The Kashmir Cataclysm
When united India was being divided over religious and geopolitical lines, the princely states that were governed by the British crown were given three options i.e (a) to join the newly formed Union of India, (b) to join the nascent State of Pakistan, or (c) to remain independent with its own sovereignty.
The options, though seemingly simple, were gunged in an uncomfortable reality, especially in the case of the State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). The princely state was governed by Maharaja Hari Singh, a liege man of the British crown. A lot of tension has girdled the entire subcontinent over what is to become of this beautiful valley.
India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed states, have had three full-blown wars during their 72 years of existence over the issue of Kashmir. In the words of Mr Ram Jethmalani, the late illustrious jurist of India, “The Kashmir conundrum is probably one of the most vexatious and solution-resistant disputes in the contemporary world. It has [all] the ingredients of everything portentous and worrisome”.
There have been insurgencies, terrorists, religious extremism and arbitrary use of power from both states, and yes, the curtailment of socio-political rights in both divided parts of the valley. In the upcoming paragraphs, I have tried to discover as to how Kashmir was before the Indian Independence in 1947, and what has become of it now.
In 1846, a sale-deed was signed between the British crown and Raja Gulab Singh, which was later dubbed as “The Treaty of Amritsar”. In the aftermath of this antisocial agreement between both the parties, the valley of Kashmir started enjoying a special legal status. The state was to be exclusively ruled by the Dogra dynasty, but whenever there was a conflict of law, the word of the British crown was to be considered absolute and binding, overriding any decree or order passed by the local ruler.
In 1947, ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh, the state still enjoyed semi-independence and was connected to the British crown only in what was called the relationship of “paramountcy”. In layman terms, the relationship may be elaborated as that of a master and servant, minus the legal jargon. No ruler of the valley was ever in a position to negotiate anything with the great power that was Britain in those days, at least not on an equal footing.
Despite all of this, the valley under the Dogra Rule was an absolute monarchy, with all the executive powers exercised by the administrators of the maharaja, whereas the subjects were completely bereft of any kinds of rights. It would be unfair to say that the administration under the Dogra rule was peaceful and smooth. Majority of the valley’s population was Muslim by religion, whereas the ruler and many of his cronies were followers of Hinduism. This often led to a power struggle between the throne and its subjects, but with help from the Imperial powers, most of these rebellions were crushed with brute force. One such example is of the “Quit Kashmir Movement” of the 1930s under the leadership of Mr Sheikh Abdullah.
Following the footsteps of Mr Abdullah, the people of the valley started their demand for political and social rights. Two of their most important points of negotiation were: (a) The abdication of Maharaja Hari Singh, and (b) the abrogation of the so-called “Treaty of Amritsar”.
Apart from this, Mr Abdullah also drafted a manifesto with the support and help of other leaders of the National Conference, demanding and defining a peaceful progressive future for the people of the valley. The document was titled “New Kashmir” which demanded the maharaja that the citizens in the state of J&K be guaranteed freedom of conscience, worship, and that safeguards be put in place to ensure that no citizen was arrested, or detained, except by a decision from a competent court of law.
Some socio-economic rights were demanded, which included, but weren’t limited to, the right to receive work, the right to rest, the right to receive education, educational scholarships, equal rights for women and special protection to secure the interests of mother-child relation.
The manifesto was seen as an act of defiance, for which the late leader was arrested and persecuted. His defence was put up by Mr Asaf Ali, the late trial master of United India. But despite Mr Asaf’s brilliance in the court, Sheikh Abdullah was sent to jail in 1946. This document that got the Sheikh into the jail demanded the creation of a modern secular democracy with constitutional guarantees of liberty given to all citizens. Alas, the future of Kashmir would have been quite different had the manifesto been implemented in its true spirit.
A year passed by and then came the time of the subcontinent’s partition under the Indian Independence Act, 1947. With the departure of the British colonists, the state of J&K became wholly independent. During this unfortunate time, leaders of both Muslim Conference and National Conference were put behind bars and the decision was once again in the hands of despotic Maharaja Hari Singh.
