In 2017, one of my Bangladeshi friends visited Kashmir. My friend liked the tourist areas but she commented that it felt like the 1971 period in Bangladesh when the Pakistani military were patrolling everywhere. In Kashmir people were under surveillance and the Indian military was patrolling. Ordinary Kashmiris were being watched in their everyday lives.
During my recent stay in the USA (2016–2018), I have observed diasporic Kashmiri communities and their “World Kashmir Awareness Forum”, and, now while in Australia (2020), I have seen the “Stand with Kashmir” group trying to raise peoples’ awareness of the Kashmiri situation through silent protests with pictures and placards.
In the history of the Indian Subcontinent, the rise of nationalism against the oppressive powers has been possible whenever peoples’ collective national identity overpowered repression. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, the Kashmiri’s ethnic and national identities, and their desire for freedom, have been silenced by India’s internal politics.
The global silence on the Kashmir question is deafening.
When I think of nationalism the first thing that comes to my mind is a nation formed by one group of people who share same ethnicity, culture and heritage and desire to gain autonomy or freedom from an oppressive or colonising regime.
Collective identity plays a crucial role in nationalism. As a student of history, I can recall the rise of nationalism in India that eventually led the British colonial power to leave India.
The British colonised India from 1858 to 1947. They applied a policy of “divide and rule”, and enriched their empire through exploitation. When they left India, the Indian Subcontinent was partitioned into Pakistan and India.
After Pakistan came into existence, the West Pakistani government exploited the people of East Pakistan, and denied their economic, cultural and political rights from 1947 to 1971. Finally, East Pakistan gained independence through the Liberation War of 1971, and became Bangladesh.
Amid this long history of the Indian Subcontinent, the Kashmir question remained unanswered. At the time of the Partition of India in 1947, the State of Jammu and Kashmir (known as Kashmir) had a Muslim majority of 78 per cent (and it remains the only Muslim majority population state in India).
During the partition of India, Jammu and Kashmir was a princely state. It had to choose between India or Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan were interested in Kashmir, which led to the Indo-Pakistan War of 1947-48. India offered military assistance and identity politics led the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh to accede to India.
Three wars were fought over Kashmir: the India-Pakistan wars of 1948 and 1965 and the Kargil War of 1999. There have also been constant issues of terrorism and blame games by both India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue.
After the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008, India blamed Pakistan and directly linked the attacks to the Kashmir problem. On 4 February 2009, the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, declared that Kashmir was the main cause of instability in the South Asian region.
Finally, on 5 August 2019, the Government of India revoked the limited autonomy granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution. Article 370 allowed Kashmir to have its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws.
Foreign affairs, defence and communications remained under the Indian central government (“Article 370: What happened with Kashmir and why it matters”, BBC.com, 6 August 2019). As a result, Kashmir lost its partial sovereignty, and it has been forced to abide by the Indian Constitution like the other Indian states.
Ms Mehbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, and other political leaders in Kashmir say that the Kashmiris were not consulted about India’s intention to annex the state, and hence the abrogation of Article 370 was “illegal and unconstitutional”. They say it is a brutal occupation, and has paved the way for the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Muslim majority.
Kashmiri residents reacted to the news despite a communication blackout. The Indian authorities had shut down the internet in Kashmir. The Indian government described these measures as “strictly an internal matter” (“India’s clampdown on Kashmir continues”, The Washington Post, 13 August 2019).