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Kashmir: Caught between Hindu Nationalism and Freedom

Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has escalated forces and has created a vacuum of mystery around what exactly they could be doing in Kashmir.

TW: mention of sexual assault and ethnic cleansing 

By Manaal Farooqi

Kashmir is a region well known to those in the northern part of South Asia. It’s a contested region since it and other states between Pakistan and India were divided in half. It is the only state with a clear Muslim majority that was divided between the two countries. Kashmir, however, has become front and centre for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Prime Minister Modi to demonstrate its start of a creation of a Hindu nationalist state, by whatever force necessary— including ethnic cleansing of Muslim Kashmiris. Kashmir now has the most heavily militarized border in the world, with upwards of 38,000 reported troops currently on the ground.

The party, which is the political extension of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is a Hindu nationalist party whose aim is suppressing religious minorities, such as Christians, Sikhs, and Muslims, through a variety of methods to create a Hindu nationalist state. Hindu nationalism is a right-wing ideology, similar to white supremacy in how it functions and operates on the Indian subcontinent. It’s end-goal is to create a Hindu nationalist state, and ultimately eliminate religious minorities, similar to ethnic cleansing, in the state; even though these groups have deep histories in the region. Human rights groups in India, neighbouring Pakistan and across the world have highlighted the tactics and injustices put forward by the Modi regime for years. In 2017 alone, India witnessed more than 700 outbreaks of communal violence that killed 86 and injured 2,321 people. A recent study points out that, “Muslims – who form 15 percent of the country’s population – have borne the brunt of these hate crimes, such as lynching, threats, attacks on places of worship and forced conversion.” While there have been multiple hate crimes across the country, the largest stage for this has been in Kashmir. 

While these changes in government and policies have swept the nation since 2014 with Modi’s election and the RSS’s rise to state-sanctioned power, these issues have affected the people of Kashmir for far longer. 

Kashmir has had a complicated history when it comes to its own version of the caste system. Historically, Hindu Kashmiris compromised of the elite ruling class, while Muslim Kashmiris were the working class. Going back to 1941, “under the Hindu rule, Muslims faced hefty taxation, discrimination in the legal system and were forced into labor without any wages.” Kashmir, in a 1941 census was measured as 77% Muslim, 20% Hindu and 3% Buddhist, meaning that the majority was held by the Muslim population even though the elite were ruling the state. When it came time for the British orchestrated partition, the ruler of Kashmir sided with India causing a rift with two wars afterward, with countless deaths and separations.

Human rights abuses have been running rampant in Kashmir for years, and only a portion of them have been documented or reported. As of 2015 alone, there have been 1,080 extrajudicial killings, 272 enforced disappearances in the region, along with the 60,000 people who have been killed in the past two decades. Kashmir is also the place of the world’s first mass blinding starting in 2016, with 17,000 adults and children in a four-month period being injured. Along with that, five thousand were arrested, and an entire population spent the summer under the longest curfew in the history of curfews in Kashmir. 

The Indian military in the region is known to rule with tyranny and has a long history of human rights abuses. This is the same military that has taken over the streets of Kashmir during the current military lockdown. The same military that killed an 11-year old boy– who was found with “…around 400 pellets in his body… there were torture marks on his body and some of his hair had been pulled out.” It’s commonplace to hear of different raids throughout the region with similar or worse testimonials for what was witnessed such as “…they beat up men, women and children and took away many young men with them.”

Related: THERE IS NO JUSTICE FOR ASIFA BANO WITHOUT FREEDOM FOR KASHMIR

Along with these tactics of ethnic cleansing that have taken place for decades and which only continue to escalate, mass sexual assault has also been used by the Indian military forces. The United Nations has documented that from 1992 that Indian security forces allegedly gang-raped 882 women in the region. A similar report from Médecins Sans Frontières’ found that “11.6 percent of interviewees said they had been victims of sexual violence since 1989″ and that “one in seven had witnessed rape.”

These clear and documented violations of human rights have become impossible to track or share in real-time due to the current lockdown in Kashmir as the region enters its 11th day with no access to the outside world and no coverage. With the revocation of Article 370, which allowed the region autonomy on paper, but not really in practice for years, Kashmir has lost any legal right over their territory. The change from practice to symbolic for the article began in the 1960’s due to interference from the Indian state— it was even in its now-former state, still a legal leg for the Kashmiri people to assert their rights in the global sphere. 

