Last week, India’s government stripped Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, of its special status, and instituted a communications blackout and in what was already one of the most militarized areas on earth. The problems in Kashmir extend back to Partition, in 1947, which left India in control of most of Kashmir (officially known as Jammu and Kashmir), and Pakistan and China in charge of other parts of the territory. Although the state was granted special status, under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, the Indian government has long behaved as it has pleased in Kashmir, especially during the past thirty years, as an insurgency, nurtured and partially funded by Pakistan, has sought to bring about independence or have Kashmir become part of Pakistan. Under the Indian government’s brutal military occupation, there have been thousands of unpunished rapes, children blinded with pellet guns, forced disappearances, media crackdowns, and immunity for Indian military personnel. Now Narendra Modi, of the Hindu-majoritarian Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.), has, for the moment, fully silenced Kashmir.
The communications blackout has made it impossible to reach almost anyone in the region. Some journalists have been let in, but the Kashmiri diaspora in India, the United Kingdom, and North America has been waiting anxiously for word from loved ones. Among those who wait is Mirza Waheed, one of Kashmir’s best-known writers, whose are set in the Indian-controlled territory, and address the conflict there. Waheed, who has also been an outspoken voice on , now lives in London, and we recently spoke about the blackout by phone. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed the pain of not being able to reach one’s family, the toll the latest decision will take on Kashmiri civil society, and India’s long history of repression in Kashmir.
Have you been able to get in touch with family and friends?
No. I haven’t heard from my parents since August 5th. But a few days ago I heard something about them in the most medieval fashion. A neighbor’s friend saw my father outside our house, and this person then went to Delhi, where he met my neighbor and told him he had seen my father. Then this neighbor in Delhi sent me a message that my father was O.K.
What is your biggest concern about what this will mean for the Kashmiri future?
I see this latest siege, and the decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy, which was symbolic anyway, as part of a long series of betrayals that go back to 1947. Kashmir at that time was an independent state ruled by a king called Maharaja Hari Singh, who was not a popular king, but he wanted to remain independent. India and Pakistan agreed to decide Kashmir’s fate by a referendum because they had just fought a war over Kashmir. The war came about because when the maharaja was asked if he wanted to join India or Pakistan, he didn’t want to join either country.
The maharaja ultimately agreed, reluctantly, to join India, but on the very, very clear condition that Kashmir remain autonomous. Which meant that “you guys look after defense and foreign affairs” and the rest stays with Kashmir. And then the king was deposed. The Indian government persuaded Sheikh Abdullah, who was a very popular Kashmiri leader, that he must stay with India, and one of the things they negotiated was that “we will keep your status as autonomous, and we will allow you to retain the region’s autonomy and this unique identity and culture.” But subsequently, starting with Jawaharlal Nehru’s rule, they started to erode this autonomy. In fact, Sheikh Abdullah was put in jail for a long, long time by Nehru himself, who was a friend.
2020欧洲杯体育投注网So the autonomy has been eroded over the years. But Kashmiris held onto it because it was a constitutional guarantee and a link with the larger Indian union. The struggle for rights goes back to the promise of a referendum, or plebiscite, which has never taken place. Kashmiris thought there would be a time when we will be given a chance to have a say in our future. During that time, India managed Kashmir through puppet governments that would do India’s bidding. India always knew Kashmiris didn’t want to remain in India. Even to this day a large majority don’t want to be in India. And they don’t want to be in Pakistan. A majority of Kashmiris wanted independence. And they waited and waited and waited. For decades, India managed Kashmir via these clients. You get one group into power for some time, and then you give another group a chance.
Would “divide and rule” be a good phrase for that?
It’s a little more complex than that. They nurtured these élites in Kashmir, who had power but not really any real power. In 1987, there was another election. Things had changed. Kashmiris had grown tired and resentful of these local politicians and political parties doing India’s job. At the same time, a conglomerate of small Kashmiri parties got together and formed something called the Muslim United Front (MUF2020欧洲杯体育投注网), which decided to contest elections for the first time in the state. Previously they did not want to contest elections, because they thought that was subscribing to the idea that they agreed to the Indian Constitution. But they decided to fight this election to wrest power from these traditional political parties in Kashmir. The idea was that they could pass a resolution in the state assembly, which would mean they had independent rule or autonomy. But it didn’t come to that, because the 1987 election was massively rigged by Delhi [then ruled by the Congress Party]. It was so bad that while Kashmiris expected the new party to sweep the elections, they were given—that is the word—about three or four seats.
2020欧洲杯体育投注网A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that the insurgency started because of the elections primarily. No: behind all that are the historical grievances against Indian rule. But 1987 provided the trigger. The very people who had campaigned for this party were the first people to cross into Pakistani Kashmir, where the Pakistani establishment, Pakistani agencies, were more than happy to provide them with training and weapons.
How do you view Modi’s vision for Kashmir as being distinct from what came before, as bad as that was? Do you think this marks a change, or is it more of the same?
This is not more of the same. This is more vicious. For a long period, India held onto Kashmir because it buttressed India’s claim of being a secular democracy. “Look, we also have a Muslim-majority state.” These guys won’t even pay lip service to the idea. The previous regime at least paid lip service to the idea that we will retain Kashmiri special identity and unique culture.
2020欧洲杯体育投注网The B.J.P. doesn’t have such qualms, they don’t care whether India is secular or not. They don’t have to have a Muslim-majority state. They have always thought that this state should not exist in this form; they have always believed that it should be split into Hindu-majority Jammu and the Kashmir valley, which is Muslim-majority; and Ladakh, which is Buddhist and Muslim. And they have always said that “We don’t want to appease these Muslims with their special status.” Kashmiri Muslims, in the eyes of the B.J.P., have sinned doubly. They are Muslim. And they have rebelled against India while being Muslim.