“If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.”
-Jahangir, The fourth Mughal emperor on Kashmir.
What was regarded as “the heaven on earth”, Kashmir today is the world’s most militarized zone where military suppression exists because of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Lay Indian men and women think that this suppression exists because the Indian government is trying to hinder “terrorism in Kashmir which is aided by Pakistan”, but on reading the history of Kashmir, we would understand that we are “accidentally” destroying Kashmiriyat. This article is not about motivating someone to take a side, but it is about knowing the history of the origin of the Kashmir situation.
Sumatra Bose in his Book Kashmir: Roots to Conflict, Paths to Peace has explained the history of the origin of conflict in Kashmir. Earlier, the rulers of Jammu and Kashmir were upper-caste Hindus, whose founder, Gulab Singh acquired the control on Valley of Kashmir from the British on 1846 under the under the British-Dogra pact, according to which Gulab Singh and his male heirs shall have dominion over Kashmir, in return, Gulab Singh agreed to pay him certain amount of money and pledged his military forces to the British government at the time of need. By 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh was ruling over Jammu and Kashmir, which comprised of 77% of Muslims, 20% Hindus and 3% of Buddhist and Sikhs (Bose 2003). The British left India by giving the 562 princely states the freedom to either join one of the two newly formed sovereigns (India and Pakistan) or to be independent states. Maharaja Hari Singh had initially decided not to join any of the two new nations. However, following attacks on Kashmir valley by raiders from Pakistan, Hari Singh called for New-Delhi to get help from Indian-Military. After due recommendation from Lord Mountbatten (the then governor-general of India), Jawaharlal Nehru (the then Prime Minister of India) agreed to aid the J&K Government only after Hari Singh signs an “Instrument of Accession” to India, which basically made J&K part of Independent India.
This famous history of Kashmir’s accession to India is used by our government to justify India’s claim over the Kashmiri territory. However, this history rightfully depicts the entire accession as a political deal between two rulers. This side of the story doesn’t speak anything about the political thoughts and political movement, which the Kashmiri people lead amidst their struggles under the regime of the King of Kashmir. Without knowing this story, one cannot understand the basis of conflict in Kashmir over these years.
The fate of Kashmiri people during the regime of the Dogra Kings was such that the Muslims were oppressed and exploited by the upper-caste Hindus They had to work in the begar system for the pandits and the state officials. They were not allowed to become officers in the army. Education was made inaccessible for them, freedom of press did not exist. Death penalty was mandatory for cow slaughter until 1920, which reduced to jail time for maximum seven years after 1920. Moreover, they were levied with heavy taxes. In wake of such miserable situation a leader named Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah arose who formed the All Jammu Kashmir National Conference (previously named as the Muslim Conference), whose ideology was specifically directed towards emancipation of J&K from the ruler. They were supporters for Independent Kashmir. They even had a Naya Kashmir manifesto, which was made with the objective of giving autonomy to J&K. The National Conference had immense support from the Kashmiris as it focused a lot on regional independence.
The important take from this entire story is that Kashmiri people were struggling during the regime of the ruler in a similar way India was struggling under the British. The National Conference was able to make such “Kashmir Independence” manifesto because the people needed it. Sheikh Abdullah had a lot of support from the people, he was called the sher-e-kashmir (Lion of Kashmir). Kashmiris had never considered themselves a part of India because they were occupied with their own struggle. The Indian National Congress was not even part of Kashmir, until Sheikh Abdullha met Nehru in 1940 and Nehru had developed interest because his family was from Kashmir.
Even after Lord Mountbatten had accepted the Instrument of Accession from Hari Singh, he had made a condition that this accession must be ratified by the people of Kashmir. When the UN intervened into the dispute between Pakistan and India, they suggested for a plebiscite in J&K, which was supposed to decide the status of the region. The plebiscite was not held because of political reasons. It is important to note here that when we speak of Kashmir, we speak about the people who live there and the culture they practice. The UN and Lord Mountbatten were correct in giving the people a say on choosing how they wanted to exist, Instead the whole accession became a subject of power and sovereignty, and the opinion of the Kashmiris were never heard. One way of looking at it is that Kashmir never really got its freedom rather it became a subject of a high-class land deal.
Sheikh later gave a speech at his selected constituencies in November 1951, saying that the only reason that they should support the accession is because the Indian Constitution guarantees secularism and democracy (National Conference always advocated for this) and Article 370 gave them a distinct position in the country’s federal structure. However, in the later years Kashmir was subjected to such politics that lead to its debacle.
This much understanding of the story can make us realize that the Kashmiri were struggling with their lives before 1947 and it was not part of India or India’s Independence movement. However, this much of the story is not enough to understand the problems that they are going through right now. Because post-independence, events occurred in Kashmir which lead to the rise of secessionist, which lead to militarization of Kashmir. In the next part of this article, we shall understand more about the Kashmir situation and probably have better points in our mind for Kashmir.
Bose, Sumatra. 2003. Kashmir: Roots to conflict, Paths to Peace. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Picture Reference: http://i.dawn.com/large/2016/09/57d51d34a1406.jpg
 An important condition for this plebiscite was that Pakistan was supposed to pull back their army. As per the Indian Government, the army was never called back and hence the plebiscite never really took place.
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