Roots of the Kashmir conflict
The writer is a Muslim woman born in a rural village in Gujarat, India.
India, one of the oldest civilizations, fell under British colonial rule starting in the late 1700s. With British imperialism came the reinforcement of dividing people by religious groups, castes, languages spoken and nationalities, so that the workers under oppressive rule would not unite to overthrow the British empire.
The largest division was between Muslims and Hindus. Due to this, when the Indian independence movement started in the 1900s, elites in both groups could not decide on the election process for minority groups — the minorities in this case being Muslims as well as the Dalits. This led to Muslim groups calling for a separate state for themselves where they would not be a minority.
Muslims eventually got their wish in 1947, when India was split into the Muslim-majority states of West Pakistan and East Pakistan (modern-day Bangladesh) and the Hindu-majority state of India, sometimes referred to as Hindustan. The British partition of India led to the displacement of between 14 million and 16 million people and the killing of more than 200,000 to 2 million people in mass riots.
With partition, Kashmir and Jammu became one of the most disputed territories between India and newly formed Pakistan.
Kashmir and Jammu is a territory in the Himalayan region that earlier had been one of the 600 princely states of India. At that time, Kashmir and Jammu was a majority-Muslim territory, but it was ruled by a Hindu monarch named Maharaja Hari Singh. Under his rule, Muslims constantly faced discrimination and high taxes.
When the partition happened, the British left it up to the monarch to decide which country he would join. His subjects wanted Kashmir to be an independent state. But the Maharaja decided to join India in return for military help against Pakistan.
India then invaded Kashmir, sending in troops by air to crush a popular movement that had developed against the Maharaja’s rule.
Kashmiris’ fight for right to self-determination
An intense war then broke out between Pakistan and India. In 1948 the United Nations stepped in and brokered a ceasefire. Under the terms of the ceasefire, two-thirds of Kashmir belonged to India and the remainder, called Azad Kashmir, belonged to Pakistan. The terms also stipulated that there be a referendum where the Kashmiris could exercise their right to self-determination in choosing their own faith. But this was never carried out and was especially ignored by India.
Since 1947, India and Pakistan have been fighting to claim all of Kashmir. They have fought three wars over Kashmir, one in 1990 which almost led to a nuclear conflict between the two countries. To this day Kashmir is a highly disputed territory between India and Pakistan.
Both India and Pakistan have ignored the demands of the Kashmiri people. Instead, India gave Kashmir the special status of autonomy within India that ensured the Muslim-majority state its own constitution and supposed independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defense and communications.
Since 1948, Kashmiris have fought for their right to self-determination. They have taken to the streets constantly demanding freedom. India has answered with brutal repression. Since the 1900s an estimated 96,765 people have been killed in violent military massacres.
Kashmir is a heavily militarized zone, with up to 600,000 Indian soldiers and paramilitary cops stationed in the territory. More than 10,000 men have been arrested and more than 10,000 women have been raped or molested.
As of Aug. 26, India is still trying to suppress the people of Kashmir and Jammu. On Aug. 5, the Indian Hindu nationalist party BJP, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modhi, revoked Article 370, which had given Kashmiris the right to own land. Modhi’s action was meant to encourage millions of Hindus to move into the majority-Muslim territory of Kashmir.
In the face of these challenges, Kashmiris have not backed down and have been fighting back, as they have done for the last 72 years. India has cut off all communication, including internet, phones and social media. Schools and markets are closed, and millions of people are left incommunicado and besieged.
Indian police have opened fire on protest demonstrations in the capital, Srinagar, and other towns and cities. The population is under complete curfew, unable even to go outside. Hundreds have been arrested.
Since Aug. 5, demonstrations in solidarity with Kashmir have occurred all over the world. Workers World Party has participated in these demonstrations in the U.S. and has always supported the right of Kashmiris to decide their own fate.