By Javed Iqbal
We are once again witnessing a heroic struggle of Kashmiris particularly the youth who are daring to one of the largest armies of the world. Kashmir is a graphic illustration of the exploitation and oppression faced by the masses across the world, especially in the former colonial countries. Both India and Pakistan have not only fought three wars over Kashmiris but also have brutally exploited them over the last 70 years since the British were driven out by the fear of an evolving socialist revolution in the Indian subcontinent.
This August both India and Pakistan will celebrate their 70th anniversary of independence. This is also the 70th anniversary of India’s bloody partitioning, a devastating event which forced a cleavage right through the middle of Punjab and Bengal. This dramatic post-war decolonization of South Asia unleashed an orgy of terror, bloodshed and mayhem that shook India from Kanyakumari to Karachi.
The partition of India was a huge mess as it uprooted people from their homes, resulting in the deaths of over 2 million and some 20 million Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, were forced cross the arbitrary border created by an obscure lawyer from the English Home Counties who never visited India before and had no idea of the reality on the ground. The refugees left in terror, travelled trembling, and arrived traumatised to ramshackle refugee camps.
Gandhi, Patel and Nehru proclaimed Hindustan is free, Jinnah saying the same about Pakistan. But they forgot to mention the harrowing scenes on the streets, fields, canals and rivers, etc. This was left to the greatest short story writer in the Indian sub-continent ‘Sadat Hussain Manto’ to describe the reality on the ground. In his stories, he illustrates how partition had left dried tracks of blood. India during the 1940s was going through a revolutionary hurricane which was sweeping across Asia and the world. Months immediately after the surrender of the Japanese on 2nd September 1945, India went through a stormy resurgence of the working class movement. The workers in large numbers participated in the post war political upsurge. Industrial strikes in virtually all the major cities – Bombay, Calcutta, Allahabad, Delhi, Madras, and Karachi erupted with full force. The Indian working class courageously jumped into the fray ignoring massive state oppression, arrests, beatings and even bullets as the decisive force in the struggle of the Indian people for independence from the British bondage. Towards the end of 1945, the Bombay and Calcutta dockworkers refused to load ships going to Indonesia with supplies for troops meant to suppress the national liberation struggles there. Indian workers were the main force behind demonstrations protesting against the British imperialism’s farcical Red Fort trials of members of the Indian National Army.
1946 was the year of revolution. It began with the trial of the Indian National Army veterans which brought a mass movement on the road that forced the British rulers to release the leaders of INA who were imprisoned in Indian jails facing charges of treason. This was followed up by a massive and heroic revolt of the Royal Indian Navy which spread like a wildfire from Bombay to Karachi, Calcutta, Madras, Colombo, Singapore etc.
On the 26th February 1946, 120 soldiers at Jabalpur rebelled against the British. The Jabalpur mutiny left a deep irreversible impact on the British. The then commander-in-chief of the British Indian army, Gen Sir Claude Auchinleck, sent several secret cables back to London, discussing a quick transfer of power from British hands to the Indians. The mutiny at Jabalpur was the first major uprising in the Indian Army during or after the war. This set alarm bells ringing from Delhi to London, and doubts began to be expressed on the steadfastness of the Indian Army.
With the above scenario staring them in the face British, the most astute imperialist power of the day drew correct conclusions that they could not keep India under subjugation any longer and decided to negotiate a transfer of power to the Hindu and Muslim bourgeoisie of India. In June 1947, the British decided to partition India into two separate sovereign states.
As the British rushed to grant independence to their Indian colony, the fate of the 662 princely states was unclear. Only 28 of these princely states had populations of over 50,000 and others were no more than small landed estates. However, they all had one thing in common – a total dependence on the British who allowed them in return for loyalty to rule their inhabitants despotically. Some like Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir and Hyderabad were increasingly drawn to the idea of an independent entity.
Kashmir and Amritsar Treaty
The genesis of the Indian subjugation of the Kashmiris goes way back to the colonial days of the British Raj. In 1846 the British concluded the Anglo-Sikh War by forcing the Sikhs to sell them territory centred on the Kashmir Valley, extending into Ladakh, Gilgit and Chamba, and down towards the Punjab plains in the vicinity of Jammu. Therefore, the Jammu Kashmir as a state with a defined territory was created by the Imperial British Power by bundling together diverse land pieces and diverse peoples and nationalities, with multiple identities, in March 1846. This kingdom was then sold on to two local feudal Hindu brothers, the elder known as Gulab Singh, who although a vassal of the former Sikh Empire, had betrayed the Sikhs and supported the British in the Anglo Sikh War.
