Tracing the History of the Kashmir Issue [Part 2 of #UnderstandingKashmir]

Posted on March 21, 2012 in Kashmir, Specials

By Karmanye Thadani:

Keeping in mind my appeal to read this series without a nationalist bias, if we were to trace the history of the conflict, back in the 1930s, when the Dogra monarchs, who were Hindus, ruled Jammu and Kashmir (which comprised Hindu-majority Jammu, Buddhist-majority Ladakh and Muslim-majority Kashmir and was Muslim-majority overall), the people of Kashmir, Muslim and Hindu alike, had put up a struggle against the monarchy to make the region a democracy. The leader of this movement was Shaikh Abdullah (father of Farooq Abdullah and grandfather of Omar Abdullah), a Muslim statesman who was a socialist in the true sense of the term and a great friend of Jawaharlal Nehru’s. Nehru had taken some interest in the pro-democracy movements in the princely states not directly governed by the British even before the Indian National Congress as a party took a stand on the issue. The monarch reacted fiercely to crush the movement for democracy and that’s when the tale of repression in Kashmir started. Later, when the movement for the partition of India started, Kashmiri Muslims, by and large, were not seen showing any enthusiasm for Pakistan, and Kashmiris, Muslim and Hindu, coexisted as brothers celebrating each other’s festivals and praying in the same Sufi shrines. There were some Muslims who begrudged Kashmiri brahmin scholars being conferred rights on the land owned by Muslim peasants by the Hindu rulers, because of which the peasants had to part with a share of the produce, but still, the two communities lived alongside each other in harmony. None other than Jinnah acknowledged in a visit to Kashmir in 1944 that only a few elite Muslims in Kashmir (and an even tinier minority in Jammu) were really enthusiastic about Kashmir being a part of Pakistan, and he appealed to the Kashmiri Muslims to support the demand for the creation of Pakistan, even stating the letter ‘K’ in the word ‘Pakistan’ to stand for Kashmir, but he did not really succeed. The J&K Conference led by Shaikh Abdullah was secular by outlook and in 1939, by a vote of 176:3, had passed a resolution favouring India over Pakistan. In the words of the veteran journalist MJ Akbar—

This was a remarkable event. Not only due to its intrinsic values, but because it went against the trend of Muslim politics in the rest of the subcontinent, since the mood of the principal party, the Muslim League, was hardening against the secular, inclusive vision of Gandhi, Azad and Nehru.”

Even prior to the passing of this resolution, Shaikh Abdullah had stated in 1938 — “We must end communalism by ceasing to think in terms of Muslims and non-Muslims when discussing our political problems…” And the J&K Conference endorsed the Congress policy as against that of the Muslim League at the time of the Second World War, in MJ Akbar’s words, “setting course towards a partnership with plural India”.

In 1946, Shaikh Abdullah launched the Quit Kashmir movement against the Raja, inspired by Gandhiji’s Quit India Movement, which the Raja tried to suppress. Shaikh Abdullah was arrested and Kashmiris, Muslim and Hindu alike, protested against the same.

Then came the independence of a partitioned India in August 1947 and the princely states were given a choice between India, Pakistan and independence by the British. The choice was to be left to the monarchs. However, the Indian establishment, at times with persuasion and in the case of Hyderabad and Junagadh with the use of force, integrated the princely states with India. While the monarchs of Hyderabad and Junagadh had resisted joining India, our government cited popular will and the unrepresentative character of these monarchs as the justification for forcibly integrating these territories in the Indian Republic (indeed, the overwhelming Hindu majority and a sizable section of the Muslim minority of these princely states favoured India). The Pakistani establishment, on the other hand, ignoring both the will of the ruler and the people, forcibly invaded Balochistan by coercively getting the ruler to sign the instrument of accession in Pakistan’s favour.

