From Maharajas to Manmohan Singh
Killing spree of Kashmiri Muslims continues unabated.
”Kashmiris live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world”. says Arundhati Roy.
The present generation of Kashmiri Muslims grew up in an atmosphere of brutal atrocities committed by Indian armed forces .These youths have seen their loved ones tortured, raped and killed. They grew in the midst of all these sufferings and humiliation.
According to figures released in the March 2010 between 1989 and 2009 93,142 killed, 105,832 houses and shops destroyed, 107,326 orphaned, 9901 women molested and 22,719 widowed.
One could imagine the frame of mind of Kashmiri Muslims who were traditionally gentle and peaceful people though downtrodden and exploited for centuries by foreign dynasties who ruled them one after the other.
With no solution in sight to their grievances Kashmir Muslim youths came out on peaceful demonstrations in summer this year expressing their frustrations and seeking justice and freedom- two of the basic principles of any democracy. The uprising was spontaneous and New Delhi cannot blame Pakistan as it had been in the past.
So how did India respond? As usual unleashed its armed forces to commit senseless atrocities killing more than 100 innocent youths within three months.
India had more than 60 years to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiri Muslims, but has failed miserably due to Hindu communalists who hijacked Indian politics. After all these atrocities even today New Delhi is not sincere in dealing with the grievances of Kashmiri Muslims.
As if New Delhi is not aware of the demands of Kashmiri Muslims, after months of brutality, appointed three interlocutors to study the problem-perhaps yet another ruse to buy time and hoodwink both Kashmiris and the world as well.
Kashmiri people’s sufferings began when the British sold Kashmir to Raja Gulab Singh, a Hindu warlord of the Dogra family in Jammu for 7.5 million rupees (750,000 pounds) under the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar. It was an illegal deal undertaken without the knowledge of the Kashmiri people who opposed it as it placed them under forced Hindu rule. The Hindu Dogras didn’t waste time in unleashing waves of terror and cruelty against Muslims .One Western writer described the vicious anti-Muslim campaign, where Kashmiri Pundits served as willing tools, as “venting upon five centuries of pent up hatred of Hindus against Muslim rule”.
Muslims were thrown into jail, often without trial and even around the 1920’s a Muslim was given capital punishment for killing a cow. They were kept so economically downtrodden that even in the mid-1940’s, their per capita income was only eleven rupees, of which they paid a tax of around 21 percent per head, besides paying a levy almost on everything from salt to saffron.
Maharajah’s favourite pastime was the persecution of Muslims. So obsessed was he with this sadistic pogrom that he promulgated a law to punish Muslims by flogging for engaging in political activities and ordinary citizens were bludgeoned by Maharaja’s soldiers if they did not shout “maharaja ki jai” – victory to the Maharajah. There were even reports of Hindu ruler Gulab Singh having personally directed “skinning Kashmiri Muslims alive” when the executioner hesitated. The Maharaja’s police also stopped the Friday Kuthba sermons at congregational prayers in Jammu.
Unable to tolerate the Maharaja’s campaign of extermination, his Prime Minister Albion Bannerji, a Bengali Christian, resigned and issued a public statement saying that “the large Muslim population was governed by the Maharaja like dump-driven cattle, the press was non-existent and the economic conditions were appalling”. As early as 1924, Muslims presented a memorandum to the British Viceroy complaining against the Maharaja’s brutality against them and setting out popular demands.
But things started to change in the 1930s when Kashmiri Muslims began asserting themselves for better human rights. Their campaign comprised a wave of non-violent protests. However their frustration erupted into revolt after the Maharajah permitted political parties for non-Muslims such as pundits, Hindu Saba and Sikhs and deprived the same to Muslims who constituted the majority.
The revolt brought an unemployed teacher Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah to prominence, who later played a crucial, but often controversial, role in Kashmiri politics. Reacting swiftly, the Maharajah declared martial law, threw Sheikh Abdullah into prison and mowed down Muslims with gunfire. The scale of the oppression forced the British Viceroy to urge the Maharaja to adopt a conciliatory policy and send the Glancy Commission to Srinagar to study Muslim grievances. Two years later, revolt broke out again and theMaharaja crushed it again with martial law, killing and arresting thousands, confiscating property and imposing heavy fines. Revolts against the Maharajah continued to brew and the political opposition erupted into open resistance in 1946. Intensifying his oppression against Muslims, the Maharajah strengthened his Sikh and Hindu garrisons in Muslims areas while calling Muslims to surrender arms. This resulted in the Muslims organising themselves into guerrilla groups under the movement led by Sazrdar Mohammed Ibrahim Khan.