For the notional sum of £750,000, the Dogra Rajputs consolidated their rule in a socially and religiously diverse area from the beautiful vale of Kashmir, with a predominately Sunni Muslim population but it also contained regions of significant Buddhist and Hindu settlement along with Shias other Muslim sects. This was not a state which was a natural unit from the point view of geographically, demographically, linguistically or economically. It basically was an agglomeration of territories which were brought together by force with the assistance of the British Raj and ruled repressively by the Dogra rulers.
The Dogra rule was nothing but repressive and iniquitous in virtually every facet of the lives of its inhabitants particularly those that were Muslims. There were huge disparities over the land ownership between Hindus and Muslims, the poor quality of Muslim education, and virtually no employment prospects. Popular disturbances against the Dogra rule took place from around the late 1920s onwards. Rent strikes and attempts to resist tenant eviction were particularly common in the area of Punch, where Muslims resisted Hindu landlords. Labour unrest and grinding poverty were evident throughout the Valley. Maharaja’s unpopularity grew by the day.
A small group of students studying in Aligarh who were exposed to the social, political and cultural ferment present throughout India particularly during the Khilafat Movement began to organise in Srinagar and were later became to be known as the Reading Room Party. Sheikh Abdullah a young Kashmiri activist who recently returned from Aligarh College joined hands with the activists of the Reading Room Party and the spiritual leader Mirwais Mohammed Yousuf Shah and all played a leading role in creating All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference. The nationalist opposition to British and the Dogra Maharajah was being articulated by this group, associated in some cases with the all-India agitations of the 1920s.
In 1931 Maharajah’s forces ended up killing over 31 Kashmiris in Srinagar. The Glancy Report of 1932 which was ordered to investigate Dogra repression against a Muslim strike in 1931 recommended reform within Jammu and Kashmir and compelled Maharaja Hari Singh to set up an elected assembly, known as the ‘Praja Sabha’. It was to consist of 37 members, 35 of whom were to be elected by communal constituencies on a very limited franchise, and to advise the prince on social and economic policy. Its views and proposals were not binding.
It was during early part of 20th century when a section of the population became conscious and began to organise itself politically that Jammu & Kashmir began the process of nation building. This process started gaining a proper shape during the late 1930s and having gone through the rites of passage, culminated into a national political movement, secular in character. The demands of this movement included setting up of a representative government with the transfer of state power from the hereditary autocratic Dogra ruler to the democratically elected representatives of the state populous. By 1938, Sheikh Abdullah rejected a narrow communal platform as counterproductive and embraced instead a secular political agenda that opened their political movements to non-Muslims. In doing so, Sheikh Abdullah broke with the Muslim Conference and founded his own party, the National Conference (NC), in 1939, closely aligned with the Indian National Congress. The movement was becoming partially successful in gaining some reforms with support of the people. But the emergence of two-nation ideology, in the mainland India, had its effects in the state J&K, and the nation building process experienced fishers and divisions.
The National Conference and Sheikh Abdullah launched “Quit Kashmir” campaign and called for the abolition of Dogra rule and the implementation of a social reform program to modernise the Valley. In 1939, Abdullah’s party won a majority in the Praja Sabha, only to suffer defections into a revived Muslim Conference in 1941, instigated in part by the Maharaja, who paid for defections from the National Conference. The Indian Congress leadership was convinced that Sheikh Abdullah was pro-Congress, and he had indeed made various statements supporting the Indian National Congress. Members of the Muslim Conference clearly opted for Pakistan. However, there is evidence that both Sheikh Abdullah and influential members of the Muslim Conference were also sympathetic to an independent Kashmir, although one in which the Maharaja was reduced to a constitutional monarch or removed altogether. This sentiment provided the only commonality between the disparate forces.
The commonality is significant from a contemporary standpoint because it highlights the degree to which the idea of an independent Kashmiri state, Islamic or secular, was very much present at the start of the crisis. Subsequent Indian and Pakistan historical interpretations have consistently downplayed this element, in fact, Indian support for Sheikh Abdullah was marked from the onset with anxiety over his desire to lead an independent state.
