Kashmiri women protesting the Indian Government Status Change. Source: The Caravan
“Kashmir is not the property of India or Pakistan. It belongs to the Kashmiri people. When Kashmir acceded to India, we made it clear to the Leaders of the Kashmiri people that we would ultimately abide by the verdict of their plebiscite. If they tell us to walk out, I would have no hesitation in quitting Kashmir. We have taken the issue to the United Nations and given our word of honour for a peaceful solution. As a great nation, we cannot go back on it. We have left the question of final solution to the people of Kashmir and we are determined to abide by their decision.”
-First Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru 1952
On August 5th, 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Indian government voted to repeal Articles 370 and 35A, the core of Kashmir’s conditional accession to India, without the consent of the Kashmiri people. This repeal demolishes the states of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and the special rights and privileges Kashmiri permanent residents have there.
Hours prior to the official announcement, India had deployed an extra 35,000 troops to the 500,000 - 700,000 troops already stationed in Kashmir and cut off the state’s communication networks. Kashmir has remained under military enforced lockdown since August 5th. Internet access and phone services have been cut off, ATMs have been emptied of cash, access to basic needs and other medications have been severely restricted. Additionally 4,000 people have been detained and the prisons are overcrowded to the point where the Indian government is now flying detainees out to neighboring states. There have also been reports of children being taken away by the police and held indefinitely.
Indian police used tear gas and pellets to fight back at least 10,000 people protesting Delhi’s withdrawal of special rights for Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state in its main city of Srinagar on August 9th. Spokespersons from the Indian government denied any large scale protests despite video footage carried by international news channels, which showed large crowds of people protesting in Srinagar. A five year old girl, Muneefa Nazir, had been sitting on her uncle’s bike preparing for the upcoming Eid celebrations when a jawan, junior ranking officer, from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), India’s largest Central Armed Police Force and considered to be the World’s largest paramilitary force, hit her in the eye with a stone from his catapult. Her right eyeball was dislocated. Doctors and hospitals were being pressured by the police to discharge pellet wound patients as quickly as possible in order to avoid media speculation.
So, what are they protesting and what does the removal of Article 370 and 35 mean?
With the removal of Article 370, non-Kashmiris now have the legal ability to purchase land within Kashmir. With Kashmiri land open to the rest of India, this is an opportunity for large corporations to buy up lucrative areas and economically “develop” the state. However, this policy change is concerning when considering the fact that Kashmir is mostly populated by Muslims in a government that has built itself on Hindu nationalism, in addition the decision was taken neither with the Kashmiri people being informed nor their consent. This plays into discourse which wants to “integrate” Kashmir with the rest of India while the region being disputed with Pakistan and China. More importantly, this plays into a longer history of the Kashmiri people’s choice of what their lands fate should be. This discourse reduces Kashmir to its potential land profits, particularly with tourism and business development, without care of Kashmiri people.
It is essential to examine the current events in Kashmir in relation to the BJP’s broader goals with India. According to various human rights groups in India, communal violence has increased due to the BJP’s active promotion of Hindu nationalism since Modi’s election in 2014. These acts of communal violence impact most of the country’s minorities, including Dalits, Sikhs and Christians, though Muslims have faced the brunt of these attacks through lynchings, threats, attacks on places of worship and forced conversion. Anti-Muslims and casteist laws have been proposed, such as the infamous “beef ban” due to the Hindu belief of cows being sacred, leading to acts of “cow vigilantism” by mob groups. People who have critiqued the Hindu nationalist government are deemed as “Anti-India” and “anti-nationals.” Critics of Modi’s government points to an overarching goal to make India a “Hindu State” instead of the secular state the BJP claims to be.
The tensions along communal lines in Kashmir were present long before the 1980s, as is evident from the legacy of enduring caste privileges and colonialism. This can be seen in the 1947 massacre of Muslims in Jammu or the hardline Hindu politics against the Muslim majority on the "Kashmir question" in the early years of post-independence India. The growing differences between Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims serve the overarching goals of Hindutva ideologies widely advocated by the BJP and its supporters. The tearing apart of any pan-Kashmiri identity along communal lines has been engineered over time to serve a variety of interests relating to economic development, militarisation, and the proliferation of the Hindutva ideology that benefits from divided Kashmiri communities.
Ilina Krishen is a graduate from the University of Michigan (2019) with a BA in History and a minor in Gender & Health. Her experiences as a first generation Kashmiri-American woman and a political organizer inform her views on the need for activism to empower her community members and to deconstruct systems of power in the struggle for equality. Having an interest in post-colonial South Asia and Asian American activism, she strives to bring visibility to her Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) counterparts whose histories are often neglected. Ilina hopes to deconstruct stereotypes often attributed to the AAPI community as well as bring LGBTQ and activist narratives to the forefront of this research. With her experience in political organizing, human rights research and public policy, Ilina hopes to work with marginalized communities to empower them and build solidarity between various groups. Through her research and activism, she aims to inform her audience and to build a more equitable society. Ilina recently published a paper on Kashmir in the context of partition in the Michigan Journal of History as well as a website on Deconstructing the Model Minority. She is currently a Michigan in the World 2019 Fellow researching the University of Michigan's role in the U.S. administration of the Philippines.
Medha Krishen is a senior studying History & International Studies, with a focus on human rights violations & immigration. On campus, she is the Vice President of the Michigan Foreign Policy Council & the Director of Outreach for [RE]vive. The previous summer she has interned for the Subcommittee on International Human Rights and the Committee on Immigration at the Canadian Parliament. Outside of school, Medha runs a food blog where she writes about food and has previously published a cookbook. She hopes to combine her interests in food & international relations through her blog & academic research.