Kashmiri Muslims in Danger as Hindu Politicians Cancel Their Rights

Police in Kashmir confronting protesters in December 2018. The new plan by India to take full control of Jammu and Kashmir will remake the map of the Himalayan border areas. Pakistan is working on bringing the highly disputed action by India into the UN Security Council. CREATIVE COMMONS

It has always been relatively easy for Indian governments from both the political left and right to keep Kashmir from the eyes of the world. At no time has this been more obvious than now. Landlocked, under the guns of half a million Indian troops and paramilitaries, cut off sporadically from all modern communications and portrayed as a nest of Pakistani-backed Islamic terrorists, Kashmiris have suffered in isolation.

Then it got worse. On Aug. 5-6 the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) administration in Delhi, still fresh from an astounding election victory in May, rammed through two houses of Parliament, without consultation or serious debate, a remaking of the map of Himalayan border areas. The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir — never recognized in international eyes as legally Indian — was effectively erased from the map of the subcontinent to be divided into two territories under direct control of the central government of India. They became “union territories,” at a loss of political power, state-level government and legislatures.

Ladakh, with its largely Buddhist population, was hived off to become a separate, central government-controlled territory, and its people are reported to be happy about that, since they chafed at living under the larger Jammu and Kashmir state. (No mention seems to have been made of a small border area along the Himalayas claimed by China.) The rest of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, will become the second new union territory.

The Indian government imposed an additional pre-emptive order on the Kashmiri Muslim part of the territory, with Srinagar as its central town and cultural capital. Hindus (or any other non-Kashmiris) would now have the right to own property in territory that had been reserved for the Kashmiri people — not all of them Muslim — since the Indian constitution was promulgated in 1950. Jammu and Kashmir’s population is about 14 million, with about half concentrated in and around the Kashmir Valley.

Underlying and motivating the BJP’s actions was the longstanding goal of Hindu nationalists to change the ethnic-religious composition of Kashmir by fostering the growth of what would eventually be a Hindu majority, as there is in the Jammu sector. Kashmiris see themselves as unique, Sufi-inspired Muslims, different from other Muslim communities in India. They lived in what the more romantic of the British who summered there on elegant houseboats called the Vale of Kashmir.

Pakistan, which has disputed India’s claims on Kashmir for decades and is still a party to 1948 Security Council resolutions that have never been rescinded, is working on a response to the Indian moves and strategizing over how to bring the United Nations back into dealing with the crisis.

A letter from the Pakistan foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, to Secretary-General António Guterres on Aug. 6, which is now online, asked that India’s actions be brought to the Security Council’s attention. (UN document A/73/974-S/2019/635)

[Update, Aug. 12: Pakistan said on Saturday that it had gained China’s support to take a motion to the UN Security Council on the Indian decision to change the status of Jammu and Kashmir, according to Reuters news agency.]

Stripping the Jammu and Kashmir region of rights that had been enshrined in Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution has brought a round of criticism from prominent Indian commentators and some media organizations. They question how the Modi government can square this policy with its claims to being the world’s most populous democracy. Blame for the draconian decision is placed on Amit Shah, the new home minister under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Shah, a tough enforcer, is an outspoken Hindu nationalist opposed to immigration, who has been quoted calling migrants from Bangladesh “termites.”

Siddharth Varadarajan, a former editor of The Hindu and a founding editor of The Wire, wrote on Aug. 6:


 

 

“That Shah’s bombshells were accompanied by the kind of measures one normally associates with a police state — the stealthy introduction of major constitutional changes, the lack of adequate time for debate, the late night arrest of mainstream political leaders in Kashmir, the prohibition of public gatherings, the shutdown of internet services and even landlines — adds the sort of odour one normally associates with coups. The message is clear: there will be no room in Kashmir for free politics of the kind every integral part of India takes for granted.”

By Aug. 8, reports in the Indian media emerged of hundreds of detentions and Kashmiri families running out of food. Most journalists have been barred from entering or working in  Kashmir.

Varadarajan, commenting on the trajectory of the second term of the Modi government, which first came to power in 2014, defeating a weakened Congress party, wrote: “Make no mistake about this — what Amit Shah and Narendra Modi have unveiled on Monday is not just an assault on the unique place that Jammu and Kashmir enjoys in India but on the very federal structure of the Indian constitution. If they spent their first term in office undermining a whole host of institutions, Modi 2.0 will target the one institution that was still somewhat intact — federalism.”

Hafsa Kanjwal is an assistant professor of South Asian history at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., and an expert on Kashmiri history and politics. She said in an interview with PassBlue that it is important to keep the focus on the constitutional issue and not leave the impression that the current Kashmir crisis is reflective solely of a Hindu-Muslim divide.

