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Land Of The Brave But Never Free: History of Oppression in Jammu and Kashmir

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An unequalled shutdown and blockade on communication in the valley

The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A marked another chapter of imperialist oppression in the valley of Kashmir. This move was followed by an unequalled shutdown and blockade on communication, blocking movement and putting prominent Kashmiri faces under house arrest. Article 370 ensured the Muslim-majority state its own constitution and autonomy over all matters, except foreign affairs, defence and communications. However, this is nothing new but another direct attempt to silence the cries for independence and total freedom in the valley.

Kashmir’s oppression began way before the markings of the border of modern India as we know it. During 1589 A.D., the empire was annexed by the Mughal rulers. Since then, Kashmir has never been ruled by Kashmiris themselves. 

First came the Mughals, who turned ‘Kashmir’ into a summer refuge for the leisure of the rich and the elite. Then came the Afghans who treated Kashmiris like slaves—Muslims and Pandits alike. Then came the Sikhs, known for their humanitarian fight, who, in the words of William Moorcroft, treated the Kashmiris “little better than cattle“. The religious bias that Kashmir faces to date came during the Sikh rule.

In 1846, the East India Company defeated the Sikh empire in the Anglo-Sikh war, and ‘Kashmir’ was sold to the Dogras for an amount of ₹7.5 million, of which they made sure they got the worth back. The Dogras forever remained loyal to the British and forced Kashmiris to fight in both the world wars. During this time, Kashmiris were also banned from holding any land or property. The Dogra rule also re-introduced bonded labour, under which workers were employed with little or no payment.

Apart from taxation on professions, Kashmiri Muslims also had to pay tax to get married. The administrations’ pro-Hindu bias was clear as Kashmiri Pandits were slightly well off compared to their Muslim counterparts. They were allowed to hold more ‘intellectual’ and ‘high-paying’ jobs such as teachers and civil servants. The official language of the State was made Urdu which made it impossible for the ‘Koshur’-speaking Muslim to break free from poverty. The Dogra rule in the valley was as much about class oppression as it was about religion.

In 1930, young intellectual left-wing Muslim men formed a ‘Reading Room Party’ to start a liberation movement of Kashmir from autocracy and oppression. The growing spirit of revolt among the Muslim community also alerted the Dogras, and three more parties namely—the Kashmiri Pandit Conference, the Hindu Sabha in Jammu, and the Sikh Shiromani Khalsa Darbar—were approved as political forces, meaning that only non-Muslims could have political representation in the valley.

The history of Kashmir, as we know it, has always been communalized. The struggle of Kashmiris has been boiled down to their religion as if it makes their suffering legitimate. 

Following Britain’s departure from India, the situation in the valley did not become better. Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, was given the task of making India anew. The two-nation theory, invented by Savarkar and later brought up by Jinnah, transformed the British colony into two sovereign states—India and Pakistan. Under the Partition plan, Kashmir was given the option to either become independent or accede to India or Pakistan.

Faces that decided the fate of Kashmir after independence: (From left) Sheikh Abdullah, Lord Mounbatten, Maharaja Hari Singh and Pandti Jawaharlal Nehru.||Credit: JK Now

The Dogra ruler at the time, Hari Singh, wanted Kashmir to remain independent. However, in October 1947, tribesmen from Pakistan started evading Kashmir. The then-Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru knew that Hari Singh’s forces would not be enough to stop the infiltration without help from India. It was then that Nehru took note of Sheikh Abdullah—a Kashmiri Muslim who started started ‘Quit Kashmir’ to oppose the Dogra rule in the valley during the British time and hence was a prisoner. Nehru knew that Sheikh wasn’t eager to join Pakistan, and if an understanding could be created between Hari Singh and Sheikh, Kashmir’s accession to India would become easier. 

The Pakistani strategy was easier—create enough pressure on the Maharaja so he has to abdicate, and then claim the region for Pakistan as the majority of the population of Jammu and Kashmir was Muslim. 