The revocation of article 370 allows full control legally and in practice by the Modi’s regime of the region — this project has been a strategic “Hindu nationalist demand dating back to the early 1950s,” that many argue the RSS has been working towards since then. It seems the next piece of legislation the current government seeks to abolish is Article 35a, which permits the definition of permanent residents to local authorities instead of federal authorities. As it stands currently, it “…forbids outsiders from permanently settling, buying land, holding local government jobs or winning education scholarships in the region… it also bars female residents of Jammu and Kashmir from property rights in the event that they marry a person from outside the state. The provision also extends to such women’s children.”

While many argue against the latter section, many believe that the reason this was created was to counteract the mass sexual assault and rape from leading to forced marriages to solely gain land and create a Hindu majority. The BJP is championing the bill as a means of restoring power to the federal government, but also on the coattails of it being for women’s’ liberation, which is a far cry from what has been happening to women in the region for decades. Perhaps it was also to stop calls to action from elected officials like Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar who said: “we will have to bring daughters-in-law from Bihar if the number of girls reduces and the number of boys increases. Now people say that since Kashmir is open, we can bring girls from there.” Kashmiri women are regarded as nothing more than pawns in the BJP and RSS’s plans for the region, be it mass sexual assault, abductions or potential forced marriages — it’s clear that they want a Hindu majority Kashmir, through a multitude of tactics via brute force.  

With no movement between it and neighbouring states, many Kashmiris abroad and in India are gravely concerned about their loved ones and what state they are in if they are even alive. This is not the first time there has been a full lockdown of access to the outside world for Kashmir, but this is certainly the most extreme and longest. As per a UN study, India has had the highest level of internet shutdowns in the world between April 2017 and May 2018, with half of those reported in the Kashmir valley. The report also goes on to share that “In the first four months of 2019, Jammu and Kashmir experienced 25 instances of internet shutdown,” which is roughly one shut down every week. 

Related: WORDS MEAN THINGS: UNDERSTANDING COLONIALISM

Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has escalated forces and has created a vacuum of mystery around what exactly they could be doing in Kashmir. However given the track record of human rights abuses and the clear plans that the RSS and BJP have for India’s Muslim population, the subcontinent has entered into a new era. One where a tyrannical government can conduct ethnic cleansing in front of the international community, and there are no consequences. 

Rumours of protests, mass arrests and more are spreading throughout the diaspora with no confirmation from media. With what little information media has been able to receive, the response from Modi’s regime is dismissive at best. The BBC ran a clip last week which showed Indian police firing tear gas at thousands of protesters in Srinagar demonstrating for independence after Friday prayers. In response to this, A government spokesperson called the video “fabricated.” Other officials showed to reporters images of Kashmiris praying peacefully. “There have been some minor localized protests of a routine nature.” 

The Kashmir issue is a strategic issue for Pakistan, India and arguably China as well. The five main rivers that have historically provided water to the South Asian subcontinent begin in the Himalayas, in Kashmir. If either country is able to gain full control of the source of water for millions of people on either side of the border, they hold all the power in the long feud between India and Pakistan. China, which is allied with Pakistan, is also continually looking to expand its sphere of influence in the region, and this would allow it exactly that power if itself or Pakistan was able to gain control. These are just the structural and resource-related reasons that the Kashmir conflict has continued to exist for decades and why it’s critical to the future of the subcontinent, not only Kashmir. 

Even as Modi’s plan for Kashmir and its people have become abundantly clear, one has to wonder why there isn’t any global outrage over this, let alone statements. Modi’s regime is currently demonstrating an ethnic cleansing fueled by right-wing ideology, Hindu nationalism, in one of the largest democracies in the world, with little uproar from the international community. The words ‘‘never again” should apply for all groups that are being threatened by ethnic cleansing and in today’s global village, someone needs to step up before Modi’s regime descends into further violence, for Kashmiris and for the rest of India’s minorities. The fate of the South Asian subcontinent and its most vulnerable people are at stake. 

Manaal is a writer and community organizer in Toronto. She primarily writes about issues pertaining to violence against women, Islamophobia, South Asia and race. Twitter: @ManaalFarooqi

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