The New Yorker:
Last week, India’s government stripped Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, of its special status, and instituted a communications blackout and de-facto martial law in what was already one of the most militarized areas on earth. The problems in Kashmir extend back to Partition, in 1947, which left India in control of most of Kashmir (officially known as Jammu and Kashmir), and Pakistan and China in charge of other parts of the territory. Although the state was granted special status, under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, the Indian government has long behaved as it has pleased in Kashmir, especially during the past thirty years, as an insurgency, nurtured and partially funded by Pakistan, has sought to bring about independence or have Kashmir become part of Pakistan. Under the Indian government’s brutal military occupation, there have been thousands of unpunished rapes, children blinded with pellet guns, forced disappearances, media crackdowns, and immunity for Indian military personnel. Now Narendra Modi, of the Hindu-majoritarian Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.), has, for the moment, fully silenced Kashmir.
The communications blackout has made it impossible to reach almost anyone in the region. Some journalists have been let in, but the Kashmiri diaspora in India, the United Kingdom, and North America has been waiting anxiously for word from loved ones. Among those who wait is Mirza Waheed, one of Kashmir’s best-known writers, whose first two novels are set in the Indian-controlled territory, and address the conflict there. Waheed, who has also been an outspoken voice on Kashmiri politics, now lives in London, and we recently spoke about the blackout by phone. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed the pain of not being able to reach one’s family, the toll the latest decision will take on Kashmiri civil society, and India’s long history of repression in Kashmir.
Have you been able to get in touch with family and friends?
No. I haven’t heard from my parents since August 5th. But a few days ago I heard something about them in the most medieval fashion. A neighbor’s friend saw my father outside our house, and this person then went to Delhi, where he met my neighbor and told him he had seen my father. Then this neighbor in Delhi sent me a message that my father was O.K.
What is your biggest concern about what this will mean for the Kashmiri future?
I see this latest siege, and the decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy, which was symbolic anyway, as part of a long series of betrayals that go back to 1947. Kashmir at that time was an independent state ruled by a king called Maharaja Hari Singh, who was not a popular king, but he wanted to remain independent. India and Pakistan agreed to decide Kashmir’s fate by a referendum because they had just fought a war over Kashmir. The war came about because when the maharaja was asked if he wanted to join India or Pakistan, he didn’t want to join either country.
The maharaja ultimately agreed, reluctantly, to join India, but on the very, very clear condition that Kashmir remain autonomous. Which meant that “you guys look after defense and foreign affairs” and the rest stays with Kashmir. And then the king was deposed. The Indian government persuaded Sheikh Abdullah, who was a very popular Kashmiri leader, that he must stay with India, and one of the things they negotiated was that “we will keep your status as autonomous, and we will allow you to retain the region’s autonomy and this unique identity and culture.” But subsequently, starting with Jawaharlal Nehru’s rule, they started to erode this autonomy. In fact, Sheikh Abdullah was put in jail for a long, long time by Nehru himself, who was a friend.
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