During the partition of the Subcontinent the Maharajah acceded Kashmir, against the will of the people, to India in October 1947 and ordered Muslims to voluntarily surrender their weapons. The Muslims resisted and the Maharajah responded by simply slaughtering around 200,000 Muslims while around 300,000 fled to the Pakistani side of the border. The doyen of Indian politics, Rajagopalachari, said in 1964, “the accession of Kashmir took place under great peril and for the purpose of getting immediate military assistance to serve a hapless people from an unforeseen immoral external attack. It was not an intention to claim it as an irrevocable affiliation”.
Despite Maharaja’s accession, India agreed to respect the views of Kashmiris and hold a plebiscite. Time and again Indian Prime Minister Nehru declared that “the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people….We will not, and cannot back out of it. We are prepared, when peace is restored, to hold a referendum under international auspices like the United Nations. We want it to be a just and fair reference to the people, and we shall accept their verdict”.
However all these promises disappeared in the thin air .Political manoeuvrings of the Central Government in Delhi, the rigging of elections in 1987, (and later in 1996), years of political frustrations, economic problems and poverty, combined with many other factors, led to the 1989 uprising which became a crucial turning point in the Kashmiri Muslims’ freedom struggle.
Indian forces began committing atrocities to silence the people and crush their freedom struggle. Highlighting the atrocities the Weekend Guardian, London, reported as early as 4 August 1991 that “after a visit to Kashmir in 1991, the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said at a press conference in New Delhi that ‘the brutalities of the Indian army and the Central Reserve Police meant that India may have lost Kashmir’”.
Raping women became a daily occurrence to break the spirit and soul of Kashmiri Muslims. The exact number of rapes will never be known as Kashmiri women who prefer death to dishonour, refuse to speak about their shameful ordeal and prefer to suffer the indignity in silence. Yet cases of rape, including those in front of family members and children by Indian forces were documented by many human rights organisations.
Jammu And Kashmir State Governor K. V. Krishna Rao admitted that Indian forces have been responsible for the massacre of the Kashmir people on several occasions and that he felt deeply for the victims of these human rights violations.
Summing up the situation one writer said “hell has been let loose on Kashmiris and what happens in Kashmir is not made known to the Indian people by national dailies and government owned media which distort events”. Besides the common feeling of being betrayed by India of its promises to hold a plebiscite the arbitrary arrests, regular and systematic use of torture in interrogation camps, indiscriminate and extra judicial killings, brutal search operations, ransacking of homes and even raping women in the presence of family members and children added fuel to their anger.
On the other hand the extreme anti Muslim policies of national politicians, overall treatment of Muslims in rest of India, destruction of Babri Masjid and the shameful court verdict handing over two third of this masjid to Hindus, repeated massacre of Muslims such as the killings in Gujarat and other such activities failed to send encouraging messages to Kashmiri Muslims.
Today, life in general remains paralysed. Amnesty International stated that the “brutality of torture defies belief and has left people mutilated and disabled for life. The severity of torture by the Indian security forces has been the main reason for the appalling numbers of death in custody”. Inevitably Kashmiri Muslims challenge Indian rule.
India’s extreme measures to deal with frequent widespread riots came under criticism by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other such organisations. Lord Eric Averbury, Chairman of the British Parliament Human Rights committee said as early as 28 December 1993 that “the West should also fight
shoulder to shoulder with the Kashmiris in their fight for independence”.
The people of Kashmir have made it clear that their grievances must be heard and their wishes ascertained through their legitimate representatives. Kashmiri Muslims, who do not see themselves as Indian citizens, point out that the Indian claim that Kashmir is an integral part of the Indian union is unilateral, unrecognised and untenable in law and logic.
They ask “how can we live under an Indian government after all what its security forces have done, and are still doing, to destroy our lives.
Kashmiri Muslims, treated as second class citizens, feel that a plebiscite is the only and time honoured way out. Unless Kashmiris are given the opportunity to decide their fate, the state is bound to burn for generations to come. As one Kashmiri said “if the present generation is silenced through oppressive measures, then the next will learn not only about the plebiscite, but also the oppression of their fathers and seek, perhaps, through more sophisticated armed struggle to regain their freedom what their forefathers too fought for”.
The late Bertrand Russell, the world renowned philosopher once said, “When one observes that the high idealism of the Indian government in international matters breaking down completely with the question of Kashmir, it is difficult to avoid a feeling of despair”. The Then Defence Minister George Fernandez once remarked in 1990 “I do not believe that any foreign hand engineered the Kashmir problem. The problem was created by us”.
While turning Kashmir into a slaughter house India held commonwealth games in New Delhi and there was hardly any voice of criticism from the the Muslim world. Under such shameful circumstances one voice that bravely criticized Indian atrocities was activist Arundhati Roy who wrote on Wednesday, October 26, 2010 as follows;
“I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning's papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.
Yesterday I travelled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer's husband and Asiya's brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get 'insaf'—justice—from India, and now believed that Azadi—freedom— was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I travelled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.
In the papers some have accused me of giving 'hate-speeches', of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.