A Kashmiri Muslim noticed my Facebook comment about protests over the gang rape of a medical student in India. The 23-year-old woman has died of injuries from the brutal assault. I had applauded the electrifying protests in New Delhi and elsewhere in the country. And I had expressed hope that they would shame the Indian government and society into taking legislative and law-enforcement measures to curb rape and misogyny, which are widespread in India.
“Did you know,” asked the gentleman, “that more than 10,000 Kashmiri women have been gang-raped by Indian forces? I didn’t see you mention those heinous, those barbarous crimes.” I promised him to write this post.
Jammu and Kashmir, or Kashmir for short, is indeed one of history’s gravest tragedies, which has been virtually ignored by the “international community.” The Indian government is in a state of denial about its armed forces’ widely known gang-rape raids in the Kashmir Valley, where a rebellion against Indian rule has been raging for 24 years. Rebel sources claim that 10,042 Kashmiri Muslim women and girls have been raped by Indian troops. Their claim hasn’t been independently verified and the rape figure they provide seems too big to be credible.
But Kashmir, especially the Muslim valley, has been a human catastrophe. India has deployed about 600,000 mostly Hindu military and paramilitary troops to put down the Muslim uprising. These forces have, besides raping many women, killed some 60,000 protesters and others. In 2011 a human rights group discovered a number of unmarked mass graves in the valley with more than 2,000 bodies, obviously victims of Indian military action.
The Kashmir imbroglio has been complicated by the demographic makeup of the old kingdom. It comprises four ethnic patches. Two of them – the Indian-held valley and the Pakistan-held “Azad Kashmir” – are each 99 percent Muslim. Both are irreconcilably opposed to Indian rule. The other two segments — both under Indian rule — are Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-majority Ladakh, and they would be amenable to remaining with India.
One reason the unrest in Kashmir festers for so long is the lack of international pressure or concern for the resolution of the predicament, over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars. Western, especially American, governments and societies are known for selective concern about rights and freedoms outside the West. You hear vociferous denunciation of infraction of human rights and democratic norms in Iran, an American enemy. You hear little about the horrible misogyny, rights abuses and authoritarian rule in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, with which America maintain cozy relations. Western amnesia about Kashmir has to be viewed in light of India being a world power, which has extensive trade and economic relations with other world powers. Yet the Kashmir issue isn’t going to go away.
For most of its history, the Himalayan princedom has been independent of states and empires that existed in the Indian plains. In 1947 the old India became independent of British colonial rule, and split into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Kashmir was given the options to join India or Pakistan or remain independent. It opted for independence. But then a Muslim tribal mob from Pakistan roared into Kashmir and occupied a third of it. India captured the other two-thirds after getting the the Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority state to sign an “accession” agreement. The agreement recognized Kashmiris’ right of self-determination and stipulated that they would decide their political destiny through a plebiscite. The U.N. Security Council also passed a resolution, calling for the plebiscite.
India has since reneged on its plebiscite commitment and claims that Kashmir has become its “integral part.” The Kashmiris point out, however, that the public and politicians in British India had participated in continual elections and even formed a central government. But simultaneously, they continued their struggle for their independence from British colonial tutelage until they achieved it. Moreover, the decades-long Muslim uprising and India’s extremely brutal measures to suppress it don’t quite prove that the state is integrated into India. One can’t imagine Indians resorting to such mindless atrocities on the population of Uttar Pradesh or Maharashtra, which is a real part of India.
For the past several years, the violent Muslim revolt in Kashmir is showing signs of exhaustion and life appears to be returning to normal. But Kashmiri Muslims are far from reconciled with Indian rule. On the contrary, a new generation of educated and technically savvy Kashmiri youth is ushering in a new phase of the struggle. They’re taking their cause to the global stage through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media outlets, and myriad web sites and other Internet forums.
This new campaign, somewhat like the Palestinian struggle, is meant to raise global and Indian public sensitivity about the suffering of the Kashmiris and their right to self-determination. Military and law enforcement tools, which New Delhi has used to suppress the upheaval, can be of little use in this arena. And the political climate of the 21st century, with its heightening sensitivity about human dignity and freedom, is unlikely to be conducive to the continued suppression of Kashmiris’ aspirations for freedom.
Any just and lasting settlement of the dispute has to take into account the deep-seated hostility of the two virtually all-Muslim parts of Kashmir toward Hindu-majority India. Polls have shown, though, that most inhabitants of the two Muslims segments would prefer becoming independent, rather than join Pakistan, let alone India. Pakistan opposes, as does India, opposes their independence. These Kashmiris would opt for Pakistan only if independence is off the table.
In any case, Kashmiris are insistent on nurturing their unique culture and values. It’s possible that one day a solution to this woeful tragedy would be found in Kashmiris in the Indian-occupied valley joining their ethnic kinfolk in Pakistan-occupied Kashmiri territory. But such a deal should ensure Kashmiris’ political and cultural autonomy.
◆ Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Islam and the West’.