In January of this year, Nandita Haksar’s The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism (Speaking Tiger Books, 2020) was re-released in a revised and updated version taking into account the revocation of Article 370 by the Indian government (on August 5, 2019). According to its author, this book “traces the tortured history of Kashmiri nationalism, primarily through the lives of two men: Sampat Prakash, a Kashmiri Pandit and Communist trade union leader who became active in politics during the Cold War years, and Mohammad Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim who became politically active at the beginning of the Kashmir insurgency, coinciding with the end of the Cold War, the defeat of Soviet Union, and the start of the War on Terror. The stories of many other Kashmiris are also woven into this account.”
Whereas the introduction to the book epigraphs verses written by Bahar Kashmiri in the 1940s, the preface to this updated version begins with lyrics from Elaan (2019), a song by Kashmiri rapper Ahmer Javed. We present the preface to the revised edition and the introduction to Nandita’s book here, courtesy of its publisher, Speaking Tiger Books. Included are relevant articles, interviews and videos at the end of this document to familiarize readers with Nandita Haksar’s greater work as a human rights lawyer, teacher, activist and writer.
PREFACE TO THE REVISED EDITION
KASHMIR: SEA OF SUPPRESSED SENTIMENTS
Pooraa bachpan jung mein palaa hai
Dehshat ka samaa jo gheebat se badaa hai
Haarna mere khoon mein kahaan hai
Junoon ye gawaah hai, maine maut se ladaa hai.
(I was brought up in war
The season of terror and slander
Losing is not in my blood
My passion is witness, I have fought death.)
—Ahmer Javed, 23-year-old Kashmiri rapper
(translated by Akhil Sood)
This book was published in August 2015, almost exactly four years before Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its special status in the Indian Union and of its statehood. It is the story of Kashmiri nationalism told mainly through the life and work—and in one case, the death—of two men: Sampat Prakash, a communist trade union leader and a Kashmiri Pandit; and Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim, and a militant disillusioned with Pakistan who surrendered and then got caught in a complex web of politics that eventually led to his execution.
Even though the book is critical of political leadership across the ideological spectrum, it has been welcomed by both Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims. In Delhi the book was released at an event attended by many Kashmiri Pandits, including members of the RSS and the Panun Kashmir movement; in Srinagar it was released in the presence of trade union leaders and Tabassum, the widow of Afzal Guru.
As I was writing the book, I knew that some, perhaps many, readers, especially those outside Kashmir, would be critical of my choice of Afzal Guru as one of its protagonists. But I was convinced they needed to be shown truths that would make them recognize their bias.
Sunil Gupta, the Tihar jail official who was with Afzal at the time of his execution, has written about those last hours in his book Black Warrant: Confessions of a Tihar Jailer (2019). Gupta says that before carrying out an execution the prisoner is given two weeks, but in Afzal’s case only six days were given. Even this much, he writes, was ‘definitely enough time to inform Afzal’s family and to allow for a last meeting’. But the authorities decided not to inform his family. Gupta then describes the jail staff’s last hour with Afzal:
We sat down with him and asked if he wanted tea. As we sipped it slowly, Afzal spoke calmly about his case. He told us he was not a terrorist…All he wanted, he said, was to fight against corruption, but ‘who listens in India?…This was never my fight. I never wanted or even intended to be a Kashmiri separatist. All that I did was to fight against corrupt politicians.’
And then he started singing a song from the 1960s’ movie Badal: ‘Apney liye jiye toh kya jiye, tu ji ae dil zamane ke liye.’ (What is the point of a life lived for ourselves, my heart lives for others.)
…There was no fear in his voice. There was just something about the way Afzal sang it, that I could not help myself. I sang along with him until he stopped and asked for more tea. Unfortunately, the man who serves tea in prison had already left so this wish of his remained unfulfilled.
Gupta goes on to say that when he shared the experience with his family, he broke down before them. He remembers Afzal as a quiet man who would read books of all faiths, and when he was not reading, he would be saying his prayers five times a day. ‘I think about Afzal a lot,’ Gupta writes. ‘I know that anyone who refers to him is called an “anti-national”, but I think he was a good man who wanted to work with the NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties. All he wanted was to serve humanity and for his people to live peacefully.’
Reading Sunil Gupta’s account, I feel my stand has been vindicated. People needed to know the person who had been demonized, condemned and sentenced to death—the Supreme Court ruled that ‘his life should become extinct’, so that ‘the collective conscience of the society’ was ‘satisfied’.1
In February 2016, some students of Jawaharlal Nehru University decided to observe a meeting to commemorate Afzal Guru’s hanging; they were ruthlessly persecuted, and are still facing charges of ‘sedition’. The authorities do not see that such acts of solidarity as those brave JNU students attempted can, and do, build bridges between individuals and communities across the abyss of alienation. Watching the manner in which the students were hounded by the authorities and the mainstream media, it seemed to me that my book, like most other books, would change nothing.
But there were also reactions that made me feel I hadn’t failed entirely. In his review of the first edition of The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism, the outspoken Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari2 wrote: ‘The book is another reminder about how various powers-that-be have played with Kashmir. It is an incisive account of a bruised past and present and probably points to the future, as well, of a society that has shown resilience to onslaughts.’
There were also positive reactions from and serious discussions with people I met in Kashmir as well as in other parts of the country who had read the book. These gave me hope that the book could create space for different conversations on Kashmir. In a small but significant way, perhaps it could open up the possibility of alternative political discourse.
