Kashmir: The story has just begun

Kashmir: The story has just begun

 a man sits next to graffiti that reads "We Want Freedom" on a shuttered store in the Soura locality in Srinagar, during the lockdown. Photo by Jalees ANDRABI / AFP

In Kashmir, the big wheels and the small ones that revolve within them have come to a screeching halt. The reason: The Centre passed a resolution abrogating Article 370 and, by extension, Article 35A. One allowed the rulers of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to run a semi-independent state with its own quirks, like denying some rights to some sections of the people while doling out lots to a chosen few, while the other – Article 35A – was aimed at keeping the 'outsider' (read: 'Indians' from other parts of the country) from buying property and settling in the state.

So much was the exclusivity under Article 370 that those who then came in as refugees from ‘West Pakistan’ have still not received Indian citizenship. What's more, Kashmiri girls, if they married an 'outsider', used to lose their claim on inheritance. But, curiously, if a Kashmiri man married a foreigner (a Pakistani, for instance), she automatically became a Kashmir citizen and, by extension, a citizen of India. Unbelievable?

Well, the arrangements, although called purely 'transitional' at the time of the introduction of Article 370, came to be considered as somewhat a permanent settlement during the past 70 years. There was opposition to the idea, but the parties ruling the mainland never wanted to rock the boat. But now that the boat has been rocked violently, taking advantage of the fact that there is no elected government at the helm in J&K and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has tremendous muscle power in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha of Parliament, the stakeholders are confused.

The confusion is also the result of a 70-year-long rule of a few elite families (which considered themselves to be the true successors of the erstwhile king Hari Singh), the Hurriyat separatists, the Mullahs who prompt political actions from behind the wings every Friday, the Left liberals who have become status quoists and, of course, the so-called rightists who take pride in their 'nationalist' tag.

And in all this, the people of Kashmir – both in the Valley and elsewhere – have conveniently been forgotten. In fact, they have never been taken into consideration. The instrument for the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union of India was signed by Hari Singh under duress since his kingdom was attacked by Pakistani invaders. Neither Pakistan, nor the king was keen on finding out what the people wanted. The king wanted to remain a neutral and independent state, while Pakistan argued that since the state had a considerable size of Muslim population, it should join Pakistan.

Now, the king, who was a reluctant supporter of the Indian Union, was in no way a representative of the Kashmiri people. And the people during that period had no strong political voice except that of Sheikh Abdullah whose struggle was basically against Hindu domination under the Dogra king. So, even though the people of Kashmir and the Sheikh's followers took part in the resistance against Pakistani invaders, it does not prove that the people had unequivocally supported the decision to join the Indian Union.

Later, the unending cycle of violence in Kashmir, financed and organised by Pakistan, gave rise to the question whether the people – largely Shias and practitioners of Sufi mysticism at the time of the state's accession – were comfortable with the aggression of the tribal Sunni attackers. Obviously not, but never having a say in their fate may be one of the reasons why a large chunk of the population switched from all-inclusive Sufism to the strictly exclusive Wahabi culture with which Kashmiris had no shared history. Pakistan cannot be the only reason for such a widespread and dangerous change in the psyche of a people.

Their political aspirations getting suppressed by geopolitical moves and counter-moves, at least a section of the people welcomed Wahabi aggressiveness backed by the cash-rich Arab countries. The people – confused, neglected, repressed and angry – have still not been able to determine which way to go. Make no mistake, Article 370 – which had taken away the democratic rights of the Kashmiri people and concentrated power in the hands of a few families – was introduced by the government of India itself. And during the past seven decades, it gave birth to a very strong and stubborn class of blackmailing elites.

A story popular in Afghanistan nicely sums up the Kashmir situation now. Once, a contingent of Afghan policemen were escorting a group of prisoners to the Kabul jail. When the heat became unbearable, they took shelter in a garden. After lunch, the policemen thought a fine siesta under the shades was definitely in order. Late afternoon when they woke up and were getting ready to resume their journey, they found one of the prisoners was missing. Panicked, the policemen found a villager, Ibrahim Khan, riding his donkey towards a nearby village. They promptly arrested Ibrahim and resumed their journey.

At the gate of the Kabul jail, when the prisoners were being questioned, Ibrahim Khan said, "Sir, I am Ibrahim Khan. I have done nothing wrong." The officials, used to hearing such statements, frowned, branded him as 'Prisoner No. 89' and pushed him in. Nobody ever heard of Ibrahim Khan since then. Twenty-five years later, during King Amanullah Shah's coronation ceremony, the new king decided to release prisoners who had already served for more than 20 years. And the person whom Ibrahim had replaced 25 years ago was on the list of prisoners to be pardoned.

On the day the prisoners were being released, the officer-in-charge asked Ibrahim, "What's your name, prisoner? And why were you jailed?" The only information that Ibrahim could offer: "Sir, I am Prisoner No. 89. I have done nothing wrong." No amount of coaxing could help Prisoner No. 89 remember his name or the reason for his arrest. His only answer was: "Sir, I am Prisoner No. 89. I have done nothing wrong." Convinced that the man had lost his mind, the officer decided to send Prisoner no. 89 to a mental asylum -- for the rest of his life.

Kashmiris, inhabitants of a land ruled by mono-religious, regressive and self-serving elites, have now entered the multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-party, dangerously corrupt, hugely complex and a thriving mad house, called the Union of India.

(The author has experience across three decades and more and has had leadership roles in the print, television and online media in three metropolises. He writes on politics) 

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.