KASHMIR’S beauty is the stuff of fables. Forested hillsides and lofty glacier-covered peaks of the mountain range surround the heavily populated central valley, which nestles picturesquely against the backdrop of the Himalayas. Over the ages, poets and writers have extolled its scenic splendour in superlative terms, bestowing on it appellations such as “Heaven on Earth”. On the map of India, the State of Jammu and Kashmir resembles a coronet.
Thus, Kashmir’s traditionally gentle and peaceful people, who were mainly farmers, were a downtrodden and exploited lot for centuries by foreign dynasties who ruled them one after the other.
The British sold Kashmir to Raja Gulab Singh, a Hindu warlord of the Dogra family in Jammu for 7.5 million rupees (750,000 pounds) under the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar. It was an illegal and immoral deal undertaken without the knowledge of the Kashmiri people who opposed the transaction because it placed them under forced Hindu rule. Their uprisings were brutally crushed by the Maharaja with the support of the British.
Thus began a new era of oppression in modern Jammu and Kashmir. The Hindu Dogras didn’t waste time in unleashing waves of terror and inflicting unprecedented cruelty against Muslims . One Western writer described the vicious anti-Muslim campaign, where Kashmiri Pandits served as willing tools as, “venting upon five centuries of pent up hatred of Hindus against Muslim rule”. Muslims were thrown into jail, often without trial and even around the 1920’s a Muslim was given capital punishment for killing a cow. They were kept so economically downtrodden that even in the mid-1940’s, their per capita income was only eleven rupees, of which they paid a tax of around 21 percent per head, besides paying a levy almost on everything from salt to saffron.
Maharajah’s favourite pastime was the persecution of Muslims. So obsessed was he with this sadistic pogrom that he promulgated a law to punish Muslims by flogging for engaging in political activities and ordinary citizens were bludgeoned by Maharaja’s soldiers if they did not shout “maharaja ki jai” – victory to the Maharajah. There were even reports of Hindu ruler Gulab Singh having personally directed “skinning Kashmiri Muslims alive” when the executioner hesitated. The Maharaja’s police also stopped the Friday Kuthba sermons at congregational prayers in Jammu, blasphemously stating that the Holy Quranic verses pertaining to Moses and Pharaoh indirectly advocated sedition.
Unable to tolerate the Maharaja’s campaign of abuse and extermination, his Prime Minister Albion Bannerji, a Bengali Christian, resigned and issued a public statement saying that “the large Muslim population was governed by the Maharaja like dump-driven cattle, the press was non-existent and the economic conditions were appalling”. As early as 1924, Muslims presented a memorandum to the British Viceroy complaining against the Maharaja’s brutality against them and setting out popular demands.
But things started to change in the 1930s when Kashmiri Muslims, shedding their traditional submissiveness, began asserting themselves with an action for better human rights. Their campaign comprised a wave of non-violent protests. They first began meeting in reading room parties, followed by mosques, before their frustration erupted into revolt after the Maharajah permitted political parties for non-Muslims such as pundits, Hindu Saba and Sikhs and deprived the same to Muslims who constituted the majority.
The revolt brought an unemployed teacher Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah to prominence, who later played a crucial, but often controversial, role in Kashmiri politics. Reacting swiftly, the Maharajah declared martial law, threw Sheikh Abdullah into prison and mowed down Muslims with gunfire. The scale of the oppression forced the British Viceroy to urge the Maharaja to adopt a conciliatory policy and send the Glancy Commission to Srinagar to study Muslim grievances. Two years later, revolt broke out again and the Maharaja crushed it with martial law, killing and arresting thousands, confiscating property and imposing heavy fines. Revolts against the Maharajah continued to brew and the political opposition erupted into open resistance in 1946. Intensifying his oppression against Muslims, the Maharajah strengthened his Sikh and Hindu garrisons in Muslims areas while calling Muslims to surrender arms. This resulted in the Muslims organising themselves into guerrilla groups under the movement led by Sazrdar Mohammed Ibrahim Khan.
The centuries-old deep rooted suspicions in Kashmir began increasing dangerously when the Subcontinent was partitioned under the separation plan of the Indian Independence Act of 1947, which established two autonomous countries, India and Pakistan, which included present Bangladesh. Kashmir was given the opportunity to accede to India or Pakistan. In September 1947, the Maharaja sent Mehr Chand Mahajan, who was to formally assume office as Prime Minister to Delhi to confer with Congress strongman Vallbhai Patel, Gandhi, Nehru and Mountbatten who told Mahajan that “as Governor General of India, I would be happy if you advise the Maharaja to accede to India”.
And as expected, the Hindu Maharajah acceded Kashmir, against the will of the people, to India in October 1947 and ordered Muslims to voluntarily surrender their weapons. The Muslims resisted and the Maharajah responded by eliminating around 500,000 Muslims – 200,000 Muslims killed and the remaining 300,000 fled to the Pakistani side of the border. The doyen of Indian politics, Rajagopalachari, said in 1964, “the accession of Kashmir took place under great peril and for the purpose of getting immediate military assistance to serve a hapless people from an unforeseen immoral external attack. It was not an intention to claim it as an irrevocable affiliation”.
Pakistan said Maharajah’s accession as an act based on fraud and violence, thus, triggering off the dispute between India and Pakistan, which resulted in three wars and dissipated a good deal of the two countries’ time and energy. As a result, Kashmir, a virtual battleground, has become the dangerous flashpoint.
This began the new phase of Kashmir’s freedom struggle which continues to date with no end in sight.
Addressing the UN Security Council on 15 January 1948, India’s representative N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar referred to a statement made by the British Governor General Lord Mountbatten upon the accession of Kashmir to India, pledging that “the question of the state’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people” and described this statement and policy as “high principled statesmanship”. He added that “as to the future status of Kashmir, whether she should withdraw from her accession to India, and either accede to Pakistan or remain independent, with a right to claim admission as a Member of the UN – all this we have recognised to be a matter for unfettered decision by the people of Kashmir after normal life is restored to them”.
By then, Sheikh Abdullah too was disillusioned with Delhi. Referring to the commitment about the accession being a provision, Sheikh Abdullah admitted during a session of the Jammu and Kashmir State People’s Convention in 1970, that in 1947 he had erred by trusting Nehru. “I trusted Nehru and I never thought Nehru would change”. A month later, during a visit to Srinagar, the then Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi said that “the accession of Kashmir is part of our history and history cannot be reversed or changed. The Kashmir question has been settled once and for all”. This declaration of the Indian position was followed by the arrest of pro-Pakistan political activists.
Despite the Maharaja’s accession to Kashmir, India agreed to respect the views of Kashmiris and hold a plebiscite. In a letter to then Pakistan Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan, the Indian Prime Minister Nehru assured that ‘Kashmir’s accession to India is subject to reference to the people of the state for their decision’. He added that ‘Kashmir’s accession has been accepted on condition that as soon as law and order situations have been restored’ the people of Kashmir would themselves decide the question of accession. He added that “our assurance regarding the future of the state to the people of the state is not merely a pledge to your government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world”. Repeating the same undertaking in a radio broadcast, Pundit Nehru said, “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people….We will not, and cannot back out of it. We are prepared, when peace is restored, to hold a referendum under international auspices like the United Nations. We want it to be a just and fair reference to the people, and we shall accept their verdict”.
Addressing the UN Security Council on 15 January 1948, India’s representative N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar referred to a statement made by the British Governor General Lord Mountbatten upon the accession of Kashmir to India, pledging that “the question of the state’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people” and described this statement and policy as “high principled statesmanship”. He added that “as to the future status of Kashmir, whether she should withdraw from her accession to India, and either accede to Pakistan or remain independent, with a right to claim admission as a Member of the UN – all this we have recognised to be a matter for unfettered decision by the people of Kashmir after normal life is restored to them”. By then, Sheikh Abdullah too was disillusioned with Delhi. Referring to the commitment about the accession being a provision, Sheikh Abdullah admitted during a session of the Jammu and Kashmir State People’s Convention in 1970, that in 1947 he had erred by trusting Nehru. “I trusted Nehru and I never thought Nehru would change”. A month later, during a visit to Srinagar, the then Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi said that “the accession of Kashmir is part of our history and history cannot be reversed or changed. The Kashmir question has been settled once and for all”. This declaration of the Indian position was followed by the arrest of pro-Pakistan political activists.
United Nations Involvement
As early as 1948, India called upon the United Nations to intervene in the Kashmir dispute. Both India and Pakistan agreed on one thing from the very beginning: the principle that Kashmir’s future would finally be settled by a plebiscite.
In response to an Indian request, the UN Security Council met on January 15 1948, and the Indian representative Gopalaswamy Ayyangar reminded the Council of the statement made by the then Governor General Lord Mountbatten “pledging that the question of the state’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people”. Pakistan struck to its original demand for a “fool proof” plebiscite supported by the Security Council which emphasised the need for a plebiscite conducted by the UN and an impartial government and rejected the Indian stand that the administration and actual conduct of a plebiscite was an internal affair for Kashmir.
The world media was critical of India’s reaction to Sir Owen’s proposals. The London Times, usually cautious in its comments on international affairs and that too on Commonwealth relations stated that “like most great men, Nehru has a blind spot. In his case it is Kashmir, the land of his forbearers which he loves like a woman. Because he is not amenable to reason on this subject, but allows emotion to get the better of common sense, Kashmir remains a stumbling block in the path of an India-Pakistan friendship. So long as it is so, India’s moral standing is impaired, her will to peace is in doubt, and her right to speak for Asia is questioned by her next door neighbour. Critics may well ask, if self-determination under UN auspices is valid for Korea (as India advocates) why is it not valid for Kashmir?”
Uprising and Separatist Movement
Political manoeuvrings of the Central Government in Delhi, the rigging of elections in 1987, (and later in 1996), years of political frustrations, economic problems and poverty, combined with many other factors, led to the 1989 uprising which became a crucial turning point in the Kashmiri Muslims’ freedom struggle.
With the Kashmiris intensifying their struggle for self-determination, Indian forces began unleashing atrocities to silence the people and crush their freedom struggle. The Indian army and para-military forces were given wide powers under an ordinance promulgated on July 5, 1990 to raid and even destroy houses suspected of harbouring militants and hiding arms and ammunition. Since then, thousands of houses were demolished with the occupants rendered homeless, while an innumerable number of civilians too were killed.
Highlighting the atrocities the Weekend Guardian, London, reported as early as 4 August 1991 that “after a visit to Kashmir in 1991, the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said at a press conference in New Delhi that ‘the brutalities of the Indian army and the Central Reserve Police meant that India may have lost Kashmir’”. Curfews preventing routine movements in the streets and even at homes and ruthless crackdowns had been two of the most deadly strategies adopted by India. It was often said that barbarism inflicted, often demonstrated the hatred and intolerance towards Kashmiri Muslims.
Raping women became a daily occurrence to break the spirit and soul of Kashmiri Muslims. The exact number of rapes will never be known as Kashmiri women who prefer death to dishonour, refuse to speak about their shameful ordeal and prefer to suffer the indignity in silence. Yet cases of rape, including those in front of family members and children by Indian forces were documented by many human rights organisations. One such document was The Rape of Kashmiri Women by Shabnam Qayyum. According to these reports men were herded into nearby fields for questioning while women at home were raped at will. Severe crackdown and atrocities intensified anti-Indian feelings, triggering off anti-India demonstrations and the State was brought under direct Indian Presidential rule.
Jammu and Kashmir state Governor K. V. Krishna Rao admitted that Indian forces had been responsible for the massacre of the Kashmir people on several occasions and that he felt deeply for the victims of these human rights violations.
India often use terms such as “fundamentalists” and “terrorists” to exploit the fear associated with this phenomenon to divert attention from its crimes.
Summing up the situation one writer said “hell has been let loose on Kashmiris and what happens in Kashmir is not made known to the Indian people by national dailies and government owned media which distort events”. Besides the common feeling of being betrayed by India of its promises to hold a plebiscite the arbitrary arrests, regular and systematic use of torture in interrogation camps, indiscriminate and extra judicial killings, brutal search operations, ransacking of homes and even raping women in the presence of family members and children added fuel to their anger.