Central to the spirit of the book are the exuberant optimism of Sampat Prakash, the efforts of thousands of Kashmiris over the decades to preserve the unique ethos of Kashmiri nationalism, and the dark forebodings expressed by Afzal Guru about the future. The stories in the book also show that there is an ever-present danger of destructive political forces crushing any hope of an alternative political discourse which could lead to a resolution to the Kashmir conflict. And in August 2019 the possibility of any resolution was extinguished when the central government decided to do away with the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under the Constitution of India. It all but scrapped Article 370, which made specific provisions for the applicability of the Indian Constitution in the state—a special concession made for the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India.
The Government of India claimed that this revocation of the special status would help integrate Kashmir with India; it would bring development to the Kashmir Valley; and it would bring peace, security and stability to the conflict-ridden region. Many academics, experts and security analysts have questioned this assumption. Some have even challenged the revocation in the Supreme Court. Whatever the judgement, the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir is a politically significant step with long-term consequences for India and the rest of South Asia.
This book shows that the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under the Constitution—specifically, the protection of the identity of its people under Article 370—is the bridge which linked Kashmir with the rest of India. Now, with that link gone, what connects India and Kashmir?
When we examine, carefully and objectively, the arguments put forward for the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, they are all shown to be false and against the weight of historical evidence.
Greater Integration with the Indian Union
The Indian government’s Constitutional Order (C.O.) 272 dated 5 August 2019 nullified Article 370 (it has not been abrogated yet) and allowed the government to introduce The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill, 2019, which was then passed by the Parliament. By this Act of Parliament, the state of Jammu and Kashmir was reconstituted, effective 31 October 2019, into two union territories, one to be called Jammu and Kashmir, and the other Ladakh. While Jammu and Kashmir will have a legislative assembly, Ladakh will be a union territory under a lieutenant governor without a legislative assembly.
The passage of the Bill in Parliament was possible because it was supported by political parties who have usually opposed BJP’s Hindutva ideology, such as the Aam Aadmi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, and even some prominent members of the Congress Party which is officially opposed to the revocation of the special status. They justified their support in the belief that the nullification of Article 370 would help integrate Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country and help bring an end to militancy and proxy war.
The Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, while announcing the nullification of Article 370, said this step would bring everlasting peace to Jammu and Kashmir and ‘completely eradicate’ Pakistan- sponsored terrorism from the Kashmir Valley. Before the announcement of the bifurcation of the state, there was a clampdown in Kashmir. Seven million people living in the Valley were imprisoned in their own land, within their own homes. Telephone and internet services were cut off. Kashmiri students living outside the Valley could not contact their families; schools were closed down; public assembly was banned; political leaders, including those who had risked their lives supporting India for decades, were detained; even children were arrested. The average loss of business per day in Kashmir during the clampdown has been to the tune of at least Rs 175 crore, according to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI). Bakeries and animal herders have been hit particularly badly, as have fruit growers.
Greater than the discomfort of the curfews, the arbitrary arrests and detentions and the loss of trade, has been the impact of the feeling of helplessness, humiliation, injustice and repression among the Kashmiri people. The unprecedented triumphalism in the rest of the country has only added to the alienation and anger in Kashmir.
Kashmiris are not new to military repression. As the young Kashmiri rapper Ahmer Javed has sung: Crackdownas manz zaamit, curfew manz maraan … Bunker yeti gharan manz, bha qabrah khanaan (We’re born in crackdowns, we die in curfews…They turned our homes into bunkers, and I’m digging graves). Even in the midst of this latest clampdown, the Kashmiris found a unique way of protesting. They sent boxes of their famous apples with slogans written across the fruits. When traders in Kathua District opened the wooden boxes, they found apples with slogans like ‘Azadi’, ‘Burhan Wani’, ‘Zakir Musa Zindabad’ and ‘Go India Go Back’ on them. People in Kargil too have protested and demanded that they should be part of the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley rather than Buddhist majority Ladakh.
Militant elements have found violent ways of making their displeasure known; their target: migrant workers, the most vulnerable section of our society. Militants have killed workers from Bengal and Rajasthan, truck drivers, and a trader from Punjab. Now it will not be ‘guest militants’ from outside who will use guns, but Kashmiri youth too might take to the gun to avenge their humiliation.
It is not only human rights activists and opposition leaders who are warning of the consequences of this alienation. Police, officers of the Indian security forces and defence experts too fear that the repercussions of revoking Article 370 and keeping an entire people under lockdown will lead to greater militancy. Ashok Bhan, the former Director General of Police in Jammu and Kashmir has warned: ‘The abrogation of the special status accorded to J&K and re-organization of the state will add to alienation, mistrust and the questioning of the government’s democratic credentials in the Valley. While it will be hailed in large parts of Jammu province and in Leh district, both condemnation and appreciation will be along religious lines.’3 Alok Joshi, Member, National Security Advisory Board(NSAB) and former Secretary, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has warned that the nullification of Article 370 could lead to greater involvement of Pakistan. He has said: ‘With the talks with the Taliban reaching a critical point and the Pakistani establishment leveraging these talks, would Pakistan be encouraged towards adventurism on the Kashmir front? Prudence demands that we prepare for a more active involvement of the Pakistani deep state in Kashmir and beyond.’4
The BJP-led central government has argued that the nullification of Article 370 ensures that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is fully integrated with the Indian Union. In order to achieve this integration, the Constitution of India and the law have been used in a way that undermines the integrity of legal processes. The government has cleverly—perhaps too cleverly—added a sub clause to Article 367—the interpretation clause of the Constitution—in order to give itself Constitutional and legal validity in revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
Article 370(1)(d) says that provisions of the Indian Constitution can be made applicable to Jammu and Kashmir with such modifications as the President of India ‘may by order specify’, but it also requires that the President secure the concurrence of the Jammu and Kashmir government before issuing such an order. There is also Article 370(3), which states that via a Presidential order, the entire Article 370 can cease to be operative, provided that a recommendation to this effect is made by the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly, an elected body set up in 1951 to formulate the Constitution of the state. The Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly had dissolved itself on 26 January 1957 (through a resolution it ratified on 17 November 1956), without making any recommendation for a change in or abrogation of Article 370, thus, in effect, making the Article permanent. To get around this legal position, in the Indian government’s Constitutional Order (C.O.) 272 of 5 August 2019, a modification was made to Article 367, inserting a sub-clause which states that the words ‘Constituent Assembly’ in Article 370(3) must be read as ‘legislative assembly’. Since the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly did not exist in August 2019 (President’s rule had been imposed in the state in June 2018 and extended for another six months in July 2019), the recommendation of the governor was deemed analogous to the recommendation of the legislative assembly and C.O. 272, nullifying Article 370, was passed by the central government.
