Kashmir: Why and How We’re Here

Kashmir

Who’s been watching The Crown on Netflix? I have, and it’s just perpetuating the already complicated and preoccupying relationship I have with the British Empire. Sure, there’s a lot of political intrigue, ratchet cousins, and beheadings, but there’s also a lot of elitism, racism, and entitlement.

And disruption.

Oh yes, the British Empire put things into motion that are still affecting things in a very real way today, and that’s not just some played-out cliché – that’s literal, in the most tangible sense.

I like them, though. I mean, I like who they are today, for the most part. I even cheered for Prime Minister Hugh Grant when that skeezy President Billy Bob Thornton made a play for Grant’s lady.

That was Love, Actually, of course, but it goes to show that Americans still feel strong ties to the Brits. In films, it’s easy for us to realign our allegiances to favor them. Maybe that’s because we were once them, or maybe it’s because, for all of our differences, we’re more like them than most other countries in the world. Language is obviously an important factor here.

But the truth is, it’s not just the Americans who feel this way. The British, as I guess was their original aim, spread their culture across the world, sailing all the seas and all the oceans to make countless numbers of unsuspecting “others” more British than we may have ever wanted to be.

It’s amazing what a strong navy can do.

And on a personal note, who knows where I’d be if it wasn’t for them. I’d be living a completely different life somewhere in India, or maybe Pakistan or Afghanistan or Kashmir or Nepal. I would have been raised completely differently, maybe with different values and ideals. I would probably have been married with children by now. But the truth is, I have no idea where I would have been because…the British!

Many, if not most of the big global political issues plaguing our planet today can be traced back to a time where the British had some hand to play, however sinister or innocent. And play they did! However, some of their hands fell a little heavier than others.

They were more fists than hands…

The British Empire’s occupation of the Indian Subcontinent is one such instance.

Today, two nations with nuclear capabilities are at odds with one another over a land dispute that goes back to the days of colonial rule, which wasn’t as long ago as it should have been but was long enough ago that we shouldn’t still be fighting wars over it.

Kashmir has been the battleground between Indian and Pakistan off-and-on (though mostly on) for over 70 years, and the conflict is no closer to being resolved as it was in 1947. However, with tensions escalating on each side, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced the rolling back of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, an article that granted the Jammu & Kashmir region semi-autonomous status.

How did we get here?

The rift between India and Pakistan is primarily a religious one, but for the Jammu & Kashmir region, it gets a little complicated.

As many of you probably (hopefully) already know, the India we know today used to be significantly bigger, specifically two countries bigger. When the British left India in 1947, they hastily split the country into two separate countries, India and Pakistan. However, Pakistan itself was split in two, with a western portion and an eastern portion. The two portions of Pakistan were separated by all of India.

I don’t know why anyone thought that would be a good idea.

For the most part, the Muslims went to Pakistan and the Hindus went to India. There was a deadly mass exodus that followed, with approximately 15 million people being displaced and over a million of them dying in the migration.

The territorial lines had been drawn hastily and by a man who was, let’s say, less than familiar with the land, its people, the religion, and the culture. India, known for its thousands of dialects, tribes, and cultural nuances, could not be easily split in any meaningful way, and so, it was not. Families and tribes were split, people were separated from their cultural and religious symbols and holy grounds, and the region of Jammu & Kashmir was…problematic.

Jammu & Kashmir was the northernmost province of India. The region, known for its beauty and abundance of natural resources, also sits in an interesting global position. It borders India, Pakistan, and China, all of whom have laid some sort of claim to the region, and it has several major rivers running through it. This is important.

The cultural makeup of J&K was such that it had a majority Muslim population, but it was governed by the Hindu minority. When the British were dividing up the land, the Maharaja Hari Singh was given the option of choosing which country he wanted to be a part of.

But Singh never chose.

He dragged his feet and couldn’t make up his mind, so the newly-formed Pakistan took matters into its own hands. Pakistan wanted the region because, aside from its majority Muslim population, Pakistan wanted control of those rivers. The rivers contribute to the overall water supply in Pakistan. When Pakistan got impatient and attacked Kashmir in an effort to take the region by force, the local sovereign didn’t have the resources to retaliate against them, let alone to defeat them. So, as any parent would do to protect their young, Singh appealed for help…from India. In exchange, he pledged allegiance to India.

So…India helped Kashmir beat back the Pakistanis.

Unfortunately, the conflict didn’t end there. With Pakistan refusing to concede Kashmir to India after being defeated by the Indian armed forces, the region remains contested to this day.

In 1954, Article 370 of the Constitution of India went into effect, granting J&K semi-autonomy, including certain fundamental rights. The measure was supposed to be temporary, but long story short, the state’s and India’s high courts ruled that the measure was essentially a permanent fixture within the Indian Constitution in 2018.

In 2019, the Indian government revoked the article, essentially by way of executive order. There was little to no input from the Indian parliamentary members, nor from Kashmiri politicians. Something else that was revoked? Article 35-A, which prevented non-locals from buying property and/or permanently settling in the region.

Let’s talk about 35-A for just a second. Kashmir has a primarily Muslim population that’s been ruled by the Hindu minority for a very long time. With the abrogation of 35-A, Hindus from India can now come and settle in the region. You know what’s happening in the West Bank right now with Israelis settling on land that was set aside for Palestinians? We all know how well that’s working out – not very. We could potentially see a similar situation develop in Kashmir.