During negotiations with Mountbatten, the Pakistani government rejected plebiscite, later to the advantage of India. Liaquat Ali Khan also questioned the transparency of the plebiscite as it was to be held in a Kashmir that was Indian-administered and that was ‘bound’ to vote for them.

Nehru was not only able to get the Maharaja to his side but also gained the confidence of the National Conference, which allowed for the Maharaja to accede to India on October 26, 1947. Nehru, combined with the strong image of Patel, was able to demonstrate to the rest of the world that India wasn’t a force to be reckoned with. They were also able to portray that Pakistan supported militant activity as an act of belligerence, which allowed India to have a better international standing for years to come.

When Mountbatten suggested that “UN should supervise a plebiscite” in the valley, the answer from Nehru was a firm no, as previously India had made a unilateral offer which was rejected by Pakistan. Within its border, Nehru, a Kashmiri himself, often seemed sympathetic to the cause of Kashmiris. He promised a plebiscite multiple times, which, however, was never met.

Since 1947, India and Pakistan both have fought several wars over Kashmir—claiming to hold the ‘best intentions’. However, they forgot to take into account the voices that matter the most, which have also been oppressed the most. Chauvinistic and jingoistic policies prevail on both sides of the border. India’s grip on Kashmir has never been stronger; with more than a million soldiers stationed in the valley, Kashmir is the most heavily militarized zone in the world. 

Amit Shah announced the abrogation of Article 370.||Source: DNA

Cut back to March 2019, India’s Hindu nationalism won again, this time with an even bigger majority. To me, this says, the very idea of India is being shaped and reformed to benefit the majoritarian vote bank. To assert India as a nationalistic state, there’s no better place than Kashmir. To prove this, the government of India headed by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah breached the conditions of Instrument of Accession. Kashmir, as the party claimed, was ‘unfinished’ business of the partition and now India was truly independent.

How scary is it that a government of the largest democracy in the world was able to cut off millions from the rest of the world? Since the partition and the signing of the Instrument of Accession, many successive governments have undermined the terms of the ‘contract’ between India and Jammu and Kashmir to the point that all that was left was a hollow skeleton.

What India has done in Kashmir in the course of the last 30 years is inexcusable. An expected seventy thousand individuals—regular people, activists and security powers—have been murdered; thousands have “vanished”; several thousand have gone through dungeons that dab the valley, like a system of little scope at Abu Ghraib; and hundreds have been blinded by the use of pellet guns. 

Kashmir continues to suffer, and remains the longest ongoing unresolved conflict with the United Nations. The people of Kashmir are being treated like a commodity, and the violence, rape and disappearances are nothing but mere ‘collateral damage’ which people rejoice in.

Despite forces shutting them down, the people of Kashmir have been fighting for self-determination for hundreds of years and will continue to fight on it for a hundred more. With the abrogation of 370, people from all over India are becoming witness and allies to the plight of Kashmir. This marks the beginning of an era of unparalleled resistance and struggles for independence of Kashmir. 

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  1. Jay Velury

    There was never a separate “Partition Plan” for Kashmir. The option of “independence” was given not just to Kashmir but every one of the 600 Princely States, many now in Pakistan or Bangladesh. As for Plebiscite, Nehru never said “no”. To hold Plebiscite, India had to have the entire Princely State in its possession, as it did in case of Junagarh. To hold Plebiscite only in the Indian held portion while Pakistan sits on what it had was unjust proposition. If Pakistan handed over rest of the State in 1948 as required per UNSC Resolution 47, Nehru would be glad to hold Plebiscite and India would win hands down. That’s why Jinnah and Liaquat Ali rejected it.

    To suggest Nehru and Patel were the only noteworthy leaders is to insult many giants of that time. After Mountbatten, the Governor General of India was Rajaji!

    Why is the author worried only about oppression of Kashmir? After 2 Century CE, our Telugu People never ruled themselves! Chalukyas, Bahumani Sultans, Nizams, Marathas, Tippu, French, British and now India rules over our people. 5 years before bifurcation of Kashmir and abrogation of Article 370, our State was bifurcated. The promise of Special Status was never fulfilled. There is lot of sympathy for Muslims in India but not for South Indians like us!

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