Lawyers are asking whether an amendment to Article 367 can be done in this manner, and if so, whether the governor, as a representative of the President of India, can replace an elected legislative assembly for giving consent to cease operation of Article 370. Retired military officers and bureaucrats have filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the Presidential order by which Article 370 was made un-operational, saying that the order was constitutionally invalid. The petitioners have also challenged the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019. The petitioners include former Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, Retired Major General Ashok Mehta, former IAS officers Hindal Haidar Tyabji, Amitabha Pande and Gopal Pillai, and former member of the Home Ministry’s Group of Interlocutors for J&K, Radha Kumar.
The Government’s revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir has consequences beyond the state. There are special provisions for other parts of the country, mainly in the Northeast region, such as Nagaland and Sikkim. What will become of those provisions now? In fact, the claim that only Jammu and Kashmir was given a special status under the Indian Constitution is itself incorrect. At the time of Indian independence when the Government of India was negotiating with more than 500 princely states like Jammu and Kashmir (the biggest such state), Manipur, Junagarh and Hyderabad, among others, they were asked to accede only on three subjects—defence, foreign affairs and communications. While the other princely states finally decided to accept the Indian Constitution’s applicability to themselves, Jammu and Kashmir reserved the right to formulate its own constitution and laws— especially related to citizenship and property rights—and accept only some parts of the Indian Constitution.
The BJP and its affiliate organizations have long argued that Article 370 was the brainchild of Jawaharlal Nehru and that Sardar Patel was against its provisions. Historical documents and records show clearly that this was not so. Article 370 was a way to provide space, in matters of governance, to the people of a state who felt deeply vulnerable about their identity and insecure about the future. Both Nehru and Patel felt this understanding was necessary.
Quoting in detail the discussion around the provisions of Article 370, Amitabh Mattoo, an academic from Kashmir, wrote in 2013 in response to Narendra Modi’s ‘lalkar rally’ in Jammu that year:
Indeed, the synergy that Patel and Nehru brought to governing India is evident in the negotiations over Article 370. Consider this: In October 1949, there was a tense standoff between Sheikh Abdullah and Ayyangar over parts of Article 370 (or Article 306A, as it was known during the drafting stage). Nehru was in the United States, where—addressing members of the U.S. Congress—he said, ‘Where freedom is menaced or justice threatened or where aggression takes place, we cannot be and shall not be neutral.’ Meanwhile, Ayyangar was struggling with the Sheikh, and later even threatened to resign from the Constituent Assembly. ‘You have left me even more distressed than I have been since I received your last letter…I feel weighted with the responsibility of finding a solution for the difficulties that, after Panditji left for America…have been created…without adequate excuse,’ he wrote to the Sheikh on October 15. And who did Ayyangar turn to, in this crisis with the Sheikh, while kept changing course. He wrote to Ayyangar: ‘Whenever Sheikh Sahib wishes to back out, he always confronts us with his duty to the people.’ But it was Patel finally who managed the crisis and navigated most of the amendments sought by the Sheikh through the Congress Party and the Constituent Assembly to ensure that Article 370 became part of the Indian Constitution.5
Historical records clearly show that Patel and Gopalaswami Ayyangar (minister without portfolio in the first Union Cabinet and a former Diwan to Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir) rather than Nehru were the chief architects of Article 370.
However, as this book shows, successive governments from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru himself undermined the spirit and intent of Article 370 by extending various laws made by the Indian Parliament to Jammu and Kashmir, by getting the approval of pliant state legislatures. New Delhi argued that since the constituent assembly of Kashmir had wound up in 1957, the powers granted to that body should be vested in the state legislature.
In fact, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was already a dead letter by the time the present BJP-led government decided to make it un-operational. What was the need, then, to nullify the Article by a convoluted and questionable legal process and impose a crackdown which has served only to alienate the people of Kashmir completely?
The government says de-operationalizing Article 370 will lead to economic development for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Members of the BJP, including cabinet ministers, have said that once the special status of Jammu and Kashmir has gone, everyone will be able to buy land and use it for the development of the state. At present only ‘permanent residents’ of the state can buy and own land in the state of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 35A, added to the Indian Constitution, under Article 370, through a Presidential order—The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954.
This order was adopted in 1956 by the Jammu and Kashmir constitution, and defines a permanent resident as a person who was a state subject on 14 May 1954, or one who has lived in the state for ten years and has legally bought immovable property there. This definition can only be changed if the Jammu and Kashmir legislature passes an amendment with a two-thirds majority.
