“Darya bhi main, darakht bhi main.
Jhelum bhi main, Chinar bhi main.
Dair bhi hoon, haram bhi hoon.
Shia bhi hoon, Sunni bhi hoon, main hoon Pandit.
Main tha, main hoon aur main hi rahoonga” - From the movie Haider(2014).
The words sent a chill down my spine as I craved to visit Kashmir in the early days of 2020. The beautiful location called Jannet-e-Kashmir(Heaven on Earth) has its name on every bucket list. Turning the pages of the past and the present of Kashmir will leave you with unforgettable tales and throw some light on its future.
The early history of Kashmir dates back to 3000 BCE, with neolithic sites found in the valley. But the notable names include Ashoka(304–232 BCE), during whose reign Kashmir became a part of the Mauryan empire. During this period, many Hindu shrines, Buddhism stupas, and the city of Srinagari(present Srinagar), were built. Subsequently, in the 14th century, Muslim rulers(1346–the 1580s) invaded Kashmir. Islam penetrated the region, gradually became a dominant religion and Sanskrit literature ceased to exist. Kashmir also witnessed the Mughal reign(the 1580s–1750s), the Durrani empire (1752–1819), the Sikh rule (1820–1846), and finally, the Dogra Rule(1846–1947), also known as the Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu.
Jammu and Kashmir is also a spectator in some of the major riots, commotions, and decisions as we walk down the aisle of history. Starting from the Partition of India in 1947, the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus 1989 onwards, the 2016-2017 Kashmir unrest, and the abrogation of article 370 in 2019. With Pakistan waiting on its heels to step inside the region to claim the state fully as theirs, the two countries have fought four wars over the valley. The insurgency has led J&K to sway in a constant state of flux.
The book of Kashmir has many chapters which have led the state to be called a “disturbed area”. From the time of 1947 to today, many incidents have etched themselves into the land.
The Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits::The year 1989 witnessed one of the major insurgency which led to the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley. The rebellion was ignited when the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front(JFK), alongside Islamist pro-Pakistan insurgents, targeted and murdered a Hindu on September 14th, 1988. The reason is a demand for a separate state and independence from India. The pro-Islamists waged a war against the Kashmir Hindus, considering them as informants to the Indian military. Tika Lal Taploo, an advocate and a prominent leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Jammu & Kashmir, was murdered in public, a prelude to the insurgency.
The days followed with the killings, kidnapping, and gangraping of many Kashmiri Hindus and their women, thus leading the remaining Hindus to flee the land and seek asylum in either other parts of India or in refugee camps in the Jammu region. According to the government, over 62,000 families in India are registered as Kashmiri refugees, including a few Sikh and Muslim families.
While the Kashmiri Hindus are still fighting to get back to their home, recent developments suggest that the Indian government is doing its part to rehabilitate the Hindus, and the separatists have invited and ensured the protection of the Hindus back in Kashmir.
The Burhan Aftermath: A staggering 200,000 people from every nook and corners of the valley at the funeral, 21 gun salutes by the militants, forty back to back funeral prayers was a sign of series of protests to explode across Jammu and Kashmir after the killing of Burhan Wani, a commander of the Kashmir-based Islamic militant organization Hizbul Mujahideen by the Indian security forces on the 8th of July, 2016. In the early years of 2016, the residents and observers of Kashmir reported an increase in homegrown Islamic militant activities. But a few scholars state that it was a counter-response to the communal rise of Hindu nationalism in India.
The militant organization Hizbul Mujahideen was labeled a terrorist organization, and on 8 July 2016, the commander in chief of Burhan Wani was killed in a planned operation by the Jammu Kashmir Police and Rashtriya Rifles. The news of the death led to the 2016-2017 unrest. Followers of Wani commenced violent protests in the Kashmir valley, and it quickly spread to the Jammu division. Curfew was imposed in several districts, but the protestors ignored it and attacked security forces and army personnel. The Indian security forces tried to tame the situation with the use of pellet guns. Designated as “non-lethal”, the pellet guns led to several casualties and permanent eye injuries. The riots also saw media blackout, internet censorship, and newspaper ban in the valley. The 2016-2017 uprising caused the deaths of over 90 civilians, five security personnel, and over 19,000 people injured in the unrest.
