Self-determination: Kashmiris’ Valiant Resistance
What is now called the “international community” quickly indeed adopted a position of “wait-and-see” to which it has by and large stuck, including when the Kashmir Valley took up arms in the late 1980s.
Arundhati Roy chose to employ the novel to describe the difficult fate of the Kashmiri population. The human rights activist, who was accused in October 2010 of sedition for her courageous positions, described the state of siege, in which Kashmir is being maintained. In The Ministry of Utmost Happiness published in 2017, she described the long-standing situation in the Valley, a situation probably not dissimilar to that prevailing today, as the central authorities try to oppose what they label as “subversion.” Roy wrote:
“Every fifty metres, on either side of the road, there was a heavily armed soldier, alert and dangerously tense. There were soldiers in the fields, deep inside orchards, on bridges and culverts, in shops and marketplaces, on rooftops, each covering the other, in a grid that stretched up into the mountains. In every part of the legendary Valley of Kashmir, whatever people might be doing – walking, praying, bathing, cracking jokes, shelling walnuts… taking a bus-ride home – they were in the rifle-sights of a soldier. And because they were in the rifle-sights of a soldier, whatever they might be doing – walking, praying, bathing, cracking jokes, shelling walnuts… taking a bus ride home – they were a legitimate target,” (Roy 2017, kindle location 4817-4839).
There is another scene in Roy’s novel that is worthy of mention, where the torturer Major Amrik Singh attempted, under dramatic circumstances, to win over a young Kashmiri architect named Musa to the Indian camp, offering him a coveted job as a civil servant. The wife and daughter of Musa had just been killed as they watched a funeral procession from the balcony of their home. Such events most often resulted in demonstrations where the crowd, following the slogan of the Azadi, displayed a “condensed, distilled passion,” that “cut through the edifice of history and geography, of reason and politics,” (Roy 2017, kindle location 2497). Thus, the most hardened Indian officials and forces could not help wondering why they were staying in Kashmir, “governing a people who hated us so viscerally,” (Ibid).
The abrogation of Article 35-A and article 370
The newly re-elected Modi government, which has an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament (the Lok Sabha), has repealed, by presidential decree, two articles (Article 35-A and Article 370) of the Indian Constitution that dealt with the autonomy of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. India, since the signing of the accession treaty at the end of October 1947, has claimed sovereignty over the entire princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. It continues to deny its commitments regarding the organisation of a plebiscite. Following the Shimla agreement (July 1972), it has argued that the resolutions adopted by the Security Council are no longer valid. These, notably resolutions dated April 21st and June 3rd, 1948; March 14th, 1950; and lastly March 30th, 1951 called for a plebiscite in “Indian-Administered Kashmir” and “Pakistan-Administered Kashmir.” What is now called the “international community” quickly indeed adopted a position of “wait-and-see” to which it has by and large stuck, including when the Kashmir Valley took up arms in the late 1980s. Today it keeps publicly silent despite increasingly alarming violations of the human rights of the Kashmiri Muslims.
We will not look back at Articles 35-A and 370 since the Pakistani press has already published numerous articles on this topic. It should nonetheless be pointed out that these articles defined an autonomy which the Kashmiris contested since they had been forced to accept the various legal reforms imposed on them by India, from the imprisonment of Sheikh Abdullah in August 1953 onwards. At a time when the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has been the subject of a “trifurcation” that has split the territory into Jammu and Kashmir on the one hand, and Ladakh on the other, each being administered directly from the Centre (New Delhi), one must praise the resistance of a Kashmiri people that continues to claim a prerogative recognised by international law: a people’s right to self-determination.
The duty of the historian
Historians may come to pay tribute to the Kashmiris who dared to engage in a long struggle against an Indian power that employed repressive measures that were, to say the least, disturbing, not to mention contrary to several India’s international treaty commitments.
In The Victory of the Vanquished. Oppression and Cultural Resistance published in 1988, Jean Ziegler looked at Africa and its slow descent in bloody armed conflicts as well as poverty, a situation for which the West was, at least, in part, responsible. Ziegler, at the time a professor at the Geneva Institute for Development Studies, director of the Sociology Laboratory of the Third World, National Councilor in the Parliament of the Swiss Confederation, wrote in the introduction of his book:
“The moral strength of a people, its capacity for indignation, its desire to be free are similar to the Monotombo volcano of Nicaragua: long asleep, supporting indifferently the weight of rocks that choke it, it wakes up suddenly, projecting to the sky the flames of his refusal,” (Ziegler 1988, p. 9). Ziegler looked at the concepts of “fallen tyrannies” and “triumphant tyrannies.” In the updated version of his book, he returned to an important historical episode that was a source of inspiration for the Kashmiris. Referring to the fall of the Soviet Union, he wrote:
“In Eastern Europe, terrorising and corrupt regimes have collapsed like worm-eaten buildings. The Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Polish, East German, Czech, Moravian, Slovak, Bohemian, Slovenian, Armenian, Croatian, Albanian, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian peoples have risen against injustice, oppression and lies. Their victory gives hope to the enslaved peoples of Africa.”
“Among all the mercenary regimes of the Soviet colonial empire, that of East Germany seemed the most solid: it crumbled within a period of a few months. A miracle of human courage, a mystery of liberated freedom,” (Ibid).
A parody of democracy
The circumstances of the repeal of Articles 35-A and 370 of the Indian Constitution should be of concern to the admirers of what the West is accustomed to calling the “world’s largest democracy.” The Valley of Kashmir was emptied of any foreign witness; Hindus from all over India who intended to complete the Amarnath pilgrimage, Indian and foreign tourists, but also Indian students and workers who had found a menial job in Kashmir were summoned to leave immediately. At the same time, a large contingent of troops was sent to reinforce forces that are already overpowering in number. Jammu and Kashmir, let us remember, is one of the most militarised areas in the world. As for the Hindu nationalist propaganda machine, it dares to celebrate the new era of prosperity in which Jammu and Kashmir have entered … notably by the abrogation of the status of State subject (Article 35-A) that the princely State of Maharajah Hari Singh had adopted in April 1927.
There remains the question as to the legality of recent Indian decisions. On July 26th, 2019, National Conference and party’s spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar published an article in the Indian Express titled Constitutional guarantees that bind J&K with the Indian Union cannot be unilaterally discarded. J&K’s special status isn’t a concession given to the state by the Union government. It is an outcome of a solemn compact between two sovereign entities in 1947. Dar refers to the views expressed by a senior IPS (Indian Police Service) officer, Abhinav Kumar who “serves as Inspector General of Police BSF” (Border Security Force) in Kashmir. In A New Deal for Kashmir, Kumar wrote that “the expectation is that a war-weary and traumatised population will tire out,” while he advocates for “a status quo in the current level of casualties and economic costs.” Dar, for his part, concludes that this statement is “a reflection of how an officer, expected to protect and champion human rights, is cheering the escalating trauma and continuing misery of Kashmir’s common people.”
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.