It was this provision which allowed the state of Jammu and Kashmir to carry out extensive land reforms. The land reforms were a part of the Naya Kashmir programme inspired by socialist ideals and is largely responsible for the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is ahead of many states in India in almost all economic indicators, despite the years of insurgency. These land reforms along with a massive debt write-off undertaken over 20 years, from 1951 to 1973, transformed the lives of Jammu and Kashmir’s rural masses. Economists such as Hasib Drabu have pointed out that the absolute level of poverty in Jammu and Kashmir—households living below the poverty line—is 10%, against the all India average of 22%. The income inequality coefficient for rural households in the state is 0.221, making it one of the most egalitarian sub-national economies in India. Households in Jammu and Kashmir have the second lowest incidence of indebtedness in the country.
A survey of India’s states by the Delhi based PHD Research Bureau in December 2011 stated that Jammu and Kashmir stands 8th on the basis of various socio economic parameters, viz. macro economy, investment environment, infrastructure, agriculture, primary education and consumer markets. The survey showed that the state has been ranked first in primary health, 3rd in macro economy, 4th in industrial investments and primary education, 6th in consumer markets, 10th in infrastructure and 11th in agriculture. The state has been ranked 4th in labour regulations, 9th in overall economic freedom, and 13th in legal systems and 14th in terms of size of the government.6
So, how will the repeal of Article 35A help in the development of land can now be bought by anyone, i.e., corporations. But private investment has been coming into Jammu and Kashmir despite the restrictions on land ownership imposed by Article 35A. Land for industrial development is available to outsiders and foreigners like elsewhere in the country. The government of Jammu and Kashmir offers land for industry for a 90-year lease, which is further renewable; that too at lower prices and on better terms than in many other states.
However, corporations have not been able to take over the pristine lands of the state; the protection of Article 35A has ensured that the mountains, forests and rivers of Kashmir are still preserved from wanton destruction which corporations and unregulated tourism have wrought in other parts of the country.
Return of the Kashmiri Pandits
During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s September 2019 trip to the USA given the moniker ‘Howdy Modi’, Kashmiri Pandits settled in that country welcomed him as a hero who had given them justice by finishing the special status of Kashmir. But no one said anything about giving up their American citizenship and returning to Kashmir.
Responsible Kashmiri Pandits have not only condemned the revocation of the special status but have even challenged the changes to the law before the Supreme Court of India. Former Air Marshal Kapil Kak, a Kashmiri Pandit, has warned that the community is being used as an instrument of the Hindutva project and its brazen majoritarianism.
This does not mean that the Kashmiri Pandits have not suffered deeply because of the insurgency in the Kashmir Valley, and this book has dealt extensively with the question.
The Kashmiri Muslim
This book shows how the Kashmiri identity was defined as an inclusive one, embracing the diversity of the erstwhile state of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. However, over time it has become almost synonymous with the Kashmiri Muslim identity.
With the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, which gives special protection to non-Muslim migrants in India, the idea of citizenship itself has been communalized by the BJP-led central government, and there have been nationwide protests against the undermining of the secular nature of the Constitution of India. The Kashmir question has now converged with the question of the future of Muslims in India. Despite assurances by Prime Minister Modi, the Muslim citizens feel deeply threatened by the unfolding of the Hindutva agenda of making India a Hindu homeland, and them either stateless or second-class citizens. The Kashmiri Muslim will be further, and perhaps irrevocably, alienated.
The Dalit Question
It is true that members of the scheduled castes in Jammu have suffered discrimination under Article 35A. There is a historical context to their grievance which needs to be noted—not as a justification for the discrimination but to understand its historical origins.
In 1957, the local sweepers’ union went on an indefinite strike demanding regularization of their jobs and a salary hike.7 The protest continued for months, resulting in the stagnation of municipal work in the state, which led to several towns becoming garbage dumps. The state government led by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad— then the Prime Minister (Sadr-e-Riyasat) of Jammu and Kashmir— took the decision to bring in safai karamcharis from neighbouring Punjab. After negotiations with the Punjab government, Valmikis from Gurdaspur and Amritsar were invited to the state specifically to be employed as sweepers. The number of families that migrated to Jammu at that time differs in records; the numbers range between 206 and 272.
Since the men and women who were invited from Punjab to work in Jammu municipality were not permanent residents of the state, modifications were made in the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Service Regulations to accommodate them. The mandatory condition of obtaining a permanent residence certificate (PRC) was relaxed for them. These families left their homes in Punjab to settle in Jammu only because of the promise that they would have the same rights as others and that they would be granted ‘permanent resident’ status. The Valmikis were also allotted land for the construction of houses and some were given residential accommodation in different areas of Jammu city.
While relaxing the PRC condition for Valmikis, a clause was inserted in the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Service Regulations that clarified that the rules were relaxed only to the point of the community members getting appointed as safai karamcharis. Though that was not an issue for the first generation of Valmikis, who were happy to get regular jobs and accommodation, the newer generation have been unable to venture into other fields of employment in the state as they could not prove their domicile. They also do not get the right to special educational and employment reserved for permanent residents.
None of the political parties, national or regional, have ever made any attempt to redress this grievance. Since the Valmikis do not have the right to vote in the state assembly, they do not constitute a vote bank and are excluded entirely from state-level politics.