All eyes on Jammu and Kashmir::
Why is Kashmir important?
Kashmir is located geostrategically, and the borders are shared with three major countries. China to the north and east, Afghanistan to the northwest, and Pakistan to the west. The geography of Kashmir serves as the primary source of water and power generation for both Pakistan and India. Rivers Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum flows through India and helped the nation to control the hydroelectric development. The control of the valley will result in the control of the rivers and the glacial waters. This poses an existential crisis to the other.
Meanwhile, China plays a third-party who has occupied the eastern region of greater Kashmir in the late 1950s. Also known as Aksai Chin, the area administered by China is of great importance for military campaigns and serves as the only trade route from the Tarim Basin to Tibet that was passable all year round.
The PoK conundrum: While India has control of around half the area of the princely state, a third of the region belongs to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) divided into two provinces Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Azad Kashmir is bordered by the Pakistani province of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the south and west respectively, Gilgit–Baltistan to the north, and the Indian union territory of Jammu and Kashmir to the east. The disputed boundary is constantly on the radar and is considered to be one of the most sensitive regions.
05 August 2019::
In a historic decision, the abrogation of article 370 was presented for action and enforced effective immediately. Ahead of the announcement, tourists were asked to leave the state, and the most profound pilgrimage, The Amarnath Yatra, was canceled, which led to major speculations among the communities. Telecommunications were brought down, and all internet services were blocked. To maintain peace and to resist any unrest, the Government of India took great caution into account and reinforced the army, paramilitary and special forces in the valley.
What is article 370?
According to article 370(which included 35A) of the Indian Constitution, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, was given a special status that allowed its constitution, a separate flag, and freedom to make laws. This allowed the state to make its own rules related to permanent residency, property ownership, and fundamental rights.
The history of article 370:: On the 15th of August 1947, India attained its independence from the clutches of the British government. The day also observed a significant event in the history of India. The partition of British India into two authorities: India and Pakistan, and the legal existence of the separate dominions at midnight on the same day. While both the countries drew their boundaries and claimed their stake in Jammu and Kashmir, the then ruler of the state, Hari Singh, drafted his ideology without the consent of India or Pakistan. Enraged by this decision, Pakistan breached the standstill treaty and invaded Kashmir in October 1947. India intervened only after the ruler reached out to the center (New Delhi) and signed the Instrument of Accession. The agreement enables the ruler of the princely states under British control to join one of the dominions India or Pakistan formed during the partition.
But there was a catch. Maharaja Hari Singh sought special status for his people and denied outsiders the right to own a piece of land and allowed only the line of inheritance to own property in Jammu and Kashmir. On this condition, the government led by Jawaharlal Nehru agreed and proposed the matter to the Constitution Assembly of India. After much scrutiny, article 370 came into existence and was included in the constitution of India by the Presidential Order of 1954 and professed it as "Temporary, Transitional and Special Provision".
06 August 2019, Kashmir:: The people of Jammu and Kashmir woke up to a different reality in the early hours of 6th August 2019. Around 1 million military personnel and special forces marched to safeguard the Kashmir valley post the monumental step to scrap nearly all of Article 370 by the BJP led Government of India. The line of control was strengthened amid tensions between India and Pakistan. The state was shut externally and internally. The abrogation of article 370 removed the special status and led to the formation of two new union territories in India, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The crucial step was received with mixed emotions across the country. The Kashmiri Pandits supported the move by the Government of India and praised Narendra Modi for taking this major decision. However, a few others condemned it and demanded to revoke this judgment fearing another instability in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Just like any other law, the removal of article 370 came with its pros and cons. While the move aimed at the unification of Kashmir with the rest of India, the Kashmiri Muslims feared the state’s unity and integrity. It opened doors for private investments and promoted economic growth but at the cost of hampering a delicate relationship with our neighboring country Pakistan. In some sense, the new law has restored equality since the rights of minors was never questioned in the Jammu and Kashmir constitution. Only the permanent residents held the right to possess a piece of land in the valley. But now, non-residents are also eligible to own a strip of land. This has implanted a sense of insecurity in the locals and created a state of vulnerability.
But to know more about the situation from the locals, I flew to the summer capital of J&K, Srinagar, on February 21st, 2020.
