On August 5, 2019, the Central Government of India changed the special status of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K) by revoking Article 370 and 35A. This unconstitutional and illegal move was outrightly rejected by Pakistan and the Kashmiris living all over the world. The move ushered an unprecedented double lockdown for the Kashmiris; curfew, blackout and cutting off internet by the Indian government, and outbreak of COVID-19, forcing Kashmiris to suffer the worst kind of physical occupation and psychological distress. Since then, the Kashmir issue has been highlighted more forcefully world over, putting the international community to task, with the proactive moves, including the ‘full spectrum’ efforts by Pakistan and highlighting how India’s actions are endangering the security environment of South Asia. Therefore, this article looks into the post-August 2019 developments in Kashmir through the prism of Hindutva ideology and its impact on the regional security milieu.
Post-August 19 Kashmir
Given the fact that Kashmir is a disputed territory in the annals of United Nations and the Indian move was a clear violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, it was all but natural that the move was rejected by Kashmiris, the saner elements in India and the conscious segments of international community. However, under the guise of COVID-19, India took unprecedented actions to change the demographic and historic character of IIOJ&K. Half a million non-resident Hindu and Sikh families have become residents, Pundits’ properties have been confiscated from the Kashmiris who left the Valley after the outbreak of freedom struggle, higher education institutions have been taken over by New Delhi to change the Kashmir-centric curricula, thousands of acres of land has been marked for outside investors, large-scale postings of non-local IAS officers on administrative duties have been made, and the services of thousands of Kashmiri employees have been terminated citing them as ‘anti-national’.
According to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, the Valley has suffered economic losses of $5.3 billion and half a million jobs have been lost (Al Jazeera, August 3, 2020), mainly in hoteling, tourism and perishable fruit gardens. Schools and colleges are closed, forcing about 1.5 million students to waste their educational year. Hospitals are restricted and medicine is short, which is causing enormous psychological distress. According to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), about 1.8 million adults have experienced mental distress, 70 percent have witnessed violent death. Youth unemployment is steeply increasing to 70 percent, with few opportunities; militancy can be an attractive option for some young adults. The journalists are the worst hit as no reporting is allowed and a news blackout is strictly imposed.
Amnesty International describes the situation as ‘fear and chaos inside Kashmir’ leading to anger and defiance by the Kashmiris. A report Jammu and Kashmir: The Impact of Lockdown on Human Rights released by New Delhi based Forum for Human Rights states: “In this one year, everything has become worse. The alienation is worse, anger is stronger, cynicism is more pronounced and the sense that India wants to quash and humiliate Kashmiris is stronger.” The report further reveals: “Frequent closures, harassment at barricades and checkpoints, and restrictions on mobile telephony and internet connectivity has enormously impacted public health, and caused trauma and stress among the people.” Two other reports released on the eve of first anniversary of Indian moves in IIOJ&K have urged India and its allies to restore the pre-August 2019 situation. The International Crisis Group (ICG) in its report Raising the Stakes in Jammu and Kashmir released on August 5, 2020 has urged India’s allies to “strongly encourage it to restore Kashmiri statehood, free detained politicians, and end security forces’ abuses against civilians.” The report further says that Delhi’s ‘heavy-handed tactics’ in occupied valley increases ‘homegrown militancy.’ The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) report ‘Towards a Kashmir Endgame? How India and Pakistan Could Negotiate a Lasting Solution’ also released on August 5, 2020, has recommended that the U.S. policymakers should tell India, privately and publically, of the potential consequences and complications of India’s political and security strategies in Kashmir created for the U.S., because American interests could be affected in the face of India’s Kashmir policy.
Therefore, the post-August 2019 Kashmir has been turned into a living hell for the people. With the longest ever lockdown, internet closures, increasing unemployment and educational loss, Kashmiris are compelled to finally resort to violence and militancy, and that can put the regional peace in great danger.
The Hindutva Ideology
The mainstream Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was created in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940), who believed that “the Hindu culture is the life-breath of Hindustan. It is therefore clear that if Hindustan is to be protected, we first nourish the Hindu culture.” V. D. Savarkar (1883-1996) invented the word “Hindutva” to designate a blood-and-soil cultural essence unique to India. However, the Indian National Congress and its leadership purportedly established India on the basis of secular ideology to encompass all religious segments. The difference between ‘Hindustan’ and India depicted the puritan Hindu ideology that led to the establishment of Bharatiya Janata Party, a political wing of RSS, by A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani in 1980. Therefore, BJP is soft image of the RSS to get into the power-corridors to fulfill the ‘Hindutva’ agenda in converting India into ‘Hindustan.’ RSS has over 60,000 branches (or Shakhas as they call it) and scores of affiliates who are called as the ‘Sangh Parivar’ and RSS itself is ‘mata’ (mother). They have more than 4 million hardcore volunteers all over India, who can be ‘called for duty.’