In this book, Sampat Prakash describes the strike of the Corporation Safai Karamcharis, and shows that their condition has continued to be bad over the years. The 1957 strike did lead to some improvement in the working conditions of the safai karamcharis, according to Sampat Prakash, but he did not speak of the problem of discrimination suffered by the Valmikis under Article 35A. While writing this new preface, I tried to call him in Srinagar, where he now lives, to discuss this issue, but communications have yet to be restored in the Valley.
I am sure Sampat Prakash would say the solution is to give permanent residence status to the erstwhile Valmiki safai karamcharis so that their children can take advantage of both educational and employment opportunities reserved for permanent residents. The matter does not need, and cannot justify, the repeal of Article 35A.
By not redressing the genuine grievance of the Jammu Valmiki community, all the political parties of the state have allowed the Hindutva forces to take advantage of the situation.
The International Context
The virtual abrogation of Article 370, the re-organization of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the repeal of Article 35A will have international consequences which will fuel militancy. It will make the position of those Kashmiri leaders who have risked their lives for decades to defend the accession to India, entirely untenable.
Kashmiri youth who have lived through this clampdown, who have been in jails and who have been witness to the humiliation of their people and the triumphalism of the Indian government and much of its public, will seek justice—and they won’t do this only by painting a few slogans on apples.
Internationally, the Indian prime minister may find support among many of the world’s leaders today, but the militant, too, will find money and arms to fuel his resentment.
Repercussions in the Northeast
The events unfolding in Kashmir have been closely watched by people in the Northeast, most especially the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (IM), which has been involved in a peace process with the Government of India since 1997. N. Ravi was credited with persuading the NSCN (IM) to sign the Framework Agreement in August 2015 and it was said that the talks were in their final stages. But the nullification of Article 370 showed the Nagas that any promises made by the Indian government are easily broken.
There is now an increased presence of the Indian armed forces in Nagaland, with helicopters hovering over the NSCN (IM) camp near Dimapur.
Meanwhile, new alliances are being forged between militants; and there is a growing sense of alienation in the Northeast. How does the present government hope to bring greater peace to India when the citizens living on our most vulnerable borders are feeling alienated and betrayed?
Is there any hope?
The number of citizens all over India who have reacted against the nullification of Article 370 is far more than ever before; the interest in Kashmir, the need to reach out to the people of Kashmir, is real. When S.A.R. Geelani, the man who was acquitted of charges of being a part of the conspiracy to attack the Indian Parliament in 2001, died recently, the large gathering at the funeral was a sharp contrast to the time when he and his family were virtually boycotted.
However, the reactions to the events in Kashmir also show massive ignorance about the complexity of the political situation in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, and a lack of knowledge of its history.
There is an urgent need to understand the situation and books can be valuable sources of information. At least that is what I try to believe. Books like this have been written in harsh and dispiriting times, but always with the hope that the reader might find some answers in, perhaps even derive comfort and inspiration from, the past; from histories which would otherwise be lost, or deliberately obliterated from our collective memories. I believe that the stories of the Kashmiri people recorded within the covers of this book deserve to be remembered; perhaps they can still shine a light in these dark times. Present events have made these histories even more relevant than before.
ALONG THE SILK ROUTE AGAIN
Bahar Kashmiri, a poet from the Valley, wrote in the 1940s:
From all sides I am assaulted,
The English, the Indians, the Afghans, the Pakistanis,
To whom should I complain, to whom should I tell my fate?
Capitalists, tyrants, oppressors, and friends, all want me
To become their accomplice,
With whom should I agree, with whom should I disagree?
To whom should I complain, to whom should I tell my fate?1
These words reflect the agony of the Kashmiri people who have been caught in the web of political machinations and intrigue throughout the history of the Valley. This book traces the tortured history of Kashmiri nationalism, primarily through the lives of two men: Sampat Prakash, a Kashmiri Pandit and Communist trade union leader who became active in politics during the Cold War years, and Mohammad Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim who became politically active at the beginning of the Kashmir insurgency, coinciding with the end of the Cold War, the defeat of Soviet Union, and the start of the War on Terror. The stories of many other Kashmiris are also woven into this account.
The book also examines how Kashmiri nationalists have to negotiate the rivalries between superpowers, the competing nationalisms of India and Pakistan, which invariably translates into Hindu-Muslim antagonisms. The results of the latest elections of 2014 show how deeply divided the people of Jammu and Kashmir are along communal lines. The controversies surrounding the government formation reflect the long history of mobilization of people along religious lines and, more recently, the competing communalism of Hindu and Muslim extremism.
The two parties who have formed the government in Jammu and Kashmir, the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are as different as the North Pole is from the South Pole.2 The Valley-based PDP was formed in 1998 and is committed to self-rule by Kashmiris without disturbing the sovereignty of either India or Pakistan. The BJP was created in 1980 but its origins lie in the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, formed in 1951 to contest the special status accorded to Kashmir under the Indian Constitution. The BJP base is entirely in Hindu-dominated Jammu.3
Some public leaders have hailed this alliance as a triumph of Indian democracy and an opportunity for reconciliation between the Hindus of Jammu and the Muslims of the Kashmir Valley. But there are those who warn that this could well be the beginning of the ‘partitioning of the state’s peoples by two colluding communal blocks’.
In the collective memory of the Kashmiris, their land has been under continuous foreign rule ever since the Mughal emperor Akbar invaded the Valley in 1586 and imprisoned Yusuf Shah Chak and later sent him to Bihar where he died in anonymity. He was the last independent king of Kashmir.