“The constitutional issue is important for international observers, human rights organizations, international jurists, other countries or the UN to highlight the unconstitutionality [of India’s action] on an international level,” she said. “It also is important to those Indians who care about the law and the constitution. It gives them a talking point to take this issue forward without necessarily having to show [support] for the Kashmiris or their aspirations.”

Kanjwal added that some Indian lawyers are already issuing statements arguing that India’s actions are illegal and violate international norms. Lining up international legal experts with Indian lawyers to speak with a single voice can provide cover when “an individual voice can be completely trolled,” she said. International voices are just beginning to be heard.

Narendra Modi, prime minister of India. His act of stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its regional rights is hard to reconcile with India’s claim to being the world’s most populous democracy, critics say. CREATIVE COMMONS

Pakistan — nuclear armed, as is India — reacted first, as would be expected. Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former world-famous cricketer who led a new party of his own creation, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice) to victory in a national election a year ago, has made several overtures to India since taking office, but there has been no reciprocation. In February this year, relations were set back further when a Kashmiri suicide bomber killed about 40 Indian troops in a military convoy on the Srinagar-Jammu highway in Pulwama district.

India retaliated 12 days later with an airstrike that went wrong when an Indian plane was shot down and the pilot captured. Khan returned the pilot to India unharmed. In July, the Pakistanis arrested Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist group that carried out the deadly attacks in Mumbai in 2008. He had been living more or less openly in Pakistan. More recently, Pakistan began restoring an ancient Hindu temple that had fallen into ruins over more than 70 years.

Such gestures are now on hold, however, after India’s unilateral action on Kashmir. Pakistan has cut trade ties with India and sent the Indian high commissioner (ambassador) home.

The Pakistani government is now considering how to get the Indian moves on Kashmir onto the UN Security Council agenda, a difficulty because of the veto power of Russia, which often supports India; and China, which has not showed its hand, and the apparent indifference of the United States. The two top Democratic members of the US Congress on foreign affairs, Eliot Engel in the House of Representatives and Senator Bob Menendez in the Senate, issued a bland statement that said, in its totality:


 

 

“As the world’s largest democracy, India has an opportunity to demonstrate for all its citizens the importance of protecting and promoting equal rights including freedom of assembly, access to information and equal protections under the law. Transparency and political participation are the cornerstones of representative democracies, and we hope the Indian government will abide by these principles in Jammu and Kashmir. And at the same time Pakistan must refrain from any retaliatory aggression — including support for infiltrations across the Line of Control — and take demonstrable action against the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistan’s soil.”

Pakistan has some points on its side at the UN. When British Colonial India was divided into the modern nations of India and Pakistan, Kashmir’s future was left to be resolved later. On the Indian side, a Hindu Maharaja was the titular ruler of a largely Muslim population and the final status of his “princely state,” as it was known, was to be decided by the people who lived there. No border was fixed in that region between India and Pakistan.

Kashmir escaped the horrific violence that claimed at least a million lives in other areas of India proper as Muslims fled to the newly created Pakistan and mostly Hindus returned through chaos and violence to India. The Line of Control became a de facto border that has remained so since.

Security Council Resolution 38 in January 1948 asked the Council president to open direct talks between India and Pakistan. In the interim, it requested “each of those Governments to inform the Council immediately of any material change in the situation which occurs or appears to either of them to be about to occur while the matter is under consideration by the Council, and consult with the Council thereon.”

That resolution has never been revoked and remains on the books, as Secretary-General Guterres reiterated in a statement on Aug. 8, saying:

“The Secretary-General has been following the situation in Jammu and Kashmir with concern and makes an appeal for maximum restraint. The position of the United Nations on this region is governed by the Charter of the United Nations and applicable Security Council resolutions.

“The Secretary-General also recalls the 1972 Agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, also known as the Simla Agreement, which states that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

“The Secretary-General is also concerned over reports of restrictions on the Indian-side of Kashmir, which could exacerbate the human rights situation in the region. The Secretary-General calls on all parties to refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir.”

In an interview with PassBlue, Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, indicated that her government’s position has consistently been and will remain that India’s changes in the status of Kashmir violate that fundamental Security Council resolution.

“The resolution talks about that no country can bring about a material change in the situation, and there are no statute of limitations on Security Council resolutions,” she said.


 

 

There is also the presence of a UN monitoring mission, however small, on the Pakistani-India line that attests to the continuing role of the UN there. Replying to a question from PassBlue about the future of that mission, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, known as Unmogip, a UN peacekeeping spokesman said in an email, “The mandate of UNMOGIP as established by the Security Council remains unchanged and UNMOGIP continues to implement its mandate.”

Ambassador Lodhi said that amid all the discussions of legal and constitutional issues, however, what is often lost is the plight of the people of Kashmir.

Shiraz Sidhva, an Indian journalist who reported extensively on Kashmir for the Indian press and the Financial Times in the 1990s, remembers those days.