However, the matter was tricky when it came to Jammu and Kashmir. Despite Lord Mountbatten repeatedly trying to convince Raja Hari Singh, the Dogra ruler, to choose between India and Pakistan, he wanted his kingdom to remain independent. Mountbatten told him that his kingdom had strategic, economic and emotional importance for both India and Pakistan and his choosing to join neither would lead to a war, but the Raja wasn’t willing to change his stand. Meanwhile, the Raja’s taxation policy caused widespread agitation, leading to the Raja’s men carrying out mass murders, resulting in the exodus of 60,000 Muslims from Poonch and the killing of more than 50,000 people, mostly Muslims, on the streets of Jammu. Pathan tribesmen from Pakistan, posing to be non-state actors but actually backed by the Pakistani government, claiming to be enraged at the suffering of their Muslim brothers, entered Jammu and Kashmir, engaging in looting and raping, along the way. The Indian Army entered J&K and the Raja declared that he wished to accede to India. The first ever war was fought between India and Pakistan (to be followed by three others later). Jawaharlal Nehru took the matter to the United Nations and the United Nations passed a resolution, mandating that Pakistan return POK to India (since the Raja had acceded to India) and a plebiscite be conducted for the people of Jammu and Kashmir in which they could choose their political fate. A ceasefire was declared and India and Pakistan came to control parts of Jammu and Kashmir, with both claiming the whole of it to be their own. Pakistan insisted that just like India claimed Hyderabad and Junagadh by force because they had Hindu-majority populations despite being ruled by Muslim monarchs, they were justified in claiming J&K because it was a Muslim-majority kingdom with a Hindu ruler (though it is very doubtful as to whether the majority of the population of the erstwhile princely state with a sizable non-Muslim and pro-India Muslim population actually favoured Pakistan). Leaders in both India and Pakistan promised the Kashmiri people that the plebiscite would be conducted.

While the Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists on the Indian side welcomed the integration of J&K with India, the Muslims remained divided on the issue, some passionately seeking its integration with Pakistan, while others being pro-India and still others favouring independence. The Indian constitution accorded a special status to J&K under Article 370, allowing it to have its own constitution and own flag, not allowing outsiders to buy property there and giving the locals many benefits.

However, a section of the Kashmiri Muslims who were pro-Pakistan or pro-independence kept demanding a plebiscite and alleged that the elections in the state were being rigged (an allegation accepted by many independent observers, including Indians). They peacefully protested and these protesters met with immense repression from the Indian state, the most significant example being the shooting down of peaceful protesters on the rickety Gawakadal Bridge in Srinagar in 1990. The protesters argued that they should not be seen as anti-nationals because Kashmiris had been promised the right of self-determination by way of a plebiscite.

The resentment among the anti-India Kashmiri Muslims kept growing with the promise of a plebiscite not being kept over the decades. Indeed, India made no efforts even to work with Pakistan for a plebiscite, claiming that the turnout in the state elections implied the acceptance of India as their country by the populace. Islamism, a totalitarian ideology of imposing supposedly Islamic ideas and fighting those perceived as enemies of Islam, being the Muslim counterpart of Hindutva, started to gain ground in Kashmir with Pakistan-backed madrasas preaching the radical brand of Islam, which had been relatively unknown to Kashmiris with their Sufi culture for many centuries, and these madrasas generated strong anti-India resentment. In the 1970s, the militancy made its very humble beginnings in Kashmir. The militants were divided between those desiring Kashmir to be a part of Pakistan and those desiring Kashmir to be independent from both India and Pakistan, but were united against the Indian establishment.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the militancy assumed dangerous proportions with the backing of the Pakistani and Chinese governments and there were militants who were Pakistanis too illegally infiltrating into India. Pakistan’s then Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, while trying disassociate religion from state affairs at home in Pakistan, was sponsoring the anti-Soviet Taliban militancy in Afghanistan and anti-India militancy in Kashmir with US support, since the US saw India as a Soviet ally.

Kashmiri Hindu civilians became soft targets of the militancy. The reasons were socio-economic, political and religious. Socio-economically, Kashmiri Hindus, by and large, were an effluent minority that had enjoyed privileges from the Dogra rulers and even after independence, due to the questionable loyalty of Kashmiri Muslims towards India, they were preferred for positions of power by the Indian government, leading to resentment on the part of Kashmiri Muslims. Politically, they were seen as pro-India, which an overwhelming majority of them indeed were and understandably so. Finally, the hateful theology of viewing Hindus as idolaters and not worth being trusted by Muslims, and in fact, being enemies of Islam, which had been gaining ground, thanks to Wahabi madrasas set up with Saudi and Pakistani backing, led to them being targeted. They had to leave their lands and the less well-off among them had to live in refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi, where they continue to live. Indeed, many Kashmiri Muslims had a role to play in protecting Kashmiri Hindus by giving them sanctuary in their homes or giving them leads as to the threats to their lives. By no means, would it be to fair to say that all Kashmiri Muslims, or even all Kashmiri separatists, favoured the mass murders of Kashmiri Hindus.