The Mughal rule in Kashmir ended with the invasion of the Valley by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1751.There are innumerable stories about the brutalities committed by the Afghans during their rule which ended in 1819 when the Sikhs conquered Kashmir. The Sikh rule is remembered for the harsh treatment meted out to the Muslim subjects. The Jama Masjid at Srinagar was closed to the public for prayers and Muslims were forbidden to say Azan. Sikh rule came to end with the coming of the Dogra Raj in 1846.
It was the Dogras who united the entire Province of Jammu and Kashmir. One of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s most able generals, Gulab Singh (1792–1858)4, joined the Lahore court in 1809 and in 1821 Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave him the estate of Jammu. Gulab Singh sent his loyal general, Zorawar Singh, to conquer Baltistan and Western Tibet. In September 1842, a Treaty of Friendship was signed between the ruler of Jammu, the emperor of China and the lama guru of Lhasa by which the boundary between Ladakh and Tibet was established.5 This treaty assured Gulab Singh that the trade in wool, shawls and tea would not be interfered with.
The Sikhs, and later the Dogras, controlled the lucrative overland Indo-Central Asian trade through Ladakh. Between 1919 to 1931, goods worth about Rs 285 million were exported through Ladakh to Xinjiang in present-day China, while merchandise valued at about Rs 330 million was imported from Xinjiang into Ladakh during the same period. However, the Indo-Central Asian trade through Ladakh, which scaled an unprecedented height of over Rs 68 million during the financial year 1920–21, finally ceased to flow after 1949 following the Communist takeover of Xinjiang.6 Even though the trade link was broken when the British imposed restrictions on exports of essential commodities from India to Central Asia during the height of Anglo-Soviet tensions, the influence of Central Asia on the culture is visible everywhere in the Kashmir Valley.
The Yarkandi Serai on the left bank of the Jhelum river near the Safa Kadal Bridge in Srinagar is a standing reminder of the ancient connections between Kashmir and Central Asia. This was where travellers from Central Asia rested, and their yaks and ponies laden with delicate porcelain grazed in the grounds surrounding the Eidgah.
Now the possibilities of reviving these old links through trade are opening up with the global shift from Europe to Asia. The ancient Silk Routes are being revived and railway lines, bridges and roads are being constructed to link Asia with Europe again. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) shares borders with several countries: Pakistan, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan and Tajikistan to the west, and the Xinjiang province of the People’s Republic of China to the north. Ever since the Karakoram highway (KKH) was built to connect Pakistan with China via PoK, the geopolitical significance of PoK has increased manifold. PoK is a gateway to the Central Asian republics and to their expanding markets.
What would the impact of this opening up of trade routes to Central Asia through Gilgit-Iskardu-Kargil be on the Kashmir Valley? The people of Kashmir could once again be linked to international trade routes, but for the India-Pakistan and India-China tensions. For the time being, the only reminder of the past connections with Central Asia can be seen in the culture of the Kashmiris—from the pheran that they wear to the kangri (earthen pot containing burning coals) that they carry, and the samovars filled with tea throughout the year.
All through the colonial period, the British and the Russians eyed the trade routes. The British East India Company had already established itself and was at that time engaged in a war with the Sikhs. In this war, Gulab Singh remained neutral. The British defeated the Sikhs and, in 1846, the independent Sikh kingdom became a protectorate in accordance with the Treaty of Lahore. The British then took away the territories of Jammu and Kashmir from the Sikhs on the excuse that they could not pay the indemnity and it was handed over to Gulab Singh by the Treaty of Amritsar signed on 16 March 1842.
Thus, Gulab Singh became the maharaja of the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. The Dogra kingdom consisted of three administrative areas—the Jammu Province, the Kashmir Province and the Frontier Ilaquas consisting of Ladakh Wazarat, the Gilgit Agency and the vassal states of Hunza and Nagar. Before Indian Independence, the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir was the largest princely state and culturally, too, the most diverse.
The Dogras united a large territory inhabited by a population speaking a variety of languages, ranging from Shinaki, Burushaski and Wakhi to Dogri, Kashmiri and Bodhi. The people practised different religions as well and among the subjects were Moravian Christians, Buddhists, Shias, Sunnis, Ahmadiyyas, Jains and Hindus.7
The origins of Kashmiri nationalism lie in the movement against the oppressive Dogra rule which began in 1846 and ended in 1947.
The condition of the ordinary people has been described by many writers who visited Kashmir; all have documented the terrible poverty in which the majority of the people lived. For instance, Sir Albion Banerji, the Foreign and political minister of the State, made this observation:
Jammu and Kashmir State is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Muhammadan population absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages and practically governed like dumb driven cattle. There is no touch between the Government and the people, no suitable opportunity for representing grievances and the administrative machinery itself requires overhauling from the top to bottom to bring it up to the modern conditions of efficiency. It has at present little or no sympathy with the people’s wants and grievances.8
The Kashmiri people did rebel against Dogra oppression. The most famous was the protest by the shawl weavers (shawl-bafs) in April 1865.
Kashmiri shawls came to be known in Europe in the late eighteenth century, after Napoleon Bonaparte of France presented a Kashmiri shawl to his wife, Josephine. Her use of the shawls set off a Europe- wide fashion trend, and French dealers soon began descending on Srinagar to feed the growing demand at home.
European demand ensured that the shawl industry continued to flourish. Between 1860 and 1870, according to the economic historian D.N. Dhar, exports of shawls ranged between Rs 2.5 million and Rs 2.8 million annually.
