Image Credit: flowcomm/Shekaras, Kashmir, Flickr; Licence: CC BY 2.0.

Written by Cynthia Mahmood.

On 5 August 2019, the Government of India revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had guaranteed a ‘special status’ to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after the state’s accession to India following Independence. The northern territory of Kashmir was split between India and Pakistan (with part also claimed by China), and the continuing disputes over its status mean it is regarded as one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir, which was supposed to be semi-autonomous under the provisions of Article 370, has experienced a significant uprising since 1989. Consequently, the recent lockdown of the entire state of J&K and revocation of its special status is certain to create even more serious resistance.

Pressure from other nations or from the UN may be the only way to avoid what everyone has feared since the very beginning of decolonisation in this part of the world: a bloody denouement to the complicated narrative that is Kashmir

Although India claims to be ‘the world’s largest democracy’, the recent move in Kashmir is hardly surprising to those who have been following the rise of the Hindu nationalism which is now regnant. India might have been founded as a secular state after decolonisation, but whispers of Hindu majoritarian sentiment were present even then (it was, after all, a right-wing Hindu nationalist who assassinated Gandhi due to his conciliatory stance towards Muslims).

Similarly, the Hindu nationalist organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was and is widely known for its admiration of Hitler; it is also the parent organisation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi. Meanwhile, the motto of the Shiv Sena – another far-right Hindu nationalist organisation with a regional base in Maharashtra – is: ‘We Will Crush All Those Who Oppose Us!’.

Today, the RSS and Shiv Sena provide a populist base for the ruling BJP,  which came to power in 2014 with a strong mandate and was re-elected in 2019 with an even wider margin. Before becoming Prime Minister, Narendra Modi governed Gujarat during the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms; and right from the start of his campaign in 2014, the BJP talked openly of making India ‘a Hindu state’.

All the major human rights organisations have spoken out against the ‘Saffronisation’ which is occurring in India today. This includes criminalising conversions away from Hinduism to other faiths, and also any form of proselytising that might encourage such action. In addition, the state holds ‘homecoming’ ceremonies at which Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and those of other faiths (or none) are welcomed as they ‘revert’ to the Hinduism that is seen as the natural religion of everyone in the subcontinent.

Cow protection legislation, which clearly favours Hindu beliefs, is promulgated everywhere. Mob attacks against people for killing cows or eating beef are frequently reported, although the BJP President claims these are no more prevalent under the BJP than under previous regimes.

The real concern is that nowadays, Hindu vigilante groups seem to be able to beat up and kill members of minority faiths with complete impunity because the police are fearful of standing up to them; or else are paid off to support them. Prominent intellectuals have compared the situation in India to Germany in the 1930s under Nazi rule. Among the most vocal of these critics is prize-winning novelist and non-fiction writer Arundhati Roy.

Jammu and Kashmir is not the only state in India with a non-Hindu majority: Punjab, to the south, has a Sikh majority. Sikhs led the non-violent protest against the dictatorship of Indira Gandhi called ‘the Emergency’ in the 1970s, which resulted in a horrific crackdown against that population. An armed insurgency developed during the 1980s and 1990s with a corresponding counter-insurgency which involved arbitrary detention, torture, custodial rape, extrajudicial execution, and numerous disappearances.

The same pattern applied in Kashmir became even more serious because it also involved India’s arch-enemy: Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear states and they have already fought three conventional wars over Kashmir. This is why India’s recent, sudden and unprecedented action in simply seizing Kashmir has set the world on edge.

While Hindus celebrate the news, Muslims are terrified. The concurrent revocation of Article 35A, which allowed only Kashmiris to buy property in Kashmir, now opens the door to a flood of Hindus and others from across India changing the very demography of the state; perhaps even altering its Muslim-majority status.

Top political figures in Kashmir have been arrested, and telephone, cell phone and internet communications have all been blocked. Blinding pellet guns spray the protesting crowds. The secrecy behind these measures creates even more terror: who knows what the Indian forces are doing in Kashmir, unseen by the watchful eye of the rest of the country and the world? This doesn’t sound like ‘the world’s largest democracy’; at least, not as it has tried to portray itself on the world stage.

As the time of writing (early September 2019), Pakistan is bringing a case regarding the situation in Kashmir to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), with the intention of bringing it to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly for consideration as well. This will at least have the effect of bringing Kashmir to the forefront of world attention. Meanwhile, India is splitting Kashmir into distinct Muslim areas and those inhabited by mostly Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, and is sending thousands more troops into a region which is already one of the most heavily militarised on earth.

India has long sought to portray its confrontation in Kashmir as a battle on the front line of the ‘global war on terror’, in which an enlightened democracy is fighting against international militant Islam. Unfortunately, its recent action is likely to bring more, not fewer, militant Islamists into the region, as Kashmiris in the Valley recognise that they simply will not be able to resist the power of a determined Indian state on their own.

Pressure from other nations or from the UN may be the only way to avoid what everyone has feared since the very beginning of decolonisation in this part of the world: a bloody denouement to the complicated narrative that is Kashmir. Or even worse, a nuclear conflagration whose results would be practically unthinkable.

Cynthia Mahmood is Professor of Anthropology and currently the Frank Moore Endowed Chair in Anthropology at the Central College of Pella, Iowa. She has recently co-edited Resisting Occupation in Kashmir (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

*Articles published by The Asia Dialogue represent the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of The Asia Dialogue or affiliated institutions.


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