By Vincent Lyn & Sadar Azam
Do you know the story of of Kashmir between Pakistan and India?
I’d bet most people would not, and many wouldn’t even know where Kashmir is located on the map. I will attest if I hadn’t gotten involved in my humanitarian quests, I’m sure like so many people I would not know the story of Kashmir either. My friend and colleague Sadar Azam who lives in Kashmir and works for the World Relief Organization suffers the ongoing hell everyday wondering like so many whether he’ll see the sunrise tomorrow.
Sadar is a passionate man and would die for his brethren, “Death with dignity is better than a life of humiliation so I prefer to die with honor for my nation”.
On February 5th Pakistan observed Kashmir solidarity with public rallies being observed across the country to express wholehearted support of the Pakistani nation to the just struggle of the Kashmiri people for their inalienable right to self-determination under the United Nations resolutions. The aims of celebrating Kashmir Solidarity Day on February 5th was to make the world aware of the facts and to awaken their conscience to support the oppressed Kashmiri people.
As the battle against Covid-19 continues and residents remain unable to access public spaces, how does it make sense to open these spaces to tourists? This has invited skepticism from the local population over the administration’s containment measures, ostensibly aimed at ensuring public health and wellbeing.
The promotion of tourism is reminiscent of the ways in which Israel uses tourism in the occupied Palestinian territories to “prettify the image of the colonies and the occupation”. But in contrast to apartheid tourism in Palestine, which aims to mask settler-colonialism with the facade of the hospitality of “beautiful” Israeli settlements, in Kashmir, it is primarily built on the narrative of being the backbone of Kashmir’s economy and of strengthening the perception of Kashmir as the “territory of desire”. In both cases, the real idea is to use tourism as a political propaganda tool to normalize the occupation.
For Kashmiris, this promotion of their homeland as a ‘paradise’ is a reminder of all the buds that were snatched before they could bloom
In Kashmir, the tourist inflow promotes a sense of normalcy, even as the everyday lives of Kashmiris are marked by the violence of an all-pervasive occupational machinery. Tourists see the snow-capped mountains and serene waters, the Shikara rides on Dal Lake and rafting in Pahalgam; what is hidden are the scores of Indian soldiers patrolling Kashmir’s streets, aiming guns from the bunkers that dot the landscape.
Similarly, Israel’s separation wall, which regulates Palestinian lives and land, draws “graffiti tourist” thronging to click pictures, while ignoring the violence of the structure and how it dehumanizes Palestinians.
After the strict curfew and communications blackout implemented in Kashmir the Indian state invited diplomats from various countries to visit amid widespread criticism over its actions in Kashmir. Dubbed “rent-a-diplomat Kashmir tours”, these choreographed meetings aimed to promote the normalcy narrative, even as average Kashmiris totally disappeared from the landscape.
Kashmir like Palestine has undergone brutal authoritarianism. And though I could write multitudes on the views of both Israel and the USA just like I can give views of both Pakistan, India and China. I’d much rather give you the views of the Kashmiri people who continue to live under the treacherous and barbaric control for over 70 years.
Kashmir as having been ruled by their own in 1586. Since then, they believe, it has been ruled in succession by the Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, Dogras and, lately, the Indian government. The Mughals lavished much affection and resources on Kashmir, the Dogras made Srinagar their capital next only to their native Jammu city, and through much of the post-independence India, Kashmiri Muslims headed the state government. Kashmiris bear an ‘acute sense of grievance’ that they were not in control of their own fate for centuries.
According to an opinion poll conducted by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in 2007, 87% of people in mainly Muslim Srinagar want independence, whereas 95% of the people in the mainly Hindu Jammu city think the state should be part of India. The Kashmir Valley is the only region of the former princely state where the majority of the population is unhappy with its current status. The Hindus of Jammu and Buddhists of Ladakh are content under Indian administration. Muslims of Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas are content under Pakistani administration. Kashmir Valley’s Muslims want to change their national status to independence.
Since the 1947 accession of Kashmir to India was provisional and conditional on the wishes of the people, the Kashmiris’ right to determine their future was recognized and state elections do not satisfy this requirement. Kashmiris assert that except for 1977 and 1983 elections, no state election has been fair. According to scholar Sumantra Bose, India was determined to stop fair elections since that would have meant that elections would be won by those unfriendly to India. The Kashmiri people have still not been able to exercise the right to self-determination and this was the conclusion of the International Commission of Jurists in 1994. Parties do not want to participate in elections under the framework of the Indian Constitution. Elections held by India are seen as a diversion from the main issue of self-determination.
Kashmiri opponents to Indian rule maintain that India has stationed 600,000 Indian troops in what is the highest ratio of troops to civilian density in the world. Kashmiri scholars say that India’s military occupation inflicts violence and humiliation on Kashmiris. Indian forces are responsible for human rights abuses and terror against the local population and have killed tens of thousands of civilians. India’s state forces have used rape as a cultural weapon of war against Kashmiris and rape has extraordinarily high incidence in Kashmir as compared to other conflict zones of the world. Militants are also guilty of crimes but their crimes cannot be compared with the scale of abuses by Indian forces for which justice is yet to be delivered.
“Our people were killed. I saw a girl tortured with cigarette butts. Another man had his eyes pulled out and his body hung on a tree. The armed separatists used a chainsaw to cut our bodies into pieces. It wasn’t just the killing but the way they tortured and killed”.
— A crying old Kashmiri Hindu in refugee camps of Jammu to a BBC news reporter.
Kashmiri scholars say that India’s reneging on promise of plebiscite, violations of constitutional provisions of Kashmir’s autonomy and subversion of the democratic process led to the rebellion of 1989–1990. According to historian Mridu Rai, the majority of Kashmiri Muslims believe they are scarcely better off under Indian rule than the 101 years of Dogra rule.
Markandey Katju, an ethnic Kashmiri and former Justice of the Supreme Court of India, maintains that the secession of Kashmir would cause its economy to suffer, due to the fact that Kashmir’s handicraft industry is dependent on buyers in other parts of India; Katju holds that the ultimate solution to the Kashmir conflict is the reunification of what is now Pakistan with India under a secular government.
Kashmiris have a distinct sense of identity and this identity is certainly not irreligious, as Islam is very much a part of the identity that Kashmiris feel strongly for. He opined that if only non-religious identities deserve support, then no national self-determination movement can be supported, because there is no national identity — at least in the Third World — devoid of the religious dimension. If India and Pakistan cannot guarantee existence and peaceful development of independent Kashmir then Kashmiris may well choose Pakistan because of religious affinity and social and economic links. But if both can guarantee existence and peaceful development then most Kashmiris would prefer independent Kashmir.
It is extremely regrettable and reprehensible that the silence and indifference of the major powers to India’s atrocities and blatant human rights violations in occupied Jammu and Kashmir was a tragedy of history. The silence of western powers over the fascism of the Modi government and the atrocities against minorities and especially Muslims in Kashmir is shameful and completely unacceptable. The history of oppressors in the world is dark and the real face of authoritarian leaders in this case Modi, has become clear adding that it is the responsibility of the just and conscientious people of the world to raise their voice against the Indian government.
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Director Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency