by Prachi Aryal
“Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast…”
“If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here…”
– Amīr Khusrau (1253–1325), Indian poet on Kashmir
The land of Kashmir, often portrayed as heaven on earth, finds itself marred in a conflict between India and Pakistan, two countries that share a colonial past. The end of British Colonial control of the Indian subcontinent, in August 1947, led to the formation of India and Pakistan. In the aftermath of the partition, the many former princely states which had persisted under British suzerainty were left to decide which country to join. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, which lies in the northern mountainous region was seen as a strategically important area by both new-born states who each wanted it incorporated within their territory. The ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, chose to remain independent.
The bloody saga which ensued through the partition and the infiltration by tribal militants posed a great threat to the state of Kashmir. The state, in a severe political dilemma, was required to take urgent action, leading to a request to the Indian state for military help. After multiple deliberations, the Instrument of Accession (IoA) was signed in October 1947 by Maharaja Singh and the Indian state in return for military help, thereby integrating Kashmir into India. The IoA stated that the Dominion of India would have control of the state in three major areas – defence, communications, and foreign affairs.
Nevertheless, the claim on Kashmiri land continued to be debated between India and Pakistan with specific counterclaims that the IoA was a farce. Nonetheless, negotiations between Kashmiri representatives and India led to the creation of Article 370 – which granted special autonomous status to the state of Kashmir in the Indian Constitution. While this legislation was being laid down, the state of Kashmir faced constant threats from tribal invaders who had their bases in Pakistan. Against the backdrop of large scale massacres that the nation had just witnessed, India decided not to resort to military actions and took the issue to the United Nations, following the advice of Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India,
The UN responded in January 1948 by passing Resolution 39 establishing the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan. In April of the same year, the Security Council decided to increase the power of the UNCIP under Resolution 47 to facilitate mediation between India and Pakistan. The resolution called upon the countries to withdraw their troops, after which point the UN would establish a temporary plebiscite administration in Kashmir, which would then carry out a fair and impartial plebiscite deciding the accession or autonomy of the state. Both the countries eventually agreed upon a ceasefire and a Line of Control (LOC) came into effect in January 1949, demarcating the territorial lines between the nations. Despite resolution 47, the failure to hold a plebiscite resulted in a divided rule over the region.
The Indian-administered area of Kashmir has been subject to internal violence ever since claims of a rigged election surfaced in 1987. An armed rebellion has existed against New Delhi’s rule in Kashmir, growing anti-India statements and a massive outcry for ‘azadi’ – freedom from Indian rule – have triggered stringent military reactions from the Indian state. In August 2019, the Hindu Nationalist government of Narendra Modi abrogated Article 370 against the will of large numbers of Kashmiri people. This move was claimed to be yet another step towards ‘integrating’ Kashmir into India, a six-decades long nationalist endeavour supported in particular by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The government went on to divide the state of Kashmir into two centrally administered territories. Indian military forces operating in Kashmir are shielded by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which grants them immunity from human rights convictions, such as rape, extrajudicial killing and torture. Parallelly, the government is set to embark on a witch hunt of activists and journalists who raise their voices against the violence perpetrated by enforcing draconian anti-terrorism laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Furthermore, critics claim that the government’s pseudo-secularism agenda has been furthered by the revocation of the article, where Hindu-nationalist policies are used to garner electoral votes.
Despite several concerns highlighted by the UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, any mediation on the issue of Kashmir has been blocked by India under claims that it is an internal issue, an exclusive concern of Indian sovereignty. Given the presence that India has in the international sphere, there have been little to no repercussions for the grave violations of human rights in the region. The lack of global attention due to restrictive anti-media practices alongside a rejection of third-party mediation has granted the government more leverage to continue unlawful activities. There have been mounting claims that the situation in Kashmir is getting worse by the day with Internet shutdowns, a government crackdown on media organisations and journalists, the arrest of political leaders and civilians many of them who are children.
Arundhati Roy, asserts that, ‘Indian Muslims have been effectively disenfranchised and are becoming the most vulnerable of people – a community without political representation.’ Critics claim that the government’s pseudo-secularism agenda has been furthered by the revocation of the article, where politics is used to secure votes. In the expansion of the Hindu Nation under Modi, international organisations have fallen victim, Amnesty International’s office in India was shut down following reprisal from the government over its coverage of human rights violations that occurred in Kashmir. This further erodes any ground for seeking justice or accountability for Kashmiris who have been subjected to various atrocities.
Since the revocation of article 370, civilians have been arbitrarily arrested and the valley remains in a state of siege with a stringent curfew. Meanwhile, the Indian government refutes claims of human rights violations, maintaining that this legislative move will pave the way for economic growth in the state. Inclusivity, however, remains a far-off dream for the people of Kashmir. Furthermore, the information ban and the detention of Kashmiri political leaders, civilians, and journalists outlines a rather meek prospect for the accountability of the Indian government.
The longstanding conflict has polarized the Kashmiris even further as they have been side-lined in political discussions and the decision on the fate of the valley of Kashmir is carried out by those who centrally rule the country. The aspirations of the Kashmiri people have been overlooked and they have been rendered voiceless with the revocation of the special status. The crisis requires the integration of Kashmiri people into the mainstream discussion, addressing their issues and concerns. The Indian government needs to be held accountable for its actions, decades of violence, and mass unnamed graves of Kashmiris if it wishes to truly integrate Kashmir and Kashmiris.
Prachi Aryal is a MA student in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Her research interest is inclined towards Gender, Human Rights, and Cross border conflicts in transitioning nations and how visuals from conflict zones play a role in communicating the realities of conflict to the broader world. She completed her BA in Journalism from the University of Delhi, India.