1948 that agreed the accession of Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through a free impartial plebiscite. But this was not forthcoming.
In this dirty war with no front line, Pakistan and India faced each through the people of Kashmir. At least thirty thousand, perhaps as many as fifty thousand, have perished since 1990. The involvement of Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies is widely assumed to extend to random bombings, which have killed hundreds of civilians on both sides while mystery surrounds the carnage. No group ever admits planting the bombs, rarely is anyone caught and rumors of conspiracy and intrigue circulates. In August 2003, two coordinated blasts rocked Bombay within minutes of each other. The first was at the stone arch of the Gateway of India, the second in a crowded jewelry bazaar. At least fifty people died and more than a hundred were injured. The Indian police said that local Muslim militants had planted the bombs with the support of Pakistan's ISI. There was speculation that the attacks were in retaliation for riots in the neighboring state of Gujarat, which had left more than two thousand people dead, mostly Muslims. Railways have been easy targets of this covert conflict, apparently chosen randomly in a bloody tit-for-tat exchange. But in the end the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) demand for independence didn't fit with the ISI's desires; the agency wanted to absorb the state into Pakistan.
One of the more pernicious consequences of the conflation of polemics and history in the case of Kashmir has been the denial of citizenship rights to Kashmiris by the postcolonial nation-states of South Asia. In an irony of history, the successive postcolonial regimes of the Jammu and Kashmir state rode roughshod over the political rights of the state's citizens to ensure loyalty and placate the doubts of the Indian nation-state.
The citizenship rights of Kashmiris, both Hindu, and Muslim, were thus obfuscated in the narrative of united nationalism generated by the postcolonial nation-states, alongside the policies of the regional governments of Kashmir as they strove to establish their own legitimacy within the national framework.
When The National Conference, with its avowedly secular and nationalist stance, resorted to the homogenizing discourse of Kashmiriyat to paper over the widespread discontent within Kashmiri society, they were much like its Dogra predecessor. The National Conference, as much as its so-called "fundamentalist" rivals in the Valley, seized upon the theft of the strand of the Prophet's hair from the Hazratbal mosque in Srinagar in December 1963 to present themselves as protectors of Islam, in the process whipping up communitarian antagonisms in the Valley.
It should also be noted that the demonstrations against the theft provided Kashmiri Muslims with a deep discontent against the regional and national governments.12
But the situation in Pakistani Kashmir has not been much better, with the Pakistani delegation making overtures to the organization while the Indian state decried this as an act of sabotage, it is clear that Kashmiris were without representation.
The limited options India had would come once more to the forefront in September 2016 after a deadly raid on a Kashmir army base that killed 17 soldiers, with about 35 soldiers injured, some critically.
Violent demonstrations and anti-India protests calling for an independent Kashmir continued with hundreds of civilians, Indian security forces, and militants killed in attacks and clashes. After months of heavy-handed Indian military operations targeting both Kashmiri militants and demonstrations, India announced in May 2018 that it would observe a cease-fire during the month of Ramadan for the first time in nearly two decades; operations resumed in June 2018.
The current revocation of special status was expected to trigger widespread protests, but there is no word on how people have reacted to the news.
Prominent politicians in Indian-administered Kashmir have been placed under house arrest, while communications to Kashmir valley have been cut off following a security crackdown and fears of unrest.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, but they each control only parts of it.
Apparently it was an earlier statement by President Trump that triggered the current move.
But the measure also caused a hefty debate in the Indian Parliament with Shashi Tharoor stating that: You have unleashed upon us the political equivalent of demonetization.
In an address to Parliament on Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he might approach the U.N. Security Council to oppose New Delhi’s move, fearing that India may “initiate ethnic cleansing in Kashmir to wipe out the local population.” He has already called in a favor that Trump promised him during their meeting in the White House last month: “President Trump offered to mediate on Kashmir. This is the time to do so,” Khan said. We’ll see whether Trump takes the bait—and whether Pakistan reacts in other ways.
China has called India’s move to abolish Kashmir’s special status “not acceptable” and said it was not binding.
Counting as a "fear" barometer following the announcement that Pakistan this time is willing to use atomic weapons in a new war with India Gold has gone up.
It is not clear yet what the reactions will be once the lock down is lifted. The military, which has a large presence in the state and leads the counter-insurgency operations are trained to go after terrorists, but they are not trained to deal with cases of civil disobedience. If thousands of people suddenly come together and start marching in peaceful protests, they will have no idea how to tackle that.
1. See G.M.D. Sufi, Kashir: Being a History of Kashmir From Earliest Times to Our Own. 2 vols. New Delhi, 1974, vol. i, p. 295.
2. G.L. Tikku, Persian Poetry in Kashmir 1339-1846, University of California Press, 1971.p.84.
3. G. L. Tikku: Persian poetry in Kashmir, 1339–1846: an introduction. (University of California Publications. Occasional Papers. Literature, No. 4.) xi, 98
4. For this period see Jos J.L. Gommans, The Rise of the Indo-Afghan Empire c. 1710-1780, 1994, p. 41-2.
5. C.A. Bayly, The New Cambridge History of lndia, II. 1, Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p.22.
6. C.U. Aitchison, A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sanads relating India and Neighboring Countries, revised and continued up to 1929, vol.xu: jams, Kashmir, Sikkim, Assam &Burma, (Calcutta: Government of India Cent Publications Branch, 192 9, p. 21.).
7. Capt. R.G. Wreford, Census of India, 1941, Vol. XXII, Jammu and Kashmir (Jammu: Ranbir Government Press, 1943), 14-15. The state passed a follow-up Land Alienation Act in 1938, which allowed for the alienation of land only "where the alienor is not a member of the agricultural class, or where the alienor and alienee are members of an agricultural class." See Laws of Jammu and Kashmir, vol. ui (3rd ed. Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Government Press, 1972), 581.