Before we go any further, I feel like it’s worth me stating that I do not have a personal stake in this fight. I’m approaching this as I would any other global issue. I don’t side with the Indians or the Pakistanis. In fact, it was sort of implied at one point that I was only listening to and reading Pakistani media, which made literally no sense to me, considering I’ve never aligned myself with Pakistan. Even if you take it from a religious aspect, Muslims versus Hindus, I don’t have much of a stake in that, either. I was raised Muslim, but I wasn’t brought up in a particularly strict, religious household. Now, I wouldn’t even call myself a religious person. I don’t speak Hindi or Urdu (or Arabic, for that matter), nor any of the other thousands of dialects spoken on the Indian subcontinent. I’m the result of British imperialism. My family is Guyanese – very much Indian-adjacent, if you will. Our ancestors were clearly from that region (I mean…just look at me), but that was over a century ago. We’re not white-washed or Americanized…at this point, we’re a different culture that’s a weirdo and exciting mix of a bunch of other cultures.

If there’s any angle I’m taking here, it’s that I just don’t like oppressive leaders. I feel like that’s fair.

Now, let’s talk human rights issues.

India’s current prime minister, Narendra Modi, doesn’t have the best reputation around the world. He’s in cahoots with Trump, which already reflects badly on him, and he’s been known to push a nationalistic Hindu-centric agenda in India. Ever heard Trump spouting “America first?” Modi has a similar, but more Indian chant.

It’s “India first.” It’s the same thing as Trump’s. For a nation that’s supposed to be secular, this isn’t a good look.

On top of that, Modi has referred to Muslims as one of the primary threats against India, he has failed to speak out against violence against Muslims in India, and he has close ties to a group whose agenda is explicitly and unapologetically to promote Hinduism.

He doesn’t hold press conferences, which limits his interactions with the press. You know who else doesn’t hold press conferences very often? Trump. In fact, the Trump White House hardly even has press briefings anymore. One way to stifle the national conversation is to just refuse to have one in the first place.

With the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A, which India sprung on Kashmir without much warning or input from their own politicians, the Indian military flooded the streets of Kashmir. They enacted a curfew, turning the once bustling state into a ghost town, and they cut off Internet and cellular communications – no WiFi, no calls, not even WhatsApp (for those of you who don’t know, it’s a popular texting app that allows people to communicate freely with people in other countries). This means that citizens were being systematically cut off from resources that they would have normally obtained online, but what’s more dire is that they were being cut off from the world. Sound familiar? This is a common tactic employed by authoritarian governments that seek to isolate and then oppress their own people. You see it a lot during protests and coups. Finally, several Kashmiri politicians and known separatists were placed under house arrest. All of this was done as a way to quell any anticipated retaliations from the people of Kashmir before they even happened. Whichever protesters did make it out to the streets were met with a swift military response.

What does it all mean?

Throughout the history of the conflict between India and Kashmir and Muslims and Hindus, Muslim women have been abducted and raped, Hindus have been targeted by terrorist attacks, etc. There have been more than a few massacres in the region with responsible parties on both sides, depending on the day.

Now, displaced Kashmiri Hindus see the abrogation as an opportunity to go back home to Kashmir without fear of persecution from Muslims extremists and separatists. Similarly, Muslims fear oppression by the Hindu government, especially considering how Muslims are already being treated in India.

And where’s Pakistan in all this? They’re pissed. They’ve suspended trade between the two nations, including a train line that runs between them. Additionally, they’ve threatened to oust the Indian ambassador. Technically, Kashmir was always a part of India, despite its very special status, so Pakistan doesn’t have much of a dog in this fight aside from the one that they’ve always had. Some seem to think that they’re just mad about their own trading prospects, but as you can hopefully see by now, this conflict has deep, deep roots that involve much more nuance and complexity that I can even adequately describe within this article. This goes beyond economics. It’s identity, entitlement, and freedom.

Perspective

Something that always bothers me about the issue surrounding the claims made on the Jammu & Kashmir region is how nonsensical it is. We know that this whole thing started with an idiot making an admittedly idiotic and ill-informed proclamation regarding the borders between India and Pakistan.

It’s like the War on Drugs and why marijuana is still in the same drug class as heroin. Or, it’s like all of Brexit and why the people of the UK voted to leave the EU. Or, it’s like Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election. Or it’s like the entire conflict between Israel and Palestine. Or it’s like the entire conflict between China and Hong Kong.

OK last one – it’d be like if your friend heard you said something about her, but it wasn’t true. She gets mad at you over what she thinks you said. Then, the person who gave her your false quote told her, “Yeah, I made that all up because I was jealous of her,” but then your friend, even after knowing you never actually said anything bad about her, was still mad at you.

That’s how much sense all of this makes.

I don’t like inefficiencies, and I don’t like things that are more trouble than they ever should have been worth. I don’t like when things have an obviously and publicly clear and stupid origin, but regardless, we have to honor them for decades or centuries afterwards.

We know the Brexit vote was rigged. Hell, we know there was tampering in our own American presidential elections. We know that Georgia “lost” thousands of votes in their midterm election. We know that marijuana isn’t killing people and we know that they knew that when they categorized and criminalized it as such.

We know that they dude who split a nation and determined the fate of thousands of people on a whim because he was chosen for a job he never should have had in the first place thus sparking nearly a century-worth of fighting, death, and destruction never should have had that job in the first place of his own admission.

Can’t we just get a do-over? Damn.

I know – there are dangerous precedents that can be set by overturning decisions and election results, and I don’t take that lightly. BUT! I feel like the legitimacy of those decisions and elections should be just as, if not more, sanctified and upheld.

Definitely more.

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