Srinagar, they say, with its winding waterways, floating barges and ice-covered mountains is a city made in the image of God, but precisely who God is has been fiercely debated since Indian independence in 1947. Today, it remains as controversial as ever with Hindus and Muslims still vying for the jewel in the Indian crown. The mother state of Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, was a principality during the reign of the British Raj and was then absorbed by India after partition. Since then, it has been coveted by suitors from the north, east and west for its natural beauty, thriving woolen trade, and strategic precedence as a meeting point between India, Pakistan and China. As such, the history of Kashmir is a history of conflict, suffering and violence.
This fall left little hope for change. As reported by Al Jazeera (October 23, 2021), October has been bloody in Kashmir with 38 killings in the past 20 days, including the massacre of 11 members of the Hindu and Sikh minority communities by a militant group called The Resistance Front (TRF), which according to the Indian security forces, are sponsored by the Pakistani government. The purpose of these attacks, as explained by The Economist (October 21, 2021) was to terrorize minority groups and deter future migrants from settling there, which would give Kashmir an even greater demographic appearance than its western neighbor. The persecution of Hindu and Sikh minorities in the region, however, is only one side of the story. As described by Salman Rushdie’s Midnight children, his triumphant 1981 novel set in Kashmir, There are beneath the surface, a “delicate interlacing, the complex interweaving of colorless lines, the cold veins of the future”. These are the multiple threads of Kashmir history, which, if followed closely, reveal the past, explain the present, and predict what is to come.
As such, the violence in Kashmir today is neither inexplicable nor unpredictable. Rather, it was a matter of cause and effect – the consequence of India’s political mistakes which were then stoked by its neighbors. The most egregious of these was the Indian government’s decision to repeal Article 370 on August 5, 2019, which nullified the region’s semi-autonomous status. Its implications were that the predominantly Muslim state would now be at the mercy of Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party. This message was immediately reinforced as Jammu and Kashmir was quickly sent into strict military containment characterized by violence, disappearances and silence from Delhi.
Two years later, the architect behind the decision to revoke Kashmir’s status and its consequences, Indian Interior Minister Amit Shah, was sent to the region to quell the unrest. Speaking to members of the youth club last week, he said, “I have come here to seek your cooperation. The administration has extended its hand to you in friendship. Go ahead and strengthen democracy here. No one would be allowed to disrupt the peace in Kashmir. From a peace, development and infrastructure perspective, this is the ideal situation and no one would be allowed to stop it.
It was only after the intensive use of weapons that the “hand of friendship was extended”. The Indian government will have to do much more to gain the confidence of the Kashmiris, whose skepticism is anything but justifiable. For peace and stability to emerge in the region, these words must become deeds, the needs of the Kashmiris must be met, and cooperation between India and Pakistan must begin, lest two nuclear powers continue to play with the fire.