By stripping Kashmir of the last remnants of its autonomous status in the Indian Union, New Delhi has in a single stroke completed its political divestment from the blighted land. This was a trajectory that started in 1953 with the arrest of its then-Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah and it has reached its final point under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the ascendance of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The many detractors of Sheikh Abdullah have been proven dead right half a century after he was deposed. No one understands that better today than probably his own affluent progeny, two of whom are former chief ministers, and are currently in detention. After August 6, the Kashmiri people find themselves overshadowed by another patch of darkness, one that has the potential of obliterating their history, language and cultural identity. Millions of them are struggling to fathom where the latest unilateral Indian move of assimilation will lead them.
For Kashmiris, the Republic of India has repeated in the 21st century what the English colonialists had done in the middle of the 19th century when they sold the land – together with its people – to the Dogra autocrats for a pittance. In 1846, the Treaty of Amritsar was between these two parties and excluded Kashmiri people. The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019 sets into motion a land heist undertaken without even those legal niceties, with the forces of the mighty Indian state simply stomping into their homeland.
Fog and mirrors
The Dogras ran an autocratic Hindu state for a century, lording over a Muslim majority population, long before a democratic India slowly began turning into a majoritarian Hindu rashtra. Nearly two centuries later, the intended consequences for the Kashmiri people of New Delhi directly ruling a bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir state looks like a much more devastating project, aimed at nothing less than changing the demography on the ground.
The pro-India Kashmiri political parties like the grand old National Conference (which had once fought the Dogra autocracy) and the Peoples Democratic Party are now so completely neutered and humiliated that not just has all the fog and mirrors that surrounded Kashmir gone, the generators of that fog, these erstwhile allies of New Delhi in the territory, are unlikely to be fueled ever again.
For Kashmiris, an era of deception has ended. None of them see India as a legitimate stakeholder anymore in the final resolution of the oldest pending political dispute in the world. From here onwards, the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi, or for that matter any government in New Delhi, will need to hold the land of a rebellious Muslim people more firmly under the Indian jackboot than ever, with more soldiers here than ever before.
An ominous time has begun in Kashmir. Its people have been transported into pre-modern times but with a modern consciousness.
On the morning of August 5, Kashmiris woke up in a land they found woven in endless coils of razor wire running across all the roads and lanes they have known. The route map the residents knew had changed overnight as tens of thousands of soldiers from other cultures, languages and states told them which directions they could or couldn’t move within their imprisoned homeland. Residents felt like rats inside a vast labyrinthine lab from where no exit was available.
The local police, whose rank and file is drawn mostly from among Kashmiris themselves, seethed as many of them were disarmed, even though they have served, and continue to serve, as the very front edge of the Indian apparatus that holds the territory for New Delhi.
Cut off from the outside world, with all means of communication snapped, millions of residents found out from radio and satellite TV that their last political right had been taken away, that they would not be asked anymore, even symbolically like before, what they desired as their future. A few days later, Modi’s speech directed at them sounded like a sugary description of an Orwellian dystopia on steroids.
Most Kashmiris still may not know what is happening to their fellow residents a neighborhood or two away, or to relatives in many Indian states where they work or study, or anywhere else in the world they are living. Mourning the sick and old who have passed away during this unprecedented siege has been a lonely affair for families, as close relatives could not join funerals. The cultural and historical consciousness of Kashmir has received a deep wound the current political climate in India cannot promise to heal.
Kashmiris haven’t overcome the shock of it all yet, but anger is mounting and sharpening and slowly morphing into a collective consciousness mulling a response in the short term in order to plan long-term survival. Anyone with any influence over the residents has been taken away and imprisoned. But the graffiti “Resist to Exist” has already appeared across many areas and daily protest demonstrations in some severed neighbourhoods have displayed resistance placards and flags that have in the past worked as red rags in India.
Many in Kashmir see that with the change in the existing arrangement Delhi has paved a new road into their homeland that they have defended for centuries against onslaughts from powerful Sikhs, marauding Afghans and imperial Mughals. But a latent determination among many Kashmiris appears clearly and discernibly forming, to keep the highway either bloodied or desolate.
It may be too early to predict that the resistance to the onslaught on Kashmiri people will now morph into something cataclysmic. But a few incidents of hitherto unheard hostility towards Indian migrant workers who could not leave Kashmir soon enough following the annulment of the special status is a sign of the tough transformation to come.
The ragtag bands of anti-India militants have suddenly become the only respected leaders, and in the new arrangement their acceptability as “agents against land grab” has not just become nearly absolute, but also necessary in the minds of a mass of Kashmiris. For them, the poorly trained and armed rebels earlier existed at one end of a wide spectrum of acceptable means and ways of resistance that included tactical voting in elections, a wide variety of politics and a drive by Kashmiris to get into the state services system.
Now, with nothing in between the masses and the State that is seen as a marching enemy, many imagine an expanding alliance between the militants and the common people as the only axis with potential to bend the arc of history towards long-term political justice and survival.
Under Modi, New Delhi made its move direct and brutal. Kashmir, it appears, has gone into deep meditation. Those who have known the history of this perennially contested land will make a mistake if they read a state of meditation as a state of coma.
The writer is a commentator who lives in Kashmir who requested anonymity because of the uncertain situation in the Valley.