Khalid Zaka: Historical perspective on India's crackdown in Kashmir

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      On August 5, the Bhartiya Janata Party–led Indian Government revoked the enforcement of Article 370 of its constitution. Since 1950, it has given a kind of autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

      Jammu and Kashmir, as we know it, is no more. They are now two distinct entities. Geologically spectacular Ladakh is being administered directly by New Delhi.

      India also revoked Article 35A, which barred Indian citizens from other states buying land or property in Jammu and Kashmir.

      In response to massive protests, a curfew was imposed across the Kashmir Valley. The Internet was cut off. All Kashmiri politicians were rounded up and arrested.

      Article 370 is the only legal link between India and the disputed state; for it to be revoked, it has to be approved concurrently by the Jammu and Kashmir constituent assembly, which was officially dissolved in 1957. Is this how the world’s largest democracy works?

      Jammu and Kashmir were part of independent, peaceful, and superb mighty Himalayan mountain valley in primitive times. Its independence, grassroots connection with nature and peace were torn away by the various invaders in the past.

      The last invasion was by the British East India Company in 1846, which was consolidated by the British Crown in 1858. The British colonial power left the Kashmir issue unresolved when India and Pakistan became independent in 1947.

      The  massive armies across the control line is considered justified because of hostility over the Kashmir issue. A significant chunk of national resources that should be spent on the eradication of poverty in India and Pakistan is being spent on maintaining the status quo on both sides of the control line.

      This BBC map shows the competing territorial claims in the region.
      BBC

      Dominant religion shifted through the ages

      Let us walk through the history a bit to gain a greater understanding of the Jammu and Kashmir issue.

      Many historians and locals believe that Jammu was founded by Raja Jamboolochan in the 14th century BCE. With the passage of time, the name became "Jammu".

      According to one etymology expert, the name "Kashmir" means "desiccated land" (from the Sanskrit Ka for water and shimeera for desiccate). Etymology is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

      According to another expert, following Hindu mythology, the sage Kashyapa drained a lake to produce the land now known as Kashmir. It's been reported that Kashmir has been inhabited since prehistoric times, sometimes independent but at times subjugated by invaders from Bactria, Tartary, Tibet, and other mountainous regions to the north, and from the Indus valley and the Ganges valley to the south. 

      Bactria is an ancient region of Central Asia, between the Hindu Kush Mountain range and the Oxus River (today generally called the Amu River). In more recent times, the region also goes by the name "Balkh", after one of the tributaries of the Amu River.

      Tartary was a historical region in Asia located between the Caspian Sea and Ural Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Tartary was also a blanket term used by Europeans for the areas of Central AsiaNorth Asia, and East Asia unknown to European geography spanning the vast region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, the Volga-Urals, the CaucasusSiberiaInner AsiaMongolia, and Manchuria.

      At different historical times, the dominant religion in the Jammu and Kashmir has been Animist, Buddhist, Hindu, and (after the period of the history) Muslim. Animism (from Latin anima, "breath, spirit, life") is the religious belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Potentially, animism perceives all things—animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and perhaps even words—as animated and alive.

      In 1846, after the British East India Company defeated the Sikh Empire that ruled Jammu and Kashmir at that time, the Maharaja Gulab Singh, a Dogra ruler, bought the region of Jammu and Kashmir from the British East India Company after signing the Treaty of Amritsar. The treaty was executed on March 16, 1846.

      Under Article 3 of the treaty, Gulab Singh was to pay 75 lakhs (7.5 million) of Nanak Shahi rupees (the ruling currency of the Sikh Empire) to the British government, along with other annual tributes. 

      The British East India Company in India effectively began in 1757 and lasted until 1858, when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Government of India Act 1858 led to the British Crown assuming direct control of the Indian subcontinent under a new British Raj (British Rule).

      When British colonialism ended, the local trustworthy of the colonial master, Maharaja Hari Singh, kept on making decisions against the wishes and will of the Kashmiri people, which aggravated the plight of Indigenous people of Jammu and Kashmir.

      Muslims in the valley were not happy with the rule of Singh, who succeeded Maharaja Gulab Singh. In 1930, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in 1930 formed the region's first political party, the National Conference, and launched the Quit Kashmir Movement against the Maharaja.

