NEW YORK – A prominent Kashmiri writer has denounced India’s annexation of occupied Kashmir and imposition of a communications blackout and de-facto martial law, saying New Delhi was now exercising “brute power over a people that is essentially colonized.”
“I like to think that Kashmir has always been treated like a colony by the Indian state. And last Monday was probably the most telling demonstration of that relationship,” Mirza Waheed, a novelist who lives in London, said in an interview with The New Yorker, a highly respected American magazine that carries commentaries on political, economic and cultural issues.
Giving a detailed background of the Kashmir problem, he told the magazine, which has large circulation both inside and outside the US: “The struggle for rights goes back to the promise of a referendum, or plebiscite, which has never taken place. Kashmiris thought there would be a time when we will be given a chance to have a say in our future.
During that time, India managed Kashmir through puppet governments that would do India’s bidding. India always knew Kashmiris didn’t want to remain in India. Even to this day a large majority don’t want to be in India…”
Asked about the action by Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Waheed called it “more vicious” than those taken by past governments.
“For a long period,” he said, “India held onto Kashmir because it buttressed India’s claim of being a secular democracy. ‘Look, we also have a Muslim-majority state.’
These guys (BJP) won’t even pay lip service to the idea. The previous regime at least paid lip service to the idea that we will retain Kashmiri special identity and unique culture.
“The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) doesn’t have such qualms, they don’t care whether India is secular or not. They don’t have to have a Muslim-majority state. They have always thought that this state should not exist in this form; they have always believed that it should be split into Hindu-majority Jammu and the Kashmir valley, which is Muslim-majority; and Ladakh, which is Buddhist and Muslim. And they have always said that ‘We don’t want to appease these Muslims with their special status.’ Kashmiri Muslims, in the eyes of the BJP, have sinned doubly. They are Muslim. And they have rebelled against India while being Muslim,” the writer said.
“It is an annexation. Everyone has to consider that this is not just a constitutional sleight-of-hand. India has a massive, massive military complex across Kashmir, so this is annexation, effectively.”
Waheed added, “Another part of the Indian Constitution that stems from [Article] 370 is [Presidential Order] 35A, and is part of the condition of accession [and part of 370]. It says the government of Kashmir will have the power to determine who is a permanent resident of the state, which pertains to the exclusive rights of Kashmiris, by which I mean that there will be restrictions on who can buy property and land. They have held onto that very sacredly because they did not want to join India. But this was the last protection to their sense of being, to their sense of identity, to not just property rights but job rights. They held onto this guarantee that at least we will not be run over by India. And now that is gone.
“The other important point is the idea of humiliation, of insult of Kashmiris. India has now said to Kashmiris that ‘not only are we not going to honour our stated promises in international forums and the Indian parliament, but we are also going to snatch whatever token and nominal autonomy we had given you. Forget your freedom struggle: we are also going to take away your special status.’
“There is a whole other argument about what special status has meant for Kashmir. It has meant widespread torture. Not many people in the West know that one-sixth of Kashmiris have faced some kind of torture in the last thirty years. That is a staggering statistic. Forty-five per cent of the population, according to Doctors Without Borders, suffer from some form of P.T.S.D. It has meant ten thousand people categorized as disappeared. We don’t know where they are. There are more than three thousand unmarked graves in the mountains of Kashmir. There is widespread use of rape as a tool of war. Women in Kashmir have suffered at the hands of the Indian Armed Forces in unspeakable terms. Mass rapes. Gang rapes.”
As regards, the Indian clampdown, Waheed said, “It’s a constant siege. I have lived through a couple of such sieges, when I was a teen-ager in Kashmir. You can’t imagine that happening in the so-called First World or anywhere else. Everything is contraband; everything is banned. This time it is more vicious and vengeful than ever. You can’t even call people on land lines. Today I learned that they have suspended postal service. This is the world’s largest democracy, and it cuts off Kashmir from the rest of the world and makes it nearly impossible for Kashmiris to work.
“They have given access to a select few journalists from Delhi, while prominent Kashmiri journalists, people who have reported on the conflict since 1989, are nowhere to be seen, and we don’t even know where they are. I am talking about people who work for A.P. or A.F.P. This current siege is punitive, is designed to remove all agency from Kashmir, is designed to say, ‘You are bent to our will,’ to show you don’t have control over your body, let alone your mind. It is designed to tell Kashmiris that ‘We will do as we please while we snatch your voices. We will make a decision on your future, your destiny, while we lock you inside your house. We will not let you celebrate Eid al-Adha. The Great Mosque [the Jama Masjid] in central Srinagar has been locked. If they still expect Kashmiris to somehow adjust to this change in their lives, they are sadly, sadly mistaken, because history tells us Kashmiris have always resisted.
