Kashmir – what lies ahead?

Truth is inconvenient to those who refuse to listen to their conscience. Despite knowing what is true and what is right, and what is not, e.g., in the current Middle East conflict, as well as in the conflicts in other parts of our strikingly polarised world, those of us who are not touched by those conflicts — physically, financially or politically — tend to look away and meekly hide within a dark, make-believe world, a cocoon of lies, and become blind to the root cause of the conflicts.

In our human jungle, freedom of one is fighting against freedom of the other, it is a constant struggle to survive, bigger fish eat smaller fish. We still live in the medieval age where religions are made to fight one another. Global attention is cleverly taken away by the wealthy and powerful from our real human issues — living costs, unemployment, poverty, housing, water and the Climate Change. Abominably, war is seen as a panacea to all unsolvable woes.

In our world of lies, victors emerge those who can shout the loudest and beam out the most convincing lies, using all their might and the influence of wealth and power. They try to control the narrative and the public perspective.

Nine years ago, the people of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir (‘J & K’) exercised their democratic right last time, to cast their electoral vote and elect their state government. The last J & K Legislative Assembly election was held, in five phases, between 25 November and 20 December 2014.  It has been four years since the state also lost its semi-autonomous status and the statehood, unlike any other part of India. With the stroke of a pen, on 5 August 2019, the current government of India revoked the special status of J & K, as enshrined in the Constitution of India, as well as in the Constitution of Jammu Kashmir, after a dramatic, speedy passage of the J & K Reorganisation Bill in the Upper House of India’s Parliament (Rajya Sabha), however, without undertaking any engagement or consultation with the people of J & K, or their elected representatives in the state Legislative Assembly or in India’s Parliament. In Delhi, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (‘BHP’) did what it had promised in its election manifesto of 2014, which it fulfilled after securing a majority in both houses of India’s Parliament in the general election of 2019.  At the times of this election promise by the BJP, the people of J & K did not take it seriously. Most thought the promise was just an election gimmick and next to impossible, given the legal and constitutional complexities involved.

Hours before the announcement of revocation of Article 370, in New Delhi on 5 August 2019, the landlocked valley of Kashmir was cut off from the rest of world, both geographically and electronically in the cyber space, for months together, without internet or phone connectivity. If that was not sufficient to humiliate and degrade the people of Kashmir, and to add insult to their injury, the state was downgraded to the level of a territory, on 31 October 2019, governed directly by the government of India. At that time, a geographically significant part of the state, Ladakh, was also surgically severed from it and downgraded to a Union Territory – a move that may be compared to the Partition of India in August 1947, which goes on to illustrate that powers can be merciless and due consultation with people does not matter to them.  

The democratic world witnessed everything that happened in this erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which was technically not a part of the British India, but it chose to remain quiet, for whatever reasons it had, just as it had remained quiet about the fate of Palestinians till 7 October 2023.

What did those 12 million people of J & K do on or after 5 August 2019? They did nothing, as they could not, their physical movement was restrained — by a network of barbed wires and security personnel across the Kashmir valley — for months together. Anyhow, what could do they do? Of course, they could speak out protest, but they were gagged. Their democratic rights, to protest and express themselves, were denied to them and continue to be denied to this day in a country that boisterously calls itself as being the Mother of Democracy and the World Leader (Vishwaguru).

In the late 1980s, it was not uncommon to hear many elders in the valley of Kashmir — from both Pandit and Muslim communities — saying: One day, Kashmir will become Plastene (Palestine). At that time, I did not know much about the history of Palestine or the struggles of the Palestinian people. However, with time, the world has come to know a lot about the Palestinian history and how they have struggled over more than a century now. Currently, they are stateless, without hope, hapless in short. They lost much of their land and autonomy soon after the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, and have been living under a siege, with highest possible level of intrusive surveillance, The 6-day Arab Israel war of June 1967 significantly exacerbated their miseries. With time, the democratic world forgot them, perhaps consciously. But then 7 October 2023 happened, which shook the world up and suddenly reminded everyone about to their miserable existence. Uncomfortable questions will always arise about how and why 7 October could have ever happened, given the impenetrable fortification and a perceived invincibility of the State of Israel.

In parallel, soon after India’s partition and independence from the British, in August 1947, Kashmir got separated in two parts, one administered by India and other by Pakistan, after a yearlong Indo-Pak war (Oct 1947 to December 1948), however, without any referendum or consultation with the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Thereafter, without any fault of theirs, Kashmiris saw India and Pakistan going to war several times – in 1965, 1971 and 1999 – and a debilitating armed militancy since 1990, which could be linked to several factors, both international and domestic. These include: (a) Soviet defeat and withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1987; (b) a heavily rigged election in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir in 1987; and (c) then Pakistan President General Zia-ul-Haq’s Operation Tupac against India to avenge Pakistan comprehensive defeat to India in 1971, resulting in the loss of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Similar to the recent failure of the Israeli intelligence (on and before 7 October 2023), the armed uprising in Jammu and Kashmir (from 1987 onward) was also a result of failure of Indian intelligence.

It has been more than 33 years since the start of an armed uprising in Kashmir. During this period (a) around half a million Kashmiris, predominantly from the Pandit community, got uprooted painfully from their home and heart, and scattered around the globe to survive; (b) nearly 100,000 Kashmiris, mostly from the Muslim community, lost their lives during years of militancy, and (c) Kashmir lost its unique culture, glory and pride of a historic seat of learning and spirituality.

What do Kashmiris do now?

They are silent, stoic and resilient, perhaps in wait for something, divine or manmade, that restores them to their rightful place in history. It is not hard to imagine, however, the pressure must be building incessantly within the people of this landlocked valley, waiting to burst. What happened in the Middle East on 7 October 2023 may be waiting to happen.

A constantly heating pressure cooker bursts if not provided with a functional pressure valve. For Kashmir, that valve is the early restoration of ‘democratic rights and freedom to express and protest’. The pride and statehood of Jammu and Kashmir must be restored before the pressure builds to an unbearable limit.

It can be imagined that the current Israel-Hamas war could have emboldened many Kashmiris who feel deeply hurt by what was done to their state on and after 5 August 2019, considering Israel’s formidable fortification was breached with such ease and a myth of its impenetrability and invincibility busted by a handful of Hamas militia.

Will the prophecy come true? Will Kashmir become Palestine? One must hope it does not come true. The reasons are: (a) Kashmiris are inherently peace-loving. They come from a Resh-Vaer (Peer-Vaer), which means a garden of spirituality inhabited historically by saints and sages; and (b) the current Indian government must be expected to be wise enough to reinstate the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, and hold free and fair state elections there at the earliest possible.

Given that the median age in the subcontinent is around 28 years, it can be reasonably inferred about 60-percent of the present-day Kashmiris were not born in 1990 when the armed military was at its peak and the Pandit community exiled itself in and after January 1990. If children up to 10-year-olds were also considered, it can be concluded that about 70-percent present-day Kashmiris played absolutely no part in the militancy in the uprising. But, the kind of world they grew up in can be compared to the kind of world their Palestinian counterparts lived in — an unstable, violent world, characterised by constant fear and death, and everyday martyrdom as they saw it. Gun ruled their world.

Lastly, like Palestinians, do Kashmiris feel they live in an open camp? A ‘yes’ answer must raise an alarm about a pressure-cooker like situation developing, waiting to explode if the pressure is not released in time.

Never ignore and starve the human within us. It is that human that gives us the necessary humanness and connects us with the humanity. Never let our race, religion or gender suffocate that essential human within us. Erosion or deterioration or loss of democracy in any one part of a country has the potential to undermine it completely across the country. Given that humans behave as herd animals, what happens in one part of the world, has the potential to affect all remaining parts of the world.

Is Kashmir’s loss of statehood a precursor to what may happen in the remaining parts of India if the BJP returns to power in the 2024 general elections? Does the BJP’s active promotion of a Double-Engine Sarkar (i.e., BJP governments in the Centre and all states and territories) mean a complete demolition of India’s federal structure, with all states and territories ruled directly by Delhi, mirroring its powerful neighbour across the Himalayas? The decision lies with the people of India and how they vote in 2024.

© Bill K Koul [29 October 2023, Perth, Western Australia]

Copyright © Bill K Koul

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