“Tum doodh mangoge hum kheer denge. Tum Kashmir mangoge toh hum tumhe cheer denge”– If you ask for milk, we will give you dessert, but if you ask for Kashmir, we will tear you apart. A saying that once simply represented the right-wing sentiments Pakistan and India held towards their claim over Kashmir now transpired to a dangerous reality for Kashmiris in the region.
On August 5th 2019, Kashmir was stripped of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted special status to the Muslim majority including autonomy over land, business, and most matters barring foreign affairs and defence. The bureaucratic, political move was paired with, to no one’s surprise, thousands of additional troops, a communications blackout, and a paralyzing curfew. Kashmiris, far from being able to exercise the autonomy previously granted to them by the constitution, are under the puppeteering actions of the three nuclear powers which continue to fight under the ruse of territorial rights and national integration.
Yale’s South Asian Society recently hosted a panel discussion on finding the semblances of humanity in a conflict smeared by territorial and bureaucratic interests and sentiments of nationalism. Panelist Sushant Singh presented the audience with several dimensions on the issue. On the bilateral level, he stated how the conflict appears to be of a central identity conflict between two states, India and Pakistan, both torn apart at birth post British-coloanialim. From a geopolitical perspective, Kashmir is advantageous for its shared border with India, Pakistan,China, and Afghanistan. Moreover, Kashmir is rich in glacial reserves which provide water supply for the agriculture of both countries. Either way, Kashmir and its concept bare to be essential to the nations which choose to claim it.
Professor Supriya Gandhi added how the Kashmiri question is flowered, in large part, by the religious landscape of the region. Kashmir being the only Muslim majority state in India, plays to India’s core identity as a non-sectarian democracy, heralded, of course, in direct contrast to Pakistan’s identity as a nation-state for the muslim population of South Asia.
Moreover, she shared how the current rhetoric from political leaders in India resembles discussions of Muslim conquest in India’s past. India has hosted several Mughali Muslim rulers over its history and Kashmir, now, stands as the symbol of one of the last poritons of that historical narrative that India can hold. Kashmir, then, becomes the crown of India and Pakistan’s national identity. An India without Kashmir perceptually falsifies the principle of secular democracy for many Indians. Similarly, Pakistan loosening its reigns of a muslim-majority state is antithetical to the core of the ideals preached by its founder, Muhmammad Ali-Jinnah. Kashmir lies, then, as a territorial and symbolic necessity for the imagined national identities both countries adamantly hold.
Neither bureaucratic officials in Pakistan or India are victims of this conflict. Indians and Pakistanis who safe in their houses, those who are free to pick up their phone and watch nationalistic renditions of news, are also not the victims. The victims, as always, are the Kashmiri citizens who have now physically been silenced in land which has always been their home. Panelist Salman Anees Soz stated that 40% of Kashmiris suffer with depression. Over 48,000 Kashmiris have died in the territorial conflicts so far, and thousands more have suffered at the hands of violent militaries from both nations.
As Kashmiris take to the streets to fight for their human rights and basic necessities and freedoms, they are met with silencing tear gas, pellets launched deep into their flesh, and, as always, discussion on which nuclear power should “rightfully” lay claim over the region. This discussion presents horrific irony, as its pursuit negates space for discussion on the rights which should be at the center of the debate– those of the Kashmiri citizens who have sacrificed decades of peace, prosperity, and comfort for a conflict they neither signed to start nor are able to resign from.
There is no clear international actor to root for here. Pakistan, India, China, and the multilateral organizations offering to forge agreements of peace have all been involved in human rights violations not just in Kashmir but around the world and in the flesh of their own land. The solution cannot be war, either. Focusing on protecting the human rights of Kashmiris and creating space for diplomatic discourse between India and Pakistan, though inadequate for the thousands who have suffered and continue to do so,may be the best outcome one can hope for to distill current tensions and restore the abnormal normalcy Kashmiris have previously bore before the 5th of August.