In Kashmir, the colonised have become the colonisers. India’s soul is at stake

Ceritalah by Karim Raslan

  • The Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stripped Kashmir of its statehood
  • If the government can do this to Kashmir what will prevent similar outrages being perpetrated elsewhere?
Karim Raslan

Karim Raslan  

Published: 12 Aug, 2019 SCMP

Kashmiri Muslims protest in Srinagar, India. Photo: EPA

Kashmiri Muslims protest in Srinagar, India. Photo: EPA

The West Bank. Gaza. Xinjiang. Modern-day concentration camps. Is the 12.5-million strong, Muslim-majority Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir next?

Last week it was placed under curfew, its telecommunications silenced and its mainstream political leaders detained.About 500,000 troops were already stationed in Kashmir, making it one of the most militarised areas in the world. In recent weeks, a further 35,000 Indian soldiers were deployed, as tourists and non-residents rushed to escape the dragnet. Locals stockpiled food and other supplies. Panic took hold.

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In a series of rapid-fire constitutional amendments, the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped Kashmir of its statehood, removing its autonomy as well as safeguards preventing outsiders buying land.

Essentially, Kashmir has been downgraded. It will be divided in two: Jammu and Kashmir on one side and Ladakh on the other, both ruled directly from New Delhi as Union Territories.

Modi has promised an eventual return to “state” status and improved development but there is already talk of Hindu settlers flooding into Kashmir, which would irrevocably alter its demographics.

This is just the latest tragedy to befall Kashmir. Already the scene of three wars between India and Pakistan, it is once again on the precipice.

The Kashmir Valley has historically been majority Muslim, while Jammu to the south is predominantly Hindu and Ladakh mostly Buddhist. All three areas were ruled by the Dogra Maharajas, who were Hindu.

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When British rule in the subcontinent ended in 1947, partition created modern India and modern Pakistan. Kashmir’s Maharaja at the time, Hari Singh, chose to accede to India rather than Pakistan as most of his Muslim subjects allegedly preferred.

The region has since been a focal point of a broader regional struggle between India and Pakistan, with both sides claiming sovereignty.

Kashmiri residents throw stones towards Indian security forces in Srinagar. Photo: Reuters

Kashmiri residents throw stones towards Indian security forces in Srinagar. Photo: ReutersShare:

Kashmir was afforded certain constitutional guarantees, including autonomy over all matters except foreign relations, communications and defence. India also made an as yet unfulfilled pledge to hold a plebiscite to decide Kashmir’s ultimate status.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) views these guarantees as an aberration: undeserved privileges for a truculent Kashmiri Muslim population and an obstacle to creating Hindu Rashtra, a Hindu state.

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Defenders, however, have claimed Kashmir’s “special privileges” were an essential part of India and its Constitution’s Nehruvian secularism.

The concessions, although unpopular, were a guarantee to Kashmir’s Muslims – and by implication, all the nation’s minorities – that embracing India would not result in their identities being subsumed by the Hindu majority.

Supporters of Anjum-e-Tulba Islam during a demonstration to condemn India. Photo: AP

Supporters of Anjum-e-Tulba Islam during a demonstration to condemn India. Photo: APShare:

Instead, the events of last week highlight the BJP government’s determination to pursue and implement the Hindu nationalist agenda of its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). This includes erasing the pluralism championed by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and the sanctity of the secular constitution drafted by the Dalit Dr BR Ambedkar.

However, it would be wrong to blame this erosion of India’s liberties exclusively on Modi, the BJP and the RSS. The Indian voters who re-elected Modi with an increased majority also bear responsibility.

Furthermore, Indian governments of all ideologies have over the past 40 years encroached on Kashmir’s autonomy, failed to hold the promised referendum and prevented UN arbitration.

Online, many Indians welcomed the decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy, some hailing it as the “final solution” to the “Kashmir problem”. If this suggests Modi’s actions enjoy popular support, it may be short-lived.

Confrontation with Pakistan and China remains unlikely. The real damage will be to India’s soul.

If the government can do this to Kashmir – ignoring the voices of its people totally – what will prevent similar outrages being visited not only on India’s other minorities but also its non-Hindi speaking regions, such as Karnataka, Assam and Tamil Nadu?

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The subjugation of Kashmir is about more than religion: it is about the destruction of a unique national culture practised by different faiths. It is about the deliberate homogenisation of India, or rather, the end of its rich diversity.

Its reputation as an anti-colonial icon, as a beacon of Asia – secular and progressive, democratic and pluralistic – is in tatters. The colonised have become colonisers.

This is what Modi’s supporters wanted. They voted for a “strongman” and now – for better or worse – must live with the consequences.This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: In Kashmir, the colonised have become the colonisers

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