“As a young girl holidaying in Kashmir in the 1970s,” she wrote to PassBlue in an email, “I remember my surprise that staff at the houseboats and hotels, or the men who took us on pony rides in Gulmarg and Pahalgam had one stock question: ‘Are you visiting from India?’ ‘But we are in India, aren’t we?’ would be my constant and indignant retort. The people of Kashmir were always warm and welcoming to the hordes of Indian tourists who would invade the valley every year, but they never thought of themselves as Indian.

“Years later, when I returned to the valley in 1989, to cover the political turmoil, it struck me how politicians had tried to drive a wedge between the Kashmiri Muslims and Hindu Pandits — and succeeded,” she wrote. “The two communities, who had more in common with each other than with Muslims and Hindus in other parts of India, had lived together in harmony for centuries. The Kashmiri Muslims followed Sufism, a gentle, broader style of worship, and most did not align themselves with the Islam in Pakistan, across the border.

“The ending of this religious harmony was one of the biggest tragedies of the crisis that gripped the valley starting in the late 1980s.”

This article has been updated.

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2 thoughts on “Kashmiri Muslims in Danger as Hindu Politicians Cancel Their Rights”

  1. 3 points:
    1. First Kashmir was untouched but Jammu Muslims weren’t so please read the following: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/forgotten-massacre-ignited-kashmir-dispute-171106144526930.html
    2. There was no Kashmiri Pundit/Hindu ‘Genocide’ as India claim. 219 Pundits were killed in the 2-3 early years of the insurgency when a lot of elements were active in Kashmir. Freedom fighters, Pakistan sponsored militants & Indian sponsored militants. In the initial chaos where people were accused of being informants for India a lot of people died which included the pundits but multiple times more muslims as well which no one talks about. Then India came in & took out almost all of the Kashmiri Pundits out of Kashmir in truckloads in a matter of days. Nowadays, those Pundits coerced by India claim that thousands were massacred which they call the “Pundit Massacre” which never happened & there is no evidence for it, yet this lie is peddled. Please read…
    (a) https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/spotlight/kashmirtheforgottenconflict/2011/07/201176134818984961.html (b) https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/kashmiri-pandits-imagine-idea-return-kashmir-190810183932740.html (c) https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/kashmir-struggle-start-1947-today-190815093053238.html (d) https://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/opinion/were-sorry-we-betrayed-you/

    Some questions arise:
    (1) Why were only Kashmiri Pundits/Hindus taken out to be protected from the armed militants when scores more muslims were killed? Did they not deserve protection?
    (2) If there was a genocide why are the 8000 or so Pundits living in the valley safe to this day from 1989 till now. Why didn’t anyone kill them?

    3. Second point to understand is that India have tried to subvert Kashmirs politics from Day 1 by Jailing the Kashmiri Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah when India got wind that his faith in India was shaken & we was looking to take Kashmir towards Independence, the dissolving the Constituent Assembly in the 1950’s which was the mechanism by which India could propose laws & edicts in Kashmir. By dissolving it India took control of Kashmir subsequently installing puppet politicians who played India’s tune by setting up the legislative assembly & a Governer who was an Indian lackey in the state doing India’s bidding. Elections were rigged by India, which came to a head in 1987 when a local party won but India rigged the election for their own puppet to be installed which made the roots for the insurgency & armed struggle which started in 1989. India have sinisterly subverted Kashmiri politics which showed the Kashmiri people that India’s intentions in Kashmir are not honourable as was demonstrated by the latest antic of India, revoking article 370 & 35A.

    There is only one solution to the problem, implementing UN Resolutions & giving the Kashmiris their right to self determination. Otherwise, the cycle of violence will never end. Innocent Kashmiri men, women & children will continue to be killed, raped or tortured by the Indian Army. Pakistan & India will keep facing off with their nuclear arsenal in the ready. All it will take is a vote to fix it all but the world likes to see innocent people die it seems.

    Reply
  2. I would like to add that Indian Army atrocities/human rights abuses started way back in 1989 (some before as well but full throttle in 1989). I was in Kashmir in 1989 & any action by militants was responded to by the Indian Army by entering homes & killing/harassing/raping the civilian population as retaliation. This fuelled the insurgency as well. The practice of contaminating food rations of Kashmiris was a practice that was started back then.
    Also, you might be wondering did i mention ‘Indian Sponsored Militants’ in my earlier post. To what end, you may be asking? Well, it was to malign the genuine freedom struggle of the Kashmiris by making it look like terrorism. Indian sponsored militants used to pretend to be with the armed struggle but used to harass the civilian population & act like a real terrorist group by targeting civilians. They used to dress in black & go into houses by stealth to scare civilians at night in an effort at psy-ops & striking fear in the people. India also had the Black Panther division deployed in Kashmir who were also involved in a whole host of secretive activities to malign the freedom struggle & strike fear in Kashmiri Civilians.

    Reply

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