Beautiful Himalayan backdrops, floating markets on the calm Dal lake, mesmerizing gardens with colorful tulips, and river Jhelum flowing through the city are where our mind wanders when we all imagine Kashmir. Yes, that’s all true. Kashmir is a beautiful state which will leave you spellbound.
Barbed wires, military personnel at every step, off the network grid for over six months, curfew post 7 PM, schools and colleges shut. This was the reality that struck me when I traveled across Kashmir in February 2020 post the scrapping of article 370.
February 22, 2020, Srinagar:: “If somebody died, we had no network to make phone calls to their relatives. We had no choice but to travel miles and across villages to inform them personally” Ahmed Chacha, one of the shikhara owners, told me about what happened in the early days of August 2019.
Over the years, the people of Kashmir have been tested, and they have ascended with extreme grit and spirit. It had been six months since the abrogation of article 370, and Kashmir still suffered silently.
The largest city in Jammu and Kashmir, usually buzzing with tourists, now stood in silence.
February 24, 2020, Kokernag, Anantnag district:: “You’re the first tourist in the last six months to visit us”, one of my hosts Fayaz told me when I landed in Kokernag. The sub-district famous for its gardens, natural springs, and trout farming depended on tourism, but it suffered a major hit this year. Considered as one of the most sensitive areas, Anantnag was still monitored closely with army personnel, barricades, and concertina wires. Schools and colleges were shut for months now, and they questioned the future of the younger generation to which we had no answer. But they hoped for better days to come. They hoped for everything to be normal. They hoped.
February 25, 2020, Anantnag, Kashmir:: “It’s not safe here to travel alone. Stay safe.” said military personnel while changing from one taxi to another. A contradictory statement to what the locals told me. “Tourists are the safest here in Kashmir. It's the locals who are affected by any turmoil which arises.” said the cab driver who was driving us back to Srinagar. While I trusted the latter, the former was trying to preserve my safety as well.
March 23, 2020: A nationwide lockdown was announced on the rise of the COVID-19 crisis. While the nation braced itself for one of the worst pandemics the world has witnessed, the Kashmiri hope was shattered. Another year in exile was here to take away their daily bread and butter. Airlines were grounded, tourism was stopped, and the country came to a halt. The year repeated itself and yet another shutdown was unexpected by the people of Kashmir. But the lockdown rules were inevitable to curb the spread of coronavirus.
We have all witnessed Kashmir burn due to various reasons, but the interactions between the Kashmiris told a different story. Rising above all odds and embracing every hurdle thrown their way, they shared an optimistic view in every aspect of their lives.
“Whatever happens is for the greater good. God almighty will never let us down” smiled the Kashmiris.
February 5, 2021:: High-speed internet, 4G services were restored in the union territory after 17 long months since the state was stripped of its special status.
June 24, 2021:: Almost two years after the move to discard Article 370 and include the state of Jammu and Kashmir under the government of India as a union territory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with the political parties of the state to discuss the steps to be taken in the road ahead. The leaders of J&K including, Ms. Mufti, Farooq Abdullah, and his son Omar Abdullah who were under house arrest, participated in the meeting to discuss further development in the state and its future political course.
Key takeaways from the meeting::
● Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized the delimitation in the union territories and talked about conducting assembly polls election once the delimitation exercise is complete.
● The Gupkar alliance leaders demanded the restoration of Kashmir’s statehood “People’s Conference leader Muzzafar Hussain Baig said, “All leaders demanded statehood. To which the PM said, the delimitation process should conclude first, and then other issues will be addressed.”
● The development progress in the state was applauded by Amit Shah, Minister of Home Affairs, and chalked out new policies to expedite and promote growth in J&K union territory.
● Stressing on easing the current situation, the prime minister ensured safety and security for the society of Jammu and Kashmir and expressed to remove “Dilli ki duri” and “Dil ki duri”(distance from Delhi as well as the distance of heart).
While the future holds good plans for the people of Kashmir, tourists are slowly trickling in, business is limping towards normalcy, and a ray of hope is right around the corner.
An excerpt from the conversations held with the people of Kashmir;
Do you want to be with India or Pakistan?
"If you let us be and help us carry out our normal lives without any hassle, we will be more than happy”.
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