The ultra-rightest and fascist ideology of Hindutva is based on cultural nationalism which is imbibed in Hindustan and no alien culture/religion (Islam and Christianity) has the essence of Hindu culture. Thus, they believe that either they should be evicted like the Germans did to the Jews, or they should be converted into Hindu culture in order to create a unified cultural identity. Therefore, the selection of Narendra Modi by the BJP as the Prime Minister of India was a clear message to the majoritarian Hindus that the Hindu cultural nationalism is in the offing. The landslide victory of Modi led-BJP in Indian general elections of 2018, based on fundamental objectives of Hindutva ideology manifested in its implementation through Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and revoking of Article 370 (special status of J&K) and Article 35A (state subject rule).
The CAA, described by Shashi Tharoor, former Indian state minister as ‘second partition of India’ let lose a reign of terror by the RSS volunteers throughout India. It rendered millions of Indians stateless and revocation of IIOJ&K’s special status gave Hindus the opportunity to buy property, become permanent residents and start their businesses there through revoking State Subject rule. Therefore, Indian move of unilaterally revoking special constitutional provisions for IIOJ&K was the forceful conversion and to colonise the people into a Hindu State. On the other hand, the Buddhist population of Kargil and Leh also realized that BJP’s Hindutva project is not exclusively for the Muslims but they also have to safeguard their own identity.
Since August 2019, the UNSC has met three times behind closed doors to discuss the simmering situation in Kashmir. The U.S. Congress has passed two resolutions on Kashmir condemning New Delhi’s decision. In October 2019, the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Congress held a briefing on Kashmir, which squarely criticized Indian move. In a bipartisan letter of August 2020, the same committee states that “It is because of our support for the bilateral relationship that we note with concern that conditions in Jammu and Kashmir have not normalized one year after India’s repeal of Article 370 and the establishment of Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory.” Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Presidential Election 2020 in his election manifesto has stated that “In Kashmir, the Indian government should take all necessary steps to restore rights for all the people of Kashmir. Restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the internet, weaken democracy.” Likewise, the UK Labor Party reiterated its position on Kashmir that “our position on Kashmir has not changed; we support and recognize previous United Nations’ resolutions on the rights of Kashmiri people.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also called the situation in Kashmir as “unsustainable.” The European Union was also ready to pass a resolution against Indian actions in Kashmir. These developments depict wider discourse on Kashmir that has resurfaced internationally after the Indian revocation of special status of J&K.
Regional Security Environment
India has intensified ceasefire violations across the Line of Control (LoC) all along the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir in which several civilians have been killed and hundreds injured. Pakistan has responded with resolute restraint but the situation is becoming out of control. Two nuclear-armed neighbors have all the potential to escalate the crisis ladder beyond manageable level. On the other hand, the Indian move has also unnerved China, which moved its forces into the disputed territory over which both have fought a bloody war in 1962. India has not only built a 250 km road but an air strip for landing of combat aircraft in the disputed area. China has vital stakes in Ladakh and Tibet; therefore, Indian move has brought China into the J&K conflict and it has assumed the role of a major player. Michael Kugelman of the U.S. Wilson Center believes that “these moves will bring one more tension to an India-China relationship that is already strained now than it has been for several decades.” Yet another South Asian state has been affected by the Indian ideological aggression; Nepal, the only other state having Hindu majority has approved a new map that includes the area disputed with India. India has built an 80 km road connecting its Uttarakhand state with Tibet that passes through the disputed territory in Nepal. Tibet is also a hotly contested issue between China and India. Moreover, Bangladesh, an erstwhile regional ally of India got cold as Indian NRC, meant to verify the citizenship, ruled out about 1.9 million people from Bangladesh as ‘illegal migrants’ and ‘infiltrators’ that infuriated Bangladesh.
These regional misadventures by India, due to its Hindutva ideology and aggressive nationalistic agenda, have created regional instability jeopardizing the peace and stability of an already fragile and volatile South Asian regional security environment.
India has been unable to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris even after 70 years and every passing day is increasing this alienation. Pakistan, despite its limited capacity and multiple challenges, has tried to withstand Indian bellicosity and transgression with utmost resilience. The entire political leadership of Pakistan is united on the issue of Kashmir, which has made it possible to take some proactive measures. Despite some reservations on the issuance of a new map and renaming the highway, these do have symbolic values and convey a strong message. It is gradually being concluded that the old dictum of ‘diplomatic, moral and political’ support may not be enough; and Pakistan needs to take concrete and immediate measures to mitigate the sufferings of Kashmiris, lest it is too late.
Indian illegal actions of August 2019 in IIOJ&K have severely jeopardized the delicate calm among the Kashmiris as they have a