Modi's colonial assault on Kashmir is like a 1947 revival. We must not stay silent
13 August 2019
Late night on Sunday 4 August, India-occupied Kashmir went into lockdown. Mobile, internet and TV connections were shut down, public meetings and rallies prohibited, schools and public institutions closed, and state leaders placed under house arrest.
All of this before Narendra Modi’s far-right Hindu nationalist government fulfilled their manifesto promise to revoke an article which gives Kashmir some autonomy from India’s constitution, reminding us all that the legacy of colonialism and colonial intent didn’t end in 1947.
What’s happening now and what does it mean for Kashmir?
With his right hand man, Amit Shah, Modi and the BJP party of India are scrapping provisions that guarantee the state of Kashmir, a disputed Muslim-majority territory between India and Pakistan, some form of relative autonomy (it’s still a military occupation, after all). Until now, Kashmir has been able to make its own laws, have its own flag and its people have been able to possess their own land. “A new era has begun”, Modi has chillingly said. If he means an era of populist authoritarian control, he might be right.
The provision that stopped Indian citizens buying land and property in Kashmir and living there permanently has been particularly important for Kashmiri autonomy. Despite being the most militarised region in the world, land in India-occupied Kashmir belonged to Kashmiris. Now there’s a danger that Indians will be able to settle in the region and dispossess many of the Kashmiris that have lived under military occupation for most of their lives.
How did we get here?
Under Modi’s government Muslims are the target across India and the form of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) pushed by the Modi-cult has as its goal a Hindu India. The BJP have sown the seeds for this hate. Muslims have been lynched and killed for eating beef. Yet in Kashmir this violence on its people and land has been consistent since 1947. Not only are Modi’s plans rubbing salt into a wound that never healed, he is using the tactics of old colonisers to divide and rule for a Hindu India. So let’s backtrack a little.
1947 matters. It matters because Kashmir was created as a result of colonialism. And the Hindu supremacy we are seeing today in India is a scary reminder of the violence many endured in 1947.
When the British realised they had to relinquish some control over their colony, the Radcliffe line was drawn within five weeks. In August 1947 India quickly became two separate states divided by a religious border, displacing 15 million people overnight and killing 1 million.
Why? Because when it became clear in the lead up to partition that Britain wouldn’t be able to have strong ties with a united India, they decided that separating Pakistan was key to retaining some leverage and power, to “keep a bit of India”.
Religious chasms were undeniably real at the time, as we’re still seeing today, and sometimes violent. But it is equally true that British colonial powers systematically exploited and stimulated political divisions along religious lines (literally) to its own advantage.
Kashmir, which lies between what is now India, Pakistan and partly China, was formed as a result.
The British wanted Kashmir to be annexed to Pakistan, which they saw as a more pliant state than India, and in October 1947 Pakistan invaded and occupied Kashmir. When the first war between India and Pakistan erupted following this occupation, Britain took Pakistan’s side, arguing that it made sense as Kashmir had a Muslim majority. At the same time, foreign secretary Ernest Bevin told US secretary of state George Marshall that “the main issue was who would control the main artery leading into Central Asia.” Indeed, Pakistan was, as the then chancellor Hugh Dalton put it, central to Bevin’s ambition to organise “the middle of the planet”.
For the last 70 years, Kashmir has been used as a political pawn. Its people have been locked in cages, faced heavy-handed military intervention (as we’re seeing now with demonstrations in Kargil), and witnessed an armed rebellion against Indian occupation in the 1980s which killed 60,000 civilians.
This all sounds scarily familiar, and a little ironic, right?
It’s no surprise that some people are calling Modi’s intervention last week a ‘cheering for Partition redux’, as India attempts to redraw the borders of Kashmir for its own political ideology and will. This is single-handedly the biggest political decision made about Kashmir for years. People are also comparing it to occupations today, specifically to the Israeli occupation of Palestine with India playing its part as a settler-coloniser.
Bolstering right-wing populism?
Last week was also a clear and terrifying sign from Modi to the growing far-right populism across the world that authoritarian nationalism can be legitimised in the public consciousness by a thin veil of national security, economic stability and patriotism. Far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders has come out in support of India’s revocation of rights for Kashmir, stating that the “West” cannot side with a “terror state” (Pakistan). And the US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said this is a "strictly internal matter". Funny. Where’s Trump’s help with diplomacy in the region now?
Kashmir has been consistently denied self-determination or an escape from the legacy enforced on it through colonialism. The tactics of the violent and authoritarian brand of Hindu supremacy at the core of Modi’s government feels like a partition revival 2019. And this political move may have serious implications for Kashmiris, Muslims and for people around the world who are fighting far-right politics first hand. This is not the time for us to stay silent on any form of authoritarian or colonial control.
Photo: National demonstration for Kashmir at the Indian High Commission, London, 10 August 2019. Photo: Steve Eason/Flickr