This tragedy did not evoke as much protest from human rights groups and our intellectuals who make loud professions of secularism. Of course, these pseudo-intellectuals, most of whom happen to be Hindus, make noise only when the religious communities that are minorities on a nationwide scale are targeted, but when the Hindus are targeted in parts of India when they themselves are in minority, these people don’t consider it an issue worth their attention. They cry hoarse about the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat but not violence against Hindus in Kashmir, about the anti-Sikh riots but not violence against innocent Punjabi Hindus by Khalistani terrorists, about the anti-Christian riots in Orissa but not forced conversions of Hindus by Christian fanatic secessionists in the north-east. I am not condoning violence against innocent Muslims, Sikhs or Christians (of course, any violence against innocent civilians should be condemned in the strongest terms), but the silence of these so-called intellectuals on wrongdoings against Hindus perturbs me, and a narrative on India’s communal problem will always remain flawed if the Hindus in general are made out to be an oppressive majority. This discussion may seem to be a digression from our discussion on Kashmir, but it is actually relevant, as we shall see in the next article in this series.

However, coming back to the militancy, not only Hindus but even pro-India Kashmiri Muslims and Sikhs were targeted. There were, however, Kashmiri Muslims who protected Kashmiri Hindus and there were certain areas where Hindus were not targeted and where Hindus have still stayed back in the valley. Some of the Kashmiri Hindus (including someone I know personally) support the demand for secession of Kashmir from both India and Pakistan, prominent among them being documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, but a highly overwhelming majority of them, whether now in the valley or outside it, favour India.

The Indian Army came to be stationed in civilian areas in Kashmir to crush the militancy and Kashmir remains a highly militarized zone since then. With the Hindus gone, the Pakistani militants, often driven more by financial than ideological considerations, many a time actually started targeting Kashmiri Muslims, engaging in rapes and forced disappearances. The Indian Army, too has had its rogue elements (indeed, every army has them) and they have time and again engaged in mass murders as also rapes and forced disappearances. These are sporadic indeed (there is certainly no genocide as Pakistani and secessionist propagandists would like us to believe), but have been carried out time and again, with many women waiting for their disappeared husbands being described as half-widows. The situation is grim. Recently, a blind, mentally challenged Hindu beggar was killed by Army men and they described him as a militant. Unmarked graves of about 2,730 people have been discovered, conforming allegations of human rights organizations. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives army personnel immunity from judicial proceedings to a great extent, and Public Safety Act, by virtue of which a person could be arrested on mere suspicion for years together without trial, came to be introduced. Only very recently, however, the Supreme Court of India has held that rape and murder do not fall within the ambit of the AFSPA. With these developments, many of the pro-India Kashmiri Muslims started to turn hostile to India and the pro-Pakistan Kashmiri Muslims started to turn hostile to Pakistan, and the idea of a Kashmir independent from both India and Pakistan started to gain more and more acceptance. The Pakistani establishment came to be seen as using Kashmiris on the Indian side as pawns to further its own agenda, rather than out of any genuine concern. Now, seeing that Pakistan is a failed state, fewer Kashmiris are inclined to join it.

The Kashmiri struggle for self-determination has not only been in the form of the militancy. Ex-militants who renounced violence like Yasin Malik and several moderate leaders have been trying to engage in a dialogue with the Indian government, but have not arrived at any consensus. There were large scale street protests from time to time and instances of stone-pelting too (yes, stone-pelting isn’t a new phenomenon that has emerged only in recent years). The scholar Angana Chatterji, who has done extensive ground-level research on the Kashmir issue, points out — “The Indian state deliberately conflates militancy with the people’s mass movement for liberation.”

In recent years, the militancy on the Indian side has weaned away and the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination has largely comprised hartals and stone-pelting at Indian soldiers. On the other hand, with the militancy having almost died out, many Kashmiri Hindus have returned to the valley, and some Muslims have welcomed them by erecting temples for them. Recently, a Kashmiri Hindu woman was elected the Sarpanch of a village in Kashmir, which, needless to mention, has a Muslim majority. The composite Sufi culture of the valley is not dead, and the struggle for secession is not only driven by religious fanatics either. Many of the secessionists are very progressive intellectuals. A vast majority of the Muslims in Kashmir support the demand for secession, though the Muslims in Jammu and Ladakh, who constitute a sizable minority in both these regions, have, by and large, not shown any interest in the same.

In the next article in this series, we will examine the narratives of all the parties in this conflict — Indians (with a special reference to Hindu rightists), Pakistanis and separatists on both sides of the border.