What happened next is a part of history. Kashmir was divided into two parts as power politic came into play. The historians sympathetic with Pakistan blame Mr Jawaharlal Nehru’s sweet words and cunning charm for the accession of Kashmir by the maharaja to the Union of India, whereas, the other side claims that it was the act of invasion by Pakistani armed forces, disguised as Pashtun tribesmen, that set the bomb ticking.
A meticulous account on the matter of invasion of Kashmir by tribesmen and the powers that worked in the background can be found in Stuart Schaar’s biography of Eqbal Ahmad published by Oxford University Press. To calm the nerves of Kashmiri nation, Article 370 was put into the Constitution of Union of India. Under the said article, the state of Jammu & Kashmir was given a special status.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the relationship that developed between the Union of India under the leadership of Mr Nehru, and the State of Jammu & Kashmir, wasn’t much different from the one that existed under the infamous “Treaty of Amritsar” signed between British Crown and Dogra rulers; there was no equal footing. Hence, a new relationship of paramountcy cloaked as state autonomy was introduced to the people living in the areas. This led to a power struggle between both neighbours that claimed exclusive right over the valley, its land and people.
Smooth relations between both the states were bound to end, and a panicky premier of India was seen pleading the case of Indian exclusivity before the international community of civilised nations. Nations concerned with peace in the region suggested that a plebiscite be organised in both parts of Kashmir, and the three original options that were originally proposed to the heads of princely states at the time of British India’s disintegration, be given to Kashmiri people.
Due to the arrogance of Indian governments, and the lack of interest of their Pakistani counterparts, the plebiscite never took place, and is nowhere to be seen, but what followed in the years to come was a systematic ethnic cleansing of the people of Kashmir.
Indian politicians have always bragged about how they are the largest democracy of the world, and how their country is a heaven of civil and political liberties. What is exercised in the Indian State can be defined as “Selective Liberty”. There has been a theoretical border chalked out, and anybody who steps up to defy the state-defined border and limitation on the freedom of thought is either silenced through censorship or with brute force. Examples of people like Kanhaiya Kumar, Ravish Kumar, Arundhati Roy, etc are there for all to see. Dissenting voices like these have been hounded by the right-wing majority for speaking on matters of importance. The issue of Kashmir is one of those matters that fall outside the ambit of “allowed for discussion” things.
When asked about the use of excessive force in the valley, representatives of the Union of India start haranguing the questioner with legal diatribes on the validity of the accession. But unfortunately, no attention is paid towards the violent, illegal, antisocial and anti-civilised acts of India against the people of occupied Kashmir.
The draconian law of Armed Forces (J&K) Special Powers Act, passed by the Indian parliament, and concurred by an installed parliament in Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK), is a prime example. The act empowers members of the Indian armed forces to use force, arrest, or even kill civilians on mere suspicion of mischief or terrorism. A systematic program of violence, supported by various laws, has been leashed upon the people of IoK.
Use of brute force against unarmed civilians, and even children and the elderly, is considered a normal practice by the Indian forces stationed in Kashmir. Pellet guns, tear gas, and all other kinds of tactics have been employed to crush the indigenous uprising against the discriminatory and criminal acts of the Indian state. The most recent tragedy that hit the valley was the amendment in the Indian constitution that removed Article 370; the part of India’s constitution that gave Kashmir a special status.
With the said article’s removal, the chances for Kashmiris to opt out of the Indian union have decreased to the minimum. New laws have been introduced and Kashmir has been made a permanent part of India, despite the strong protest of the international community, as well as the people of Kashmir. Pakistani politicians made much hue and cry over the matter, but no step was taken to counter their neighbour’s move. It was all too late, too clumsy, and too half-hearted.
Kashmir, often termed a heaven on earth, has been metamorphosed into a living hell by state sponsored terrorism of the Indian government. Pakistani politicians and unelected members of legislative bodies often make it to the headlines of international tabloids by crying wolf about the miseries that surround the Kashmiri nation, but no serious step to reverse, or at-least mitigate the harm is ever proposed or taken.
The valley for both neighbouring countries has become analogous to what Afghanistan used to be for the formerly USSR and the United States of America during the dark days of Afghan jihad. A mixture of arrogance, incompetence, jingoism and cruelty has shaped the policies of both countries over the matter. While both pygmies fight to seize control of the valley, it is the common people that bleed, and die!
The author is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He tweets @sheraza29