Kashmir on the Eve of Partition
The British left it to the princes to decide the future of their territories but in effect pursued a policy of territorial contiguity. Where princely states were surrounded by territory that would become part of the Indian Republic, their rulers were pressured to join India. The princes decided their fate by signing two documents, a Standstill Agreement and an Instrument of Accession. The former enabled a princely state to maintain connections with the surrounding territories of British India during its transition to Dominion Status (be it India or Pakistan) in vital areas of supplies and communications. The latter was, in effect, a transfer of sovereignty from the prince to either India or Pakistan. The documents were deemed to work in tandem. Jammu and Kashmir, because of its unique geographical location, signed Standstill Agreements with both India and Pakistan on 12 August 1947. But it’s Dogra ruler prevaricated on signing the Instrument of Accession.
The demarcation of the international border dividing India and Pakistan in the Punjab produced widespread communal violence in 1947 and a massive exchange of populations. It was against this background of widespread violence and administrative chaos that violence erupted in Kashmir in late September 1947.
In the charged atmosphere of partition, and amid the horror stories reaching the hills of killings and murders across the plain, a rebellion took place within the Punch area against the Dogra Maharajah particularly against the increases in rents and land taxes. Leading members of the Muslim Conference were at the forefront of this insurrection. As a result of an armed revolt by the indigenous people in the Punch region of the state, a Provisional Government was set up, in the liberated territory, under a declaration made, on 4th October 1947. Under a similar revolt in Gilgit Baltistan, the ‘State Subjects’ had also liberated these areas from the Raja’s control. Subsequent Indian historians and intelligentsia have tended to misrepresent the nature of this rebellion as a mere law and order issue, involving indiscriminate looting and violence.
From August to September 1947, both the Congress and the Muslim League started to see Kashmir not so much as a peripheral issue to the partition process but as something fundamental to their emergent national identities. Both sides saw Kashmir ideologically as essential for legitimating wider political positions. As a party representing the Muslim demand for a separate state, the Muslim League believed that Kashmir had to be part of Pakistan because it was overwhelmingly Muslim.
Indian diplomatic pressure had secured the release of Sheikh Abdullah by late September 1947, at a time when Pakistan was accusing the Indians of manipulating the Maharaja. By early October, the Dogra ruler accused the Pakistani authorities of withholding essential supplies to his state (especially oil and grain) in contravention of the Standstill Agreement. More seriously, by early October, Pashtun tribal Lashkar from the vicinity of the Northwest Frontier were sent in the State (under the pretext of supporting the fellow Muslims) on 22nd of October 1947, who embarked on indiscriminate pillage, plunder and killing. The provisional government of 4th October was summarily removed by the Pakistani establishment on 24th October, and a new administration was established, not with the consent the ‘State subjects’, but rather, by appointment of handpicked individuals. The Dogra army had proved singularly ineffective, and indeed some of its Muslim troops had defected. The truth is if the tribal Lashkar had not indulged in looting in Baramola just 30 kilometres outside Srinagar they would have easily overtaken Srinagar particularly its airport and would have made virtually impossible for Indian troops to reach the Vale.
India followed the suit, under the pretext of the call for help from the Dogra Maharaja, the Indian establishment sent its forces under the alleged ‘Instrument of Accession’, signed by the ruler, and appointed an administration of its own choice.
The Indian authorities began a military airlift to help repel the invading tribal forces. This led to protests from Pakistan, coupled with denials that it was orchestrating events. By March 1948, Pakistan military personnel had joined with the Pashtun tribals to fight the Indians directly. Heavy fighting took place in and around Punch, the town of Kargil, and over the Zoji-la pass into Ladakh.
The process of nation building in Jammu and Kashmir was disrupted once again in 1947 and the sovereign status of the Jammu and Kashmir state was dismembered by the newly created dominions of India and Pakistan. The state and its people were forcibly divided and an international case was constructed by the two occupiers as a geopolitical dispute between the two, each one having a “legitimate” claim over the entire state, albeit under fake pretensions of supporting the ‘right to self-determination of the people’. Tragically, they have managed to get an endorsement of this charade from a majority of the people under their respective occupation.