Today, life in general remains paralysed with bomb attacks, reprisals, cross firing and curfew. The misery is worse for those living in and around areas known for freedom activities as they become targets for large-scale inhumane search operations. Once beautiful Srinagar is now a dirty and dusty ghost city; with uncollected rubbish littering the roadsides. Life sputters in the lanes and by lanes, while streets, full of potholes, are deserted and the charred remains of many beautiful buildings speak volumes for the unfolding tragedy. Dal Lake is thick and stagnant with weeds.
Almost every Kashmiri has a tale to tell of a family member being grabbed by security forces, not to be seen again. Besides being subjected to crackdowns and cross firing, Kashmiris have also been deprived of their livelihood, as the on going uprising and the atrocities of the armed forces resulted in the abrupt drop in the number of tourist arrivals. As a result, houseboat owners, the Hanjios, who for generations managed these houseboats, hotel owners and those who depend on tourism to sell their traditional handicrafts, trishaw wallahs, tonga drivers, taxi drivers and hundreds of thousands of others have lost their only source of income.
Muslims were excluded from key jobs and Kashmiris feel that there was a general onslaught on Muslim culture and identity through the education curriculum and, socially, the standards of education have deteriorated considerably as children find it difficult to go to school. Most schools in rural areas have been occupied by security forces and some of them converted into interrogation centres. In this sickening environment, health services too have declined as hospitals are not only deprived of facilities, equipment and medicines, but doctors, too, have fled the area in fear of their lives after some of them were killed. Besides other related ailments, psychiatric cases continue to record a remarkable increase and the weeping relatives and onlookers standing by has become all too common near graves of the ever-increasing number of martyrs’ cemeteries.
Amnesty International stated that the “brutality of torture defies belief and has left people mutilated and disabled for life. The severity of torture meted out by the Indian security forces in Kashmir has been the main reason for the appalling numbers of death in custody”.
Thus they challenge Indian rule.
India’s extreme measures to deal with frequent widespread riots came under criticism by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other such organisations. Lord Eric Averbury, Chairman of the British Parliament Human Rights committee said as early as 28 December 1993 that “the West should also fight shoulder to shoulder with the Kashmiris in their fight for independence”.
The people of Kashmir have made it clear that their grievances must be heard and their wishes ascertained through their legitimate representatives. Kashmiri Muslims, who do not see themselves as Indian citizens, point out that the Indian claim that Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian union is unilateral, unrecognised and untenable in law and logic. They continue to hold the view that the accession of Kashmir to India cannot be considered as valid under international law and the issue cannot be side tracked as proved by history that time has only aggravated and not healed the conflict.
They ask “how can we live under an Indian government after all what its security forces have done, and are still doing, to destroy our lives. India described the uprising as “secessionist” or “separatist” to cover crimes committed by its army and paramilitary forces in Kashmir, where the people continued to ask “how can a people secede from what they never acceded to and separate from what they never joined?”
Kashmiri Muslims, treated as second class citizens, feel that a plebiscite is the only and time honoured way out. Unless Kashmiris are given the opportunity to decide their fate, the state is bound to burn for generations to come. As one Kashmiri said “if the present generation is silenced through oppressive measures, then the next will learn not only about the plebiscite, but also the oppression of their fathers and seek, perhaps, through more sophisticated armed struggle to regain their freedom what their forefathers too fought for”.
The late Bertrand Russel, the world renowned philosopher once said, “When one observes that the high idealism of the Indian government in international matters breaking down completely with the question of Kashmir, it is difficult to avoid a feeling of despair”.
India has had 77 years to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiri Muslims, but has failed miserably due to Hindu communalism within some of its ranks and its firm belief that it was Pakistan which instigated Kashmir Muslims to rise up. The Then Defence Minister George Fernandez once remarked in 1990 “I do not believe that any foreign hand engineered the Kashmir problem. The problem was created by us”. _