Kashmir: Stilling the Voice of a Minority

By Devanshu Narang in Toronto, ON.

“Kashmiri dosa?” I was startled by the thought of the popular South Indian dish, dosa, having a
reincarnation outside Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar, Kashmir.

“Jannat,” or paradise, is how Kashmir is referred to in South Asia. In my opinion, it is nothing less than heaven.

“Eat it and you will see for yourself how the Kashmiri spices and recipe mix with the Kanyakumari
(Southern-most point of India) and create magic. Just like the magic created by the bond between
Kashmir and India,” the old restaurateur replied.

He was right, as not only was the taste of the Kashmiri dosa out of this world, but also divine was this special bond between India and Kashmir. It was one which had stood the test of time, despite being a bone of contention between two ever-disputing nations: India and Pakistan.

Alas, today, that trust has bitten the dust. That warmth has become as cold as the harsh winter of Siachen or Kargil or other parts of Kashmir.

Today I cry for thee, my beloved Kashmiri friend, and am ashamed to have in a small way contributed to your demise by voting decades ago for the party that brought it.

What is this dispute about?

In 1947, the British enabled a division of the subcontinent on religious grounds, with the Muslim-dominated regions becoming part of Pakistan, while others stayed a part of India.

Jammu and Kashmir, the northernmost region of the Indian peninsula, was a difficult proposition. It
wanted to stay independent, but was strategically located, making it a critical area for both India and Pakistan.

Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu Dogra King while the majority of the population (80%) was Muslim. As per the partition formula, it could have gone to Pakistan, as was expected by the Pakistani leadership.

However, the area’s king signed a standstill agreement with Pakistan. He used force to control revolts, which resulted in greater violence and a final declaration of “azadi” or independence in the Poonch area in October 1947. When the rebels started marching towards Srinagar, allegedly aided by the Pakistan army, the king contacted the Indian government for help.

The first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, being Kashmiri, wanted to ensure that Kashmir acceded to India. Accordingly, his government signed an Instrument of Accession (IOA) with the king, which enabled Kashmir to maintain its own identity, flag and constitution, but become a part of a federal structure.

India then with Kashmir fought the guerrilla army aided by Pakistan before the issue went to the United Nations and a ceasefire was declared. A resolution passed that a plebiscite to take the will of Kashmiri people be carried out after the forces withdrew.

Plebiscite woes

That plebiscite has not been carried out till date. However, the IOA became the guiding principle of integrating Kashmir into India, and was later added to the constitution of India as Article 370.

Also, as per the agreed terms, Kashmiri citizens did away with their dual citizenship and accepted Indian citizenship. There was also formal induction of additional terms already agreed upon, including the right of original Kashmiri residents to own land in Kashmir incorporated in Article 35 of the Indian constitution.

Despite a myriad of issues, the Kashmiri mainstream had accepted their fate to be a part of their respective nations.

The rise of the far right in India

However, the most important element in the story is the rise of right-wing Hindu forces led by a
fringe element of the1950s, the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh, RSS.

Article 370 and 35 and why a Muslim-dominated state like Kashmir can enjoy special status has always been an eyesore to the RSS from the 1950s. Propaganda against Kashmir has been used as a tool to spread their Hindu agenda in the name of pseudo-nationalism.

For the RSS, there is no concept of equality, only domination. For them, India should be Hindu first.

This credo led to the RSS-allied Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) getting a strong majority in Parliament’s Lower House in 2014, and a greater majority in 2019. They have also garnered a majority in the Upper House.

The path to a Hindu nation

The time was ripe to rebuild RSS’ Hindu nation. The first step in that direction was to take over Kashmir by removing its special status in the constitution.

Articles 370 and 35 were scrapped, whereby the state of Kashmir was dissolved and made into
two smaller Union territories which are federally controlled.

This was done while keeping all the mainstream Kashmiri political parties in the dark. The government deployed tens of thousands of armed forces (on top of the tens of thousands already present) to the region. They completely blocked all communication in the region including
internet, TV and telephone lines. Any Kashmiri leader worth his salt was arrested. The entire state and its millions of people were cut off from the entire world.

The fallout

Kashmir has lost its special status. While this loss will be fought in the Supreme Court of India as it does not carry the stamp of approval of the Kashmiri public as prescribed in Article 370, considering the political and social environment in India, it seems a lost cause.

Kashmir is being literally annexed and made a part of India with the almost covert support of the most powerful nations of the world including the USA. The right wing supports the right wing everywhere. Prime Minister Modi has timed this well and knows that in today’s environment he can carry out any act of suppression in Kashmir without substantial dissent.

A future uncertain

I do not know what is going to happen in Kashmir. To date I am not even able to contact my friends in Kashmir about their safety.

So how does this bother us Canadians? We all are in this together. The world has seen repeatedly that when majorities have made refugees out of their own populations, the world has suffered. As Kashmir becomes another West Bank or Tibet, humanity dies.

Suppression cannot continue forever, and one day the communication blockade will have to end. And that day the Kashmiri may accept his fate, rebel, or run away and leave the paradise.

Right-wing Indians have started to talk about marrying Kashmiri “beautiful, white” brides and buying Kashmiri land. That is the second phase of the Hindu agenda to enable its total integration of India.

What is Canada doing? There is no voice of dissent from the Liberal government or from any other Canadian political party. After all, Kashmiri voices have no political value in Canada, while angering the Indo-Canadian vote base in the upcoming election is bad strategy. So much for Canadian support for democratic values.

Hope, from Canada to Kashmir

I just hope that if Kashmiris decide to leave Kashmir and head here, we welcome them with open arms and help them in earning a life of dignity in Canada.

In Kashmir, I do hope that somehow peace is restored. I had seen a return to normalcy on my trip to Kashmir in late 2018.

I want to let Kashmiris know that Canadians stand with them and with minorities anywhere who are being crushed by the unilateral agenda of the majority.

Canadians must show the way, today.