Hindu nationalism, like many nationalist movements, has been gaining traction in recent years. But the steps being taken in Kashmir are part of a build up which has been 70 years in the making. Kashmir has been a hotly disputed territory long before India and Pakistan even existed, and this history can tell us a lot about what is going on with the situation today.
Kashmir is a territory located in the northwest of India bordering Pakistan and the lower line of China. It is a fairly fertile region especially the Vale of Kashmir which gets good rainfall. Because it is region that has been a center for both Hindu and Islamic power at some point, it is a diverse and continually contested land. These days there is a 60% islamic majority– making it the only major muslim majority state left in India. Historically the region had long bouts of autonomy, but was not a clear country with strong boundaries.
The Kashmir region as we know it today was really an invention of imperialist Britain as a buffer zone between colonial India and the Kingdoms of China and Russia. After the British pulled out, Pakistan and India fought over the division of the area for years until the UN stepped in in 1947. There has been a “line of ceasefire” running between the northeast and southwest of the territory since then, ending with Pakistan getting less territory total and more sparse land which doesn’t include the fertile Vale region.
Since the ceasefire land India has employed a constant military presence in the area. There is a section in the Indian constitution called Article 370 which allowed Kashmir unique independence such as making their own constitution and government apart from foreign affairs or military power. However the Indian police presence continued to be a heavy force in the region. Because of this constant oppressive force, rebel outbreaks began to occur in the beginning of the 1980’s which called for Kashmir to merge with Pakistan or gain independence. After a brutal crackdown on any insurgent forces in the mid 80’s the region has largely simmered to a reign of suppressive policing.
Although this period was “quiet” it was no less oppressive: many have documented forced disappearances, widespread rape from soldiers, and imprisonment with torture, a narrative that seems similar to the story of other occupied lands. A recent UN report condemns the laws that allows these acts, namely the Indian Armed Forces Special Power Act and Public Safety Act, one of which bans prosecuting police forces in Kashmir in civilian court and the other which allows interning Kashmir people for 2 years with no charge. An estimated 6,000 unmarked mass graves exist in the region, and no one is sure how many lie in them.
In 2016 the killing of 22 year old leader Burhan Wani caused widespread outrage in Kashmir. During the suppression of these protests over 30 Kashmir citizens were killed. This tension leads us to the latest: with the Hindu supremacist party Bharatiya Janata in power, and the economy in a rut, the ones to bear the diversionary crackdown this August was Kashmir. On the morning of August 6th the Indian government ordered all tourists out for a “terrorist” threat, cut off the internet and media going to the region, and dissolved Article 370 entirely. With it gone regular Indians can buy up Kashmir land, and any facade of independence promised is gone.
Why though would this lead to genocide? Because this is a huge symbol in an ongoing narrative of minority oppression in India. Kashmir was a sign of minority autonomy, a last majority muslim area. With its reckoning many states with protection against overrun by the Hindu majority are on the chopping block. And how is the BJP framing this? As a victory for Hindus against the unfair privileges given to the unworthy. This is a haunting echo of the narrative Jews were once painted in the 1930’s: as the inferiors who are robbing the majority. It is in an environment that spells grave trouble, and in moments like these people need to to be watching closely. It is time we tune in to Kashmir.