Immediately after partition India and Pakistan tried unsuccessfully to occupy and control Kashmir resulting in an agonising and unfinished partition of Kashmir which has manifested itself in uninterrupted misery, unemployment and the worst form of occupation on the one hand and on the other it has been a source of constant tension, including 3 wars between India and Pakistan.
Pakistani Occupied Kashmir – “Azad Kashmir”
The Pakistani state’s loud proclamation of being supporter and liberator of Kashmiris runs hollow from the first day. Its control and actions cannot be described other than as a colonial power. Firstly, it sent armed invaders without any regards for Kashmir’s inhabitants and then subsequently sent its own regular army to begin a process of forced occupation. Pakistan authorities moved very swiftly to depose the provisional government declared by an indigenous populous, and appointing an administration of its own choice; thereby diverting and subverting the course of democratic choice of a people to self- governance.
The territories of Gilgit and Baltistan were annexed, in 1948, by the Pakistani establishment under a so-called treaty signed by the then president of AJK, appointed by Pakistan without the consent of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. These parts of the State were then categorised and called as ‘The Northern Area of Pakistan’ until 2009 and were governed autocratically by Pakistan through its Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas.
From 1949, various formal and legal arrangements have prescribed the Azad Kashmir and Pakistan relationship. What these have done is tied Azad Kashmiris to Pakistan, ensured the nation’s superior position and decreased Azad Kashmir’s autonomy.
In 1974 Pakistan imposed ‘The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act 1974’. This gave Azad Kashmir a prime ministerial system with a second chamber the Azad Kashmir Council, based in Islamabad. This is a superior body to the Kashmir Legislative body and is chaired by the Pakistani Prime Minister. The effective power lies with the Kashmir Council and its membership is largely selected by Islamabad. In addition to effective control of Azad Kashmir through the Azad Kashmir Council, the 1974 Act also stipulates that Azad Kashmiris seeking office should support and swear to Jammu and Kashmir accession to Pakistan.
Indian Occupied Kashmir
The mass anger and hatred of the Kashmiris against Indian occupation found its expression in the revolt of 1987. The militant movement that started in 1987 took the form of an armed insurgency. The Indian army, in turn, unleashed a savage state terrorism and oppression. Seven hundred thousand regular and paramilitary troops ravaged the valley to quell the struggle. Over 100,000 lost their lives, thousands of women were raped. Hundreds of homes were burnt down and thousands more were forced to migrate. The Indian army, posted in Kashmir, has special unlimited powers under the Armed Forces Special Power Act and other laws allowing them to question people on the basis of suspicion, arrests without warrant, home searches at any time, and other draconian acts.
During the mid-1990s the armed insurgency lost its momentum and declined considerably. But the number of armed personnel in Kashmir has increased rather than decreasing and the army still has the same draconian powers. In Srinagar, there is an army check-post every one or two miles where the pedestrians have to undergo humiliating body searches. Women are also mistreated at these check posts.
Protests against this military repression have become a daily routine of the Kashmiri masses. This military repression is more naked in the countryside where homes are searched at night and inmates humiliated. Men are tortured and women are raped and those who resist are shot.
While there is Indian military naked aggression against the people of Kashmir, the social, economic and industrial infrastructure of Kashmir has been completely shattered by two decades of violence. There is almost no industrial infrastructure. Unemployment is endemic. According to a Chatham House (a British foreign policy think-tank) report published in June 2010, 83% of people on both sides of the Line of Control think that Kashmir’s biggest problem is unemployment.
Since the death of Burhan Wani in July 2016, corridors of power in Srinagar, Delhi and Islamabad have been shaken by the uprising of Kashmiri youth. Over the last 12 months, we have witnessed major parts of the valley going through widespread protests, strikes and unrest which does not seem to end.
According to Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a human rights group, Indian security forces have killed 150 civilians in 2016. Another 15,000 of them sustained injuries during protests, including over 1,000 blinded by pellets directed in the eyes by police and paramilitary forces. This violence is not restricted to the protests. According to the same Coalition, 138 rebels and 100 security officials were also killed last year. Young rebels are routinely seen in public. Carrying Kalashnikovs and offering gun salutes to people, they openly participate in public rallies. Often they stay overnight with villagers while moving from one area to another.