      In August 1947, India broke into two parts—India and Pakistan. At that time, India’s princely states of Junagadh, Hyderabad, and Jammu and Kashmir, which were not officially with India or Pakistan, were given three choices: stay independent, or join either India or Pakistan.

      Maharaja Hari Singh was Hindu; his population was predominantly Muslim. He, therefore, did nothing.

      Instead, he signed a "standstill" agreement with Pakistan so that services such as trade, travel, and communication would be uninterrupted. The then Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten, believed the developing situation would be less explosive if the state were to accede to India, on the understanding that this would only be temporary before "a referendum, plebiscite, election".

      During October 1947, armed tribesmen from Pakistan infiltrated Jammu and Kashmir. Maharaja Hari Singh requested help from the Indian government, reaching out to prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and deputy prime minister Vallabhbhai Patel.

      They agreed to send troops on the condition that the maharaja signs an instrument of accession in favor of India, handing over control of defende, foreign affairs, and communication. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the agreement, and Indian troops moved in the Jammu and Kashmir.

      Hari Singh was the last maharaja of Kashmir.

      Changes continued after Partition

      In 1948, India raised Kashmir at the UN Security Council. Resolution 47 called for a referendum on the status of the Jammu and Kashmir. The resolution also called on Pakistan to withdraw its troops and for India to cut its military presence to a minimum. A ceasefire came into force.

      The 1965 war between Indian and Pakistan over Kashmir ended in a ceasefire and a return to the previous positions. Another Indo-Pakistani war in 1971 led to the 1972 Shimla Agreement. This turned the Kashmir ceasefire line into the Line of Control, calling on both sides to settle their differences through negotiations, and for a final settlement of the Kashmir dispute. The agreement formed the basis of Pakistani-Indian relations thereafter.

      The above-quoted historical information indicates many shifts in the status of the Jammu and Kashmir issue.

      The first time the status was changed by British East India Company in 1846. After defeating the Sikh Empire, it sold Jammu and Kashmir to Maharaja Gulab Singh.

      The second time, the independent status of Jammu and Kashmir was changed by Maharaja Hari Singh on October 1947 by inviting India to take over Jammu and Kashmir.

      The third time, the status was changed by the implementation of Article 370 in 1950.

      The fourth time the ceasefire line was changed to the Line of Control after the Shimla accord in 1972, and the Jammu and Kashmir issue was declared a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan.

      The people of Kashmir stand nowhere. Many think the Shimla Agreement contravened the UN resolution for the referendum.

      The last change in status happened on August 5 when the Indian government revoked the Article 370, divided Jammu and Kashmir into three separate entities, and declared that it is part and parcel of India.

      The Narendra Modi government is implementing third-degree repression, human rights violations, fulfilling a racist agenda, and a legal process promoting Hindu and other settlements in Jammu and Kashmir.  

      As a result of the changes in the status of Jammu and Kashmir, non-Kashmiris nationals can buy property in Kashmir. The repression of native Kashmiris will potentially force them to migrate to other parts of India or other countries, leaving behind a golden opportunity for the new potential settler to buy properties almost for free.

      This process will result in non-Kashmiri settlements in Jammu and Kashmir. Ultimately over the period, it will result in demographic changes in the valley and help the Indian government to consolidate its unlawful control over Kashmir. 

      The historical and political evidence indicates that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been the victim of colonialism.

      The two warriorr countries on both sides of the Line of Control exploit the Kashmir issue for their territorial gains and as a justification for keeping massive militaries and developing lethal arsenals.

      These policies have resulted in mass poverty across the Line of Control. The Global Hunger Index 2019 ranks India 102nd and Pakistan 94th.

      The United Nations needs to take serious notice of human rights violations by Indian security forces and brutalities and atrocities being inflicted on Kashmiris. The UN must force the Indian government to withdraw the unlawful changes to the status Jammu and Kashmir by revoking Article 370.

      In addition, the Indian government should be forced to fulfill its commitments to UN Resolution 47 by providing Kashmiris the opportunity to exercise the right of self-determination. This will avoid further escalation between the two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan.

      Khalid Zaka is a social justice advocate living in Surrey, British Columbia.

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