Forget Me Not - The Kashmir Conflict
Photograph by Steve McCurry
Written by Poorvi Gupta
I remember last year in late August, I spoke to a fellow student in college (a Kashmiri migrant), and at that time the issue of article 370 being revoked was searing with debate and arguments from both sides- the conformists and the human rights advocators. When this topic was breached, I hesitantly asked for her opinion on the same. As she started to say something, her voice cracked a little, as if trying to spew out emotions and words stuck in her vocal cord, like barnacles on boats. She finally gathered herself and said, “I have remember last year in late August, I spoke to a fellow student in college (a Kashmiri migrant), n’t been able to contact any of them (her family) and we don’t even know if they’re okay. Someone was pregnant in my family and we’ve been trying to get a hold of the situation there and her condition but we have no idea how to reach out to them”.
Territorial disputes are as old as time itself- from the beginning of civilization, religion, and society. Most territorial disputes are the result of ethnic or racial conflicts. Disputes over land, resources, amenities, and political power more often than not lead to a stranded or disputed territory. And amidst this struggle of power, the biggest collateral damage is the innocent people who are left behind, drowned by the current of the combat.
The land of Kashmir has been the recipient of the incessant wrath of the dismembered nations of India and Pakistan- once a singular territory that was bifurcated into two dominions. This delineation caused a division of the states of Punjab and Bengal based on density of population belonging to either the Hindu or the Muslim clan. The partition displaced 10–12 million people along religious lines creating an inundating refugee crisis in the newly constituted dominions. And if that wasn’t enough, the aftermaths of the partition was felt even years after it happened, like aftershocks, in the subsequent years in the form of various wars fought between these two countries.
From 1947 to 1971, three deadly Indo-Pakistani wars (and the undeclared war of Kargil in 1999) were fought after the occupation and control over Kashmir, which to date remains a bone of contention. In 52 years post-independence, we took upon 4 wars and thousands of casualties. But apart from the unjust loss of lives, the most significant impact was on the state of Kashmir and its people. After living for nearly five months in a pandemic-ridden world, I am sure we have come to realize the pejorative effects of a lockdown, curfews, loss of livelihood and unavailability of resources. If only you imagine its impinge on your health, both physical and mental, as well as the political and economic instability it has ensued and multiply that into times hundred the suffering you’d perhaps start to understand the struggles of Kashmir.
After the 1980s, Kashmir saw the rise of a group of secessionists who believed in self-determination which led to further disputes with the government. With the dawn of 2010s Kashmir ironically never saw the day of light since the unrest and turmoil started to erupt a series of stone-pelting, fake encounters, killing of militants, citizens, and the Pulwama Attack.
The historical roots of this issue lie in the deep-seated hatred amongst the Muslim and Hindu communities. During the partition, Kashmir constituted 87% of Muslims and hence it was the obvious choice for the independent state of Kashmir to join Pakistan on the grounds of a cultural and religious affinity. However, under India’s pressure it was decided against the wishes of the people to join Pakistan in the partition plan and the state chose to ally with India.
Post this, India, in the name of the Instrument of Accession, consolidated its troops in the Jammu and Kashmir territory before the people of Jammu and Kashmir could decide their fate. The people of Jammu and Kashmir rejected this ‘forced accession’ and fought against the forcible occupation by Indian military forces. The UNSC passed numerous resolutions that validated the right of self-determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir through an impartial plebiscite. This right gave the people of Jammu and Kashmir a right to decide their political status freely. However, India, despite its façade of commitments to hold a plebiscite, always rejected these international interferences and relinquished the demand of having a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir.
Even though the area belonging to India under the agreement flourished before it crumbled (in the 2000s), in terms of tourism and development, India always overlooked the status of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and considered them ‘irrelevant’ in any negotiation process. And that is the key reason of dissent and dissatisfaction amongst the people of Kashmir. Even though India stated, in many communiqués, that it would honour the demand of the Kashmiris to self-determination, it never held its end. India refused any help offered by transnational forces and in March 1965, Indian Parliament passed a bill declaring Kashmir a province of India.
After this, many people took to the streets and revolted for a plebiscite in Kashmir, but they were tackled with brutal repression and callousness to curb the voices of these Kashmiris who wanted self-determination.
This irrational and obstinate fighting between the two nations has led to a media trope of Kashmir being known as “the most dangerous place on Earth” from once being called “heaven on earth”-encapsulated in the folds of the world’s most lavish and beautiful range of mountains, the Himalayas.
As if the years of persecution weren’t seemingly enough, on 5th august 2019, the government of India revoked the special status that had been granted to Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution. This article defined that Jammu and Kashmir ‘s residents lived under a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights, as compared to residents of other Indian states.
Considering the 73-year long period of oppression and violence subjected to the state, the special status made sense and was important for Kashmir since it was unlike any other regular state. It also exemplified the Federal system of India- how it worked according to the needs of different communities and ethnicities. However, as soon as the bill to abrogate Kashmir’s status was passed, in a matter of hours, many Kashmiri politicians were taken into custody or house arrested, communication lines were ripped off leaving Kashmir in a state of both literal and figurative blackout. All this while, the government unabashedly stood by their stance, veiling human rights violations in the name of development and growth of Kashmir. They claimed that this step was taken so that the people can access and enjoy the rights provided by the Indian constitution (at the cost of the citizens living blind-folded and barely getting by for months).
The injustice subjected on Kashmir was talked about fervently for almost four to five months, until the CAA-NRC Bill was introduced by the government- at a very shrewd time too, one would think- which directed the public’s attention away from Kashmir and people found something new to talk about. Now with COVID-19 on the rise, it’s almost as if the issue has been forgotten. We’re so engulfed by our tribulations of being ‘locked down in our homes’ that we chose to veer from the gravity of the Kashmir conflict onto other things. And I’m not comparing issues on an ordinal scale here; however, the presence of a new quandary to tackle doesn't mitigate or solve the previous ones.
It’ll be a year in a few days since the dark age (of 2019) took over Kashmir. It’s been almost 360 days since Kashmir and our people there have been exposed to inhuman treatment, close to none facilities, violence, mental and physical trauma, molestation and maltreatment of the worst kind possible. Without any communication from their side, in the absence of media and the internet, whatever is being disseminated to us can hardly be construed as true. What happens behind locked doors (or locked states) always morphs into different versions of the actual incidence as it is passed around. What we know might be an altered version of worse circumstances.
As I write this piece, the conversation that I had with my college-mate plays in the back of my mind. Amidst all the legalities and the stories of infringement, we forget about the pain of the common person who couldn’t care less what our fascist government thinks is the best for them or the nosy neighbouring countries or the United Nations does- sitting on the moral high ground, unable to do anything about it. The only thing people care for and wake up thinking about is their families, left behind in a vortex of incessant darkness, unable to contact them or check if they’re even breathing anymore.
We read about the malfeasance in Kashmir in the newspapers or on the internet and sigh because there’s not much we can do about it. So we read and move on. Well, I’d like to differ- because we can, instead of sighing, talk about it for as long as we can. The power to not let this issue be forgotten rests with us. We can (at least try to) let it not die down in the clamour of political propaganda and religious sectarianism, because in the end, it’s us against these social constructs that teach us to divide and fight amongst ourselves and not against the agents of power who are fissuring our societal system.
And if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that- we’re all in this together.