Kashmir and the festering legacy of partition

Kashmir and the festering legacy of partition
5 min read
15 Aug, 2017
Comment: Partition in 1947 saw the end of colonial rule and the birth of India and Pakistan, but had disastrous and enduring consequences for Kashmir, writes Umar Lateef Misgar.
An Indian paramilitary trooper mans a checkpoint during a curfew in Srinagar [AFP]
This week marks 70 years since the decolonisation of the Indian subcontinent from imperial rule, and the subsequent partition of the former British colony into the nations of Pakistan and India.

While both countries mark their days of independence on 14 and 15 August respectively, the violent legacy of this colossal event resonates until today.

Besides killing more than a million people and displacing fifteen million across the borders of two nascent nations, the partition left an intractable territorial dispute between the two neighbours in the form of Kashmir. Both countries claim the territory in full but only rule over parts of it. India and Pakistan have already fought three wars over Kashmir and the dispute has the potential to ignite a nuclear showdown in South Asia.

Historically the independent princedom of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), at the time of Indian decolonisation in 1947, was given a choice to merge with either of the two newly carved countries. The repressive monarch Maharaja Hari Singh, ruling over J&K at the time, planned on staying independent of both the dominions.

His plans, however, were instantly thwarted by an indigenous rebellion followed by a foreign invasion that led to the division of territory and formation of what is now Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

India's 70 year rule over Kashmir has been marred by massive and systematic human rights abuses

In a panic, the Maharaja, in October 1947, signed a temporary agreement with Indian troops, allowing them to land on Kashmiri soil to defend his remaining princedom.

Many dispute the validity of this agreement on the basis that the Hindu Maharaja ruling over an insurgent Muslim-majority Kashmir had no moral or legal authority to sign the document. India cites the Maharaja's agreement, to give legal face to its continued rule over the territory but has always faced indigenous resentment of some sort, whether armed or unarmed.

In the coming months, the Maharaja's troops, in collaboration with far-right Hindu groups from India, organised a large-scale ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Southern Jammu region of J&K - as many as 200,000 Muslims were killed across Jammu, and Muslims turned from a regional majority of 61 percent to a minority.  

"Maharaja, perhaps paranoid about Muslim preference for Pakistan, was bent on altering the demographic structure of his kingdom," Arsilan Aziz, founder of the website Lost Kashmiri History, told The New Arab.

According to Aziz, this mass killing of Muslims in Jammu is often forgotten in the face of catastrophic widespread violence that occurred across the subcontinent in 1947.

Since then, tens of thousands of Kashmiris have lost their lives. India's 70 year rule over Kashmir has been marred by massive and systematic human rights abuses including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and other forms of sexual abuse, enforced disappearance and destruction of private property.

Indian forces enjoy total judicial impunity under what is known as the Armed Forced Special Powers Act, an emergency law that gives Indian forces operating in Kashmir a sweeping authority over Kashmiri life and property without fear of any prosecutions. The UN has, on multiple occasions, called for the repeal of this draconian legislation.

The armies of two nations regularly trade fire across the border that divides Kashmir into Pakistani and Indian control, damaging property and causing civilian casualties. These military hostilities often cause large scale displacements on both sides of the border.      

For Kashmiris, the anniversary marks 70 years of political upheaval with lethal consequences

Coming to the present, while India will celebrate its 70th independence anniversary with a spectacle, Kashmir, as usual, will be put under a pernicious security blanket.

Prior to the celebrations, checkpoints manned by Indian soldiers have become increasingly common. The day itself will be marked by general strikes, protest rallies and curfew-like restrictions across Kashmir. The internet is gagged and employees working for the Indian-sponsored regional government in Kashmir are obliged to attend the pompous functions and rallies organised by the Indian authorities.

There are many similarities with the commemoration of Nakba Day in Palestine. While the Palestinians mourn the loss of their historical homeland, Israelis commemorate it as the day of independence.

Read more: Repression and resistance: Kashmiris and Palestinians find common ground

In fact, the questions of Palestine and Kashmir are often discussed together as the legacies of a waning British empire. "While vacating the Middle East and South Asia, the British left behind permanent eyesores in the form of Palestine and Kashmir conflicts," says Baba Umar, a Kashmiri journalist.

According to Umar, the decolonisation of Indian subcontinent, in some senses, led to the simultaneous colonisation of Kashmir at the hands of two newly formed nations.

This, while deeply frustrating, also gives immense hope to Kashmiri people that foreign occupations do not last forever, concludes Umar.               

Both India and Pakistan may celebrate their 70th independence days with celebratory and patriotic fervour but, for Kashmiris, the annivesary marks 70 years of political upheaval with lethal consequences.

The time for both nations - while taking Kashmiris on board - to undertake serious measures to resolve this decades old conflict in the heart of South Asia, is well overdue. 

Umar Lateef Misgar is a graduate student of International Relations at the Islamic University of Kashmir. He regularly writes for The New Arab, openDemocracy, Counterpunch and London School of Economics Human Rights Centre.

Follow him on Twitter: @Kaashur

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.