Is India using Israel’s colonial playbook in Kashmir?
The current measure by the Indian government is “the beginnings of a settler-colonial project in Kashmir, one similar to Israel’s in the Palestinian territories.”
In a dramatic political development, the Indian government over the last weekend instructed tourists to leave occupied Kashmir, imposed an indefinite curfew, arrested local political leaders, cut off all forms of communication, deployed more troops.
The threat of a potential terror attack was the publicly declared justification for such measures. However, the actual reason was revealed Monday when the government of far-right Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped Kashmir’s special status by changing the constitution through a presidential order.
Article 370 which gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir autonomy was removed Monday.
The Northern state of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India in 1947, the year India ‘won’ independence from the two-centuries-long British colonialism.
The King of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, a Hindu ruler in the Muslim majority valley, dreamt of ruling Jammu and Kashmir independently while more than 500 princely states were banded together by the British to form the present-day geopolitical territory known as India.
Hari Singh’s father bought Kashmir from the British in 1846 and chose not to accede with India. Nonetheless, the deal was shattered by the entry of Pakistani troops into Kashmir in October of the same year.
Realizing his impending doom, the fleeing king requested military help from India and in return acceded the valley into Indian territory on Oct. 26, 1947, despite its population’s opposition. Article 370 was the basis of accession which gave Kashmir its autonomy.
On Oct. 27, 1947, in the early morning hours, the Indian army landed in Kashmir. Their ascendance became the catalyst of the movement for ‘Azadi’ (freedom).
Within a month over 200,000 Muslims in the Jammu region were killed by right-wing Rashtriya Sawamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organization of current ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). More than half a million Muslims fled to Pakistan.
Muslims constituted 60 percent of the population of the region. They were reduced to a minority post-massacre.
“The massacre of more than two lakh (two hundred thousands) Muslims was state-sponsored and state-supported. “The forces from Patiala Punjab were called in, RSS (a right-wing Hindu organization) was brought to communalize the whole scenario and kill Muslims,” said PG Rasool, the author of a book The Historical Reality of Kashmir Dispute.
“They thought even if they lose Kashmir at least they should get Jammu and the only way was to have a Hindu majority.”
Similar steps are being taken by the BJP in Kashmir at the present day. Instead of ethnic cleansing by genocide, the government is changing the constitution.
Article 370, which empowered the state to ban non-locals from buying properties or have a government job, is now revoked to in an effort to change the region’s Muslim-majority demography, which has been waging a war for freedom for past 30 years.
This provision of the Indian constitution which provided for Jammu & Kashmir’s autonomy was drafted in 1947 by the then prime minister of the state, Sheikh Abdullah, and accepted by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Jammu and Kashmir had their own prime minister till 1965 when an amendment to the state’s constitution changed the position to Chief Minister.
Article 370, though, was only classified as a temporary provision and in October 1949 was included in the Indian constitution by the constituent assembly.
Then Article 35A was included in 1954 under Article 370 and empowering the Jammu & Kashmir state parliament to provide special rights and privileges to permanent residents of the state.
Such regulations will now come to an end with the repeal of 370, meaning that non-Kashmiris will likely be allowed to buy property in the region and state residents will likely lose their control of state government jobs and college spots.
After the removal of the article Monday, Ram Madhav, a leader of the ruling BJP, said his Hindu nationalist party was committed to bringing some 200,000-300,000 Hindus to the Kashmir valley, meaning the Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus) who left the valley during the starting years of the insurgency would be taken back to Kashmir.
The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits has been used by consecutive Indian governments to legitimize their violence on Kashmiri populations.
Reports of their massacre, exodus, rape, and torture were widely circulated to influence public opinion against Kashmiris.
However, Sanjay Tickoo, who did not leave the valley, said to Al-Jazeera in 2011 that the exodus of the Pandits was exaggerated.
Tickoo, who heads the Kashmiri Pandit Sangarash Samiti (KPSS), an organization for Pandits who did not leave the valley, said that even though the majority of the Hindus left the valley, there was no “ethnic cleansing” as claimed by the Indian state.
The allegations that Pandits cannot return to their motherland and all their properties were taken over by Muslims have also been discredited. Up until now Pandit houses and lands remain untouched.
“[Those who left] thought they would be gone for three or four months, and that they would return when things improved … no one expected to stay there for years,” said Motilal Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit.
The Indian government is saying that their measure will help Kashmiri Pandits go back and buy their lands. The fallacy of the logic lies in the fact that Kashmiri Pandits do not have to buy back their lands and that the Article was the only link to India. Removing it means Kashmir is independent according to some legal experts.
Hafsa Kanjwal, Assistant Professor of South Asian History at Lafayette College wrote in the Washington Post that “what is at stake in this unconstitutional move is the beginnings of a settler-colonial project in Kashmir, one similar to Israel’s in the Palestinian territories.”
“To be sure, the land was already populated by the Indian army — over half a million strong — who had taken over huge swaths of land with their cantonments, camps and bunkers. But now the ruling party can set in motion its long-term plan to populate the region with enough Hindu settlements to make the current Muslim majority’s political aspirations for freedom obsolete,” she said.
The immediate future of Kashmir and Kashmiris are unclear. Kashmiri youth leader Shehla Rashid wrote on Twitter that they will challenge the government’s decision at the Supreme Court.
Due to the lockdown and communication blackout in the valley, the international community is totally in dark about the situation there.
“People are likely to come out into the streets regardless of the curfew, and they will undoubtedly be met with bullets from the Indian military,” Kanjwal said. “It is very, very scary what could happen.”