Muhamad Serajuddin in Karachi
Pakistani kids are taught in and out of school that Kashmir is our “shah rug” (jugular vein). Indians believe that Kashmir is their “atoot ang” (indispensable body part). Urdu and Persian poetry is full of paeans to the beauty of Kashmir. If there is paradise on earth “it is this, it is this, it is this,” the 14th-century poet Amir Khusro wrote.
Since the time of Partition, 72 years ago, India and Pakistan have been fighting wars over Kashmir and calling each other the occupier and the oppressor of the Kashmiris.
Occasionally, there have been halfhearted pledges that the Kashmiri people should probably get to do what they want with their paradise. In 1948, the United Nations Security Council called for a plebiscite so that Kashmiris could decide their own fate. No such thing has happened. I have a couple of friends from both sides of the Kashmir dispute, and they have always said that more than freedom, any special status or merging with India or Pakistan, they would like to be left alone. By both India and Pakistan.
Whatever these and other Kashmiris have wanted, I am certain they didn’t want what they got this week: Kashmir’s special status, and relative autonomy, under India’s Constitution revoked. Some 35,000 more soldiers in the world’s most militarized region, schools shut, offices shut, the internet snatched away, landlines dead. Local political leaders — even those happy to collaborate with the Indian authorities in New Delhi — locked up. A former chief minister of the region said, hours before being arrested, that it had been a mistake to side with India at Partition. And now India is taking us back to Partition all over again by annexing Kashmir and throwing millions of its citizens in a cage.
Many Indians are cheer leading this imprisonment. The actor Anupam Kher tweeted with glee that the “Kashmir solution” had gotten off to a great start. Experts are writing that the Kashmiri people have enjoyed too many privileges all the while questioning their affiliation with India: You see, young men in the Kashmir Valley sometimes chant pro-Pakistan slogans and celebrate the occasional victory of Pakistan over India in cricket matches by waving Pakistani flags.
Before Article 370 was scrapped this week, Kashmiris had the notional privilege of making their own laws and flying their own flag. And what a privilege it was. They were punished for it for decades. Thousands of Kashmiris have been made to disappear; some who were detained by Indian soldiers said they were forced to eat their own flesh. Kashmir has also seen the largest mass blinding with pellet guns in human history.
The brute power of Hindu supremacy has its own logic, and it requires not only that Kashmiris be denied a future but also that they be humiliated and punished for their past sin of not being grateful Indians. While individual Indian Muslims across the country are being lynched for trading beef or forced to chant Hindutva slogans, Kashmiris are locked up en masse. Thank you, we don’t need collaborators anymore.
When some years ago a leader of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party said during an election rally that Muslim women should be dug from their graves and raped, he sounded like a deranged fanatic. But increasingly that outburst sounds like one more action point on a Hindu nationalists to-do list. Early this week, there were videos of young Hindus claiming that now they can get themselves Kashmiri girls. Many victims of the original Partition were women who were raped or who jumped into wells to avoid being raped. Now young Indian men seem to think another historic opportunity has opened up.
There is no dispute about the disputed territory of Kashmir, India announced this week. Your land, Kashmiris, is our land, it said. Pakistan’s jugular vein has been slashed.
I follow one bit of paradise on Twitter. Sabbah Haji is the director of the Haji Public School in Breswana village, up in the Jammu mountains. She posts about the progress of her students, and the health of her horses and dogs. On Saturday, as online connections started to disappear, she wrote, “When our internet is killed, don’t forget we’re still in here.”
The next day: “Out of the blue, one company of Army in my village today. Arrived this evening. We are at 7,500 feet up in the middle of nowhere.”
And then there came the silence.
Muhamad Serajuddin in Karachi