“I think I am beginning to become slightly more coherent now. The language I see in parts of the Indian press that are extensions of the BJP is the language of conquest. There are at least two BJP lawmakers who have joked about getting girls from Kashmir. There are popular songs about how to get a bride from Kashmir. It is of course linked to the rise of Hindu majoritarianism. We all know what the BJP project is. They want to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra.”
In The Washington Post, an article by an Indian journalist said that “The Kashmir crisis isn’t about territory. It’s about a Hindu victory over Islam,” adding that Prime Minister Modi “used the Muslim-majority state as a demonstration of Hindu power.”
Journalist and author Kapil Komireddi described the Indian crackdown in detail, and wrote: “Modi’s sudden takeover in Kashmir is the fulfillment of a long ideological yearning to make a predominantly Muslim population surrender to his vision of a homogeneous Hindu nation. It is also a way of conveying to the rest of India — a union of dizzyingly diverse states — that no one is exempt from the Hindu-power paradise he wants to build on the subcontinent. Kashmir is both a warning and a template: Any state that deviates from this vision can be brought under Delhi’s thumb in the name of ‘unity.’
“Those who believe that such a day will never come — that India’s democratic institutions and minority protections will assert themselves — also never thought that someone like Modi would one day lead the country. Modi once seemed destined to disappear into history as a fanatical curio. As the newly appointed chief minister of Gujarat, he presided over the worst communal bloodletting in India’s recent history in 2002, when 1,000 Muslims, by a conservative estimate, were slaughtered by sword-wielding Hindus in his state over several weeks.
“Some accused Modi of abetting the mobs; others said he turned a blind eye to them. The carnage made Modi a pariah: Liberal Indians likened him to Hitler, the United States denied him a visa, and Britain and the European Union boycotted him.
“But Modi expanded and solidified his appeal among India’s Hindus, a religious majority whose resentment at being invaded and ruled for centuries by Muslims had been papered over for decades with platitudes from India’s secular elites.
He used three powerful tools to propel his ascent. The first
was sadism, the hint that, under him, Hindu radicals could indulge a dormant bloodlust: After the killing of a Muslim man in police custody, for instance, Modi mused at a 2007 rally,
“If AK-57 [sic] rifles are found at the residence of a person … should I not kill them?” (The crowd roared back: ‘Kill them! Kill them!’)
“The second was schadenfreude, an exultation in the torment of defenseless minorities: At an earlier rally in 2002, Modi had ruminated on the fate of the Muslims displaced by the recent Gujarat riots, asking: “What should we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby-producing centers?” His audience erupted with laughter. “We have to teach a lesson to those who are increasing population at an alarming rate,” he said. The final affect was self-pity, a license for Hindus to regard themselves as the real victims.
He told Parliament that India had been a slave nation for more than 1,000 years and claimed that there were forces out to kill him. “Since his 2014 election to the premiership, bigotry has been ennobled as a healthy form of self-assertion. Lynchings of Muslims — breathlessly demonized as jihadists devoted to seducing and converting Hindu women — by aggrieved Hindu mobs have become such a common sport that dozens of videos of grisly murders circulate on WhatsApp groups run by Hindu nationalists. Last summer, a minister in Modi’s cabinet garlanded eight men who had been convicted of lynching a Muslim man. In this universe, Kashmir could never remain autonomous, a place impervious to the desires of a majority happy to see its will done by violence.
“Modi’s reelection this year emboldened the supporters whose rage he skillfully incited. The prime minister rarely acknowledges the murders of minorities. Rarer still are instances when he condemns them. Not once, in fact, has he memorialized, by name, Muslims slain by Hindu fundamentalists. This is not an accident. It is a small step from letting Hindu vigilantes subjugate their Muslim neighbors to subjugating them himself, using the power of the state, as he has now done in Kashmir.
“Modi’s political awakening occurred in the training camps of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing paramilitary group that incubated the modern politics of Hindu nationalism. The RSS introduces young “volunteers” to the vast pantheon of supposed villains who plundered and emasculated India over the ages — the medieval Islamic invaders, the accommodationists like Mohandas Gandhi and the Congress party he led, the Muslim nationalists who mutilated India to create Pakistan and sought to abscond with Kashmir — and exhorts them to shed their Hindu impotence. The effect on Modi’s young mind was so powerful that he came to regard the RSS as his family, abandoned his wife and mother, and wandered through India as a catechist of the Hindu nationalist cause. By seizing Kashmir, Modi has mollified votaries of Hindu nationalism and established himself as the father of what they proudly call the “New India.” Kashmir was always at the top of their wish list, which also includes the construction of a temple in Ayodhya, where a mosque stood for half a millennium before Hindu nationalists razed it in 1992; the erasure of small privileges granted to minorities (such as a subsidy for the Muslim pilgrimmage to Makkah); a legal end to religious conversions by Hindus; an extra-legal suppression of interfaith romance and marriages, especially when the bride is Hindu and the groom Muslim; and, ultimately, the rewriting of the constitution to declare India a formally Hindu state.