Even where the rebels’ presence is known, Indian security forces find it difficult to launch siege and search operations to nab them. Protesters come out in large numbers to support the rebels, shouting slogans and hurling stones at soldiers. Instead of running away from gun battles, young men and boys are thronging encounter sites to take on the heavily armed forces with taunts and stones. Young civilians develop an informal intelligence network to help rebels move around undetected. They know they can die in the process. ‘We can sacrifice our lives to help our brothers,’ is a sentiment shared by many among the youth. Large numbers of girls in headscarves and school uniforms have been joining male protesters for the first time in recent memory.
The genesis of this attitude amongst the Kashmiri youth can be traced back to the 2008 mass civilian uprising. It was unprecedented as for the first time, unarmed civilians, mostly young boys, took to the streets to protest against the Indian occupation. The state responded with overwhelming force; over 100 people were killed by the security forces and thousands left injured. Since then, Kashmir has witnessed two more such mass uprisings and the government has only responded with even more force.
According to a prominent Kashmiri historian ‘Siddiq Wahid’ based in Srinagar, the youth have taken charge of the political struggle in Kashmir. “The youth believe that resistance by the earlier generations has been co-opted – in different ways and by varying degrees – by interests that are external to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.”
A recent tweet by the former Kashmiri Chief Minister Omar Abdullah shows another new development in the Kashmiri struggle. Omar Abdullah’s tweet shows a photo of a girl in her school uniform kicking the side of a police vehicle. Her left arm cradled a basketball while her left hand clutched a brick.
The Indian government has responded to the popular upheaval by increasing its use of force. Indian authorities have imposed strict curbs on communication and information dissemination. They have kept large areas under curfew for days and have often conducted mass arrests. The alienation from mainstream politics is quite evident on the ground. But the failure of the last civilian uprising led by the joint leadership of Hurriyat post-Burhan Wani’s death has caused many to question their ways and methods. Hurriyat’s one-track strategy of hartals and protest has become limited and outdated. Hurriyat is not able to resonate with the youth who feel a higher degree of alienation today, in the way the likes of Burhan Wani, seen as fighting from the front have.
For decades, India has pointed its fingers towards foreign and Pakistani involvement in the valley. Pakistani support for religious jihadist groups for decades is no secret. But what we are seeing now has never been seen before. Indian ruling elite and the state has never felt so threatened and vulnerable from foreign interventions as they do from this indigenous revolt of the youth. The mammoth military apparatus and might of the Indian bourgeois seem to be helpless and despairing in the face of these stone throwing girls and boys who have risen with a vengeance against the oppression and cruelties executed by this ‘largest democracy in the world’.
Over the last 70 years, the people of the Jammu and Kashmir have been further divided and fragmented. However, the biggest tragedy is with regards to the divisions, fragmentations and confusions in the ranks of Kashmiri nationalists and so called progressives, who have no clear comprehension of these ground realities. The truth is that Kashmiri nationalists and progressives have miserably failed to construct a national identity and also tragically failed to form a united national platform representative of the diversity existing in the individual components of Jammu and Kashmir.
The lessons of the last 70 years’ struggle for Kashmiri emancipation are that this struggle must link up with the struggle for emancipation of the masses from economic, social and national exploitation and subjugation. The Kashmiri political classes over the last 70 years have always ended up being played and used by the Pakistani and the Indian states and have been active accomplices in the subjugation of the Kashmiri masses. Lenin was profound on this issue: “The recognition of the right to self –determination does not exclude either propaganda or agitation against separation or exposure of bourgeois nationalism.” The UN and other international diplomatic forums dominated by imperialism and big powers failed to move even an inch in the resolution of the Kashmir’s agony.
There can be no genuine and real liberation of the Kashmiri people on the basis of narrow nationalism. The real emancipation can only be achieved with the perspective of Socialist revolution in India and Pakistan leading to Socialist Confederation of the South Asia including the Autonomous Socialist Republic of Kashmir. This does not mean that people of Kashmir must lock themselves in their homes and wait for Pakistani and Indian workers to rise up and overthrow this belated, impotent capitalist system.
Kashmiri masses can only win freedom by their own sacrifice and efforts. This has been amply demonstrated by the people of Kashmir. Armed struggle failed to dislodge the Imperial occupational states. When all options are closed then only the revolutionary way can put an end to the plight of the oppressed. This means Kashmiris not only will have to forge unity of the youth and working classes across all the different parts of the geographical entities of Kashmir but also that of the Indian and Pakistan for a mighty class struggle and a socialist transformation across the whole of South Asian.