Maharaja Ranbir Singh’s administration now set up the Dagshawl Department, which was charged with raising Rs 1.2 million each year from the trade. Pandit Raj Kak Dhar, the department’s daroga, or inspector, set about doing so with great enthusiasm—and great brutality.
The shawl-bafs faced enormous hardship. Each weaver was expected to pay Rs 49 a year towards the new tax, which meant over half of his average wage of Rs 7 a month was now being expropriated. In addition, the staff of the Dagshawl Department extracted illegal levies.
Faced with starvation, Srinagar’s shawl-bafs chose to fight. On the morning of 29 April 1865, the weavers and their khandwaws, or apprentices, peacefully marched through the streets of Srinagar towards the palace of Kripa Ram, the governor of Kashmir. Effigies of Raj Kak Dhar were burned by the protesters, and slogans raised against the Dagshawl Department.
Kripa Ram was determined to teach Srinagar’s workers a lesson they would not forget. As the protesters reached the old city neighbourhood of Zaldagar, troops under the command of Colonel Bijoy Singh surrounded the procession and demanded that the workers disperse. They refused. What followed was horrific. The unarmed men were fired on at point-blank range and then as they fled, were charged at with spears. Hundreds jumped off the bridge of Haji Rather Sum at Zaldagar, hoping to hide in the marshes along the Dal Lake.
Historians have not been able to record the names of all those who were killed on 29 April 1865, but the fate of the leaders of the uprising is well recorded. Sheikh Rasool and Abli Baba were tortured to death in a dungeon in the Shergarhi Palace, while Qudda Lal and Sona Shah were imprisoned in the Bahu Fort at Jammu after they failed to pay a fine of Rs 50,000 each to the Maharaja. Hundreds of other protesters were held in prison at Habak, where many died of cold and hunger.9
The weavers’ strike failed because they did not have a leader to take their agitation forward. At the time there were no newspapers, no political parties and even social organizations were banned. It would take more than six decades before the Kashmiris would rise as a people against Dogra Raj. This time they would rise under the leadership of a charismatic Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.
The greatest challenge before the Sheikh was to build an organization and a movement in which both Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims could feel an equal sense of belonging. He was deeply influenced by ideas of Socialism and Communism. It was during this time that Sampat Prakash and his comrades in the trade union movement began their political activism.
I was introduced to Sampat Prakash by Balraj Puri,10 whom I had asked to find a Kashmiri Pandit willing to testify as an expert witness. I was representing Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, a Delhi University lecturer, one of the four people accused of being a part of the conspiracy to attack the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001. Later I was involved in the campaign to save Mohammad Afzal Guru from the gallows.
Sampat Prakash testified in the court as a defence witness in the Parliament attack case and throughout the trial, he and his comrades in the trade union movement were active in the campaign for justice for the accused. It was the first campaign in which Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris jointly fought for justice and it finally led to the acquittal of three of the accused. But the campaign could not save Afzal Guru from the gallows. He was secretly hanged in Tihar Jail on 9 February 2013. Now the PDP, along with other parties and organizations, is demanding that his mortal remains be given to his family so he can be buried in the martyrs’ graveyard, but it was the BJP which had carried out a vicious campaign to hang Afzal Guru whom they looked upon as a Pakistan-trained terrorist.
Sampat Prakash and Mohammad Afzal Guru seem to have nothing much in common; they belong to two different generations and two different communities. Sampat was born in a typical Kashmiri Pandit family, barely two decades after the Russian Revolution. He grew up when Kashmiris, Hindu and Muslim, were inspired by the revolutionary ideas of Communism. Afzal Guru grew up at a time when Russians were seen as the enemies of Islam, and the heroes of his time were the freedom fighters like the Taliban who successfully defeated the Russians in Afghanistan.
Sampat was born as a subject of the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir; Afzal was born as a citizen of independent India. While Sampat Prakash was growing up, the hero of the people was Sheikh Abdullah—the man who was called the Lion of Kashmir, the leader who would lead his people to freedom. But by the time Afzal Guru grew up, the Sheikh was seen as a traitor by many Kashmiri nationalists—a man who had betrayed the dream of Kashmiri independence.
However, there were similarities between the two men which gave me a glimpse into the complexities defining Kashmiri nationalism. Both men were deeply committed to the idea of an independent Kashmir, free from the dominance of both India and Pakistan. Both were, at an important juncture of their life, members of the militant Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front or the JKLF. The JKLF projected itself as a secular organization fighting for Jammu and Kashmir, independent of both India and Pakistan, with the same boundaries as the Princely State under the Dogras.
The idea of an independent Kashmir, free from the hold of both India and Pakistan, appeals to a vast number of Kashmiris but they are aware that in order to realize their dream, they would have to successfully fight the three nuclear states who lay claim to the territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
Today, the territory of the erstwhile Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir is divided and administered by three sovereign states— India, Pakistan and China. At present, China holds about 20 per cent,11 Pakistan 35 per cent12 and India the remaining 45 per cent.13
The United Nations referred to this region as Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory, until November 2010, when it was removed from the list of disputes under the observation of the Security Council. Both Sampat Prakash and Afzal Guru look upon Jammu and Kashmir as disputed territory.
Sampat and Afzal equally felt that their only real home was the Kashmir Valley. Both the men, however, could not return to live in the Valley because of the threat to their lives. Sampat continues to be threatened by the militants and condemned by his own community for supporting Kashmiri separatists; Afzal was threatened by the Indian security forces, even though he was a surrendered militant but not an approver.
Despite being Kashmiri nationalists, they both gave their sons names that were not Kashmiri—Sampat named his son Lenin; Afzal’s son is called Ghalib. Both Sampat Prakash and Afzal Guru struggled with the ideological conflicts between universal ideals and conflicting nationalisms.
Sampat Prakash does not and Mohammad Afzal Guru did not characterize the struggle for Kashmiri independence as a religious war. Afzal, in a letter to me, wrote: ‘When Naga conflict is not Christian why conflict in Kashmir is branded as Islamic [?] Fundamentally, it is political, social and historical in nature.’
But Sampat Prakash now concedes that religion has become an important factor in the Kashmir movement. The ascendancy of the Hindutva factor and the rise of political Islam cannot be wished away. He is grappling with redefining the meaning of Kashmiri nationalism.
Sampat Prakash and Afzal Guru have both expressed concern about the growth of radical Islam. Afzal expressed his concern in his letters to friends and to me. Sampat Prakash and his comrades have done much to stem the tide of Islamic fundamentalism; they have managed, against all odds, to continue to fight for better living and working conditions for government employees in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, despite the risk to their lives. Their stories are inspirational and they have never been told.
The growth of Hindutva ideology and political Islam makes it increasingly difficult for Sampat Prakash or his comrades to dream of a future in which Kashmiri Hindus and Kashmiri Muslims can live together with mutual respect.
Sampat Prakash has asked me more than once: ‘What more could we have done to bring the two communities together?’
It is not a question that only Sampat Prakash should be asking.
PREFACE TO THE REVISED EDITION
- Devinder Bhullar, a Khalistani convicted in a bomb blast case that killed nine people and sentenced to death three years before Afzal Guru, had his sentence commuted in 2014.
- Shujaat Bukhari (1968-2018) was the editor of Srinagar based Rising Kashmir and known for his outspoken views. He was assassinated on 14 June 2018 in Srinagar by militants.
- Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies Special Report #204, ‘Article 370 and the Reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir’, New Delhi: August 2019.
- Pallavi Sareen, ‘The Constitution is Allowing the Continued Discrimination of Valmikis in J&K’ https://thewire.in/rights/jammu-and-kashmir-article-35a-valmikis
1. Chitralekha Zutshi, Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity and the Making of Kashmir, (Permanent Black, 2003), 310.
2. The Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) forged an alliance based on a common minimum programme and PDP leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was sworn in as chief minister in March 2015. The Valley-based PDP emerged as the single largest party with twenty-eight seats; BJP’s support came entirely from Hindu-dominated Jammu where it won twenty-five.
3. Overall, the Hindus form a majority in Jammu province which accounts for around 45 per cent of the total population of Jammu and Jammu consists of six districts: Doda, Poonch, Rajouri, Udhampur, Jammu and Kathua. Muslims are in a majority in the first three districts.
4. M. Panikkar, Gulab Singh 1792-1858: The Founder of Kashmir, (London: Martin Hopkinson, 1930), http://archive.org/stream/gulabsingh.
5. Dorothy Woodman, Himalayan Frontiers, (London: Barrie and Rockliff, The Cresset Press, 1969), 351.
6. K. Warikoo, ‘Geo-Strategic Importance of Gilgit-Baltistan’, in The Other Kashmir, K. Warikoo, ed., (New Delhi: IDSA, 2014).
7. For a description of the communities living in the Indian state of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh see K.S. Singh, ‘People of India Jammu and Kashmir’, Anthropological Survey of India & Manohar, 2003, Vol. XXV, New Delhi.
8. N.K. Bamzai, Culture and Political History of Kashmir, Vol. 3, (New Delhi: MD House, 1994,) 723.
9. Praveen Swami, ‘Silk, Wool and Workers’ Blood’, Frontline, Vol. 23 Issue 9, 6-19 May 2006.
10. Balraj Puri (1928-2014), director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs based in Jammu; he had taken part in the movement against Dogra oppression led by Sheikh Abdullah. He was the author of more than thirty-five books.
11. Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram were given by Pakistan to China in 1963.
12. Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Balstistan; Gilgit-Baltistan is an amalgamation of Gilgit Agency, Baltistan and the princely states of Humza and Nagar. It was known as the Northern Areas till August 2009. For a history of Azad Kashmir see Christopher Snedden, Kashmir: The Unwritten History, (Noida: HarperCollins, 2013); ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir: Changing the Discourse’, IDSA PoK Project Report, May 2011.
13. Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Ladakh.
Nandita Haksar is a human rights lawyer, teacher, activist and writer. She has been instrumental in setting up the country’s first human rights courses at several universities. In 1983, she became the first person to challenge the infamous Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the Supreme Court. She successfully led the campaign for the acquittal of one of the people framed in the Indian Parliament attack case, and has been working for and with migrant workers from the Northeast.
Nandita’s published works include Demystification of Law for Women (1986); Framing Geelani, Hanging Afzal: Patriotism in the Time of Terror (2009); Rogue Agent: How India’s Military Intelligence Betrayed the Burmese Resistance (2010); The Judgement That Never Came: Army Rule in North East India (with Sebastian Hongray, 2011); ABC of Naga Culture and Civilization (2011); Across the Chicken Neck: Travels in North East India (2013); The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism: From the Cold War to the Present Day (2015; revised edition, 2020); The Exodus Is Not Over: Migrations from the Ruptured Homelands of Northeast India (2016); The Flavours of Nationalism: Recipes for Love, Hate and Friendship (2018) and Kuknalim: Naga Armed Resistance (with Sebastian Hongray, 2019).
Nandita lives in Delhi, Goa and, sometimes, Ukhrul.
Source: Speaking Tiger Books