By Rayees Rasool:
Geographical background: The state of Jammu Kashmir has a strategically important location in the South Asian region. Bound from the North by the Russian and Chinese Republics, it has Afghanistan on its North-west and Pakistan on its South-west. A very small area in the South-East of the state has common boundaries with India.
The state has an area of 84,471 square miles with only two plains in the vast area, the valley of Kashmir and Jammu plains. The valley is 85 miles in length and 25 miles in width with Srinagar in the center. The Jammu plain is a continuation of the Punjab plains, and is divided to the East of the Chenab and separated on the West from the hills of the Hazara and Rawalpindi district of Pakistan by the Jhelum.
Political History: The politics of Kashmir is a history of betrayals and unfulfilled promises, both by our own leaders and the powers around them. Kashmiries are known to the world as people of a separate and distinct nation. For centuries, the people of Kashmir were forced by alien rulers to remain under the clutches of slavery. Their civic and other fundamental rights were snatched by the rulers and they were practically treated like dumb driven cattle. All their social and economic activities were limited. They had to live their lives like slaves. They existed on their own land at the mercy of their tyrant rulers, who comprised of Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras.
Afghan’s ruled the state for 67 years. The tragedy of the Afghan rule in Kashmir lay in its predatory nature. The valley was treated not as a province to be justly administered as a part of a large empire, but as an area from which maximum resources could be extracted to finance military expeditions elsewhere. Ruthless exactions and violent suppression were inherent in the attitude of the Afghans. And they went all out to break the will of the people to resist.
In A.D. 1814, the Sikh army advanced through Pir Panjal, and ruled the state for 27 years. The Sikh rulers were short-sighted, and their main aim was to exploit maximum resources. With the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839, indiscipline and instability had spread all over his kingdom. The last Governor, Ima-ud-Din, was made to surrender possession of Kashmir to Gulab Singh in 1846 in pursuance of the treaty of Amritsar. During the Sikh rule, Hindus were better off. The Muslims were maltreated and subjected to atrocities. Their Mosques were locked up. Even Jamia Masjid was closed to public prayers. At the time of the commencement of Sikh rule, a local commander, Phula Singh, had even fixed a gun to demolish the famous Shah Hamdan Mosque on the grounds that it had been built over a Hindu temple.
And then came the Dogras, they ruled the state for over a hundred years. Dogra rule was the obnoxious system of forced labour termed ‘Begaare’. And Muslim farmers became the subject for this system.
One of the hardships because of this begaare was that people were forced to do it at a time when the villagers were most needed in their fields. The crop would badly suffer because of their absence. There are numerous instances of how the subjects of the Maharaja suffered under his uncivilized and barbarous system of forced labour.
As if all these miseries and sufferings were not enough, two big tragedies struck the people of this unfortunate land in quick succession, in 1877 and 1885. A great famine struck in 1877 and thousands of people lost their lives due to starvation. And in 1885, an earthquake claimed the lives of many moreÂ people. Whatever may have been the causes of the unfortunate events, the Dogra administration’s response was unsatisfactory, to say the least.
Following the August 1947 partition of British India into Pakistan and The Republic of India, a small portion of the pre-dominantly Muslim population of Kashmir demanded accession to Pakistan, a Muslim state. The reigning Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu himself, resisted the Pro-Pakistan movement. Pakistan invaded the area, after which the Maharaja signed the instrument of accession to the Indian Union. India dispatched the troops to Kashmir and in the ensuring conflict, forced the Pakistanis to yield ground. Through mediations organized by the United Nations (UN), a cease fire agreement ended the war after three weeks.
In 1992, India and Pakistan formally agreed to abstain from the use of force to settle the Kashmir dispute. But the facts themselves speak for the honesty of their agreement. However, a movement opposed to Indian control in Kashmir emerged in the late 1980’s and armed conflict continued in the region. The struggle is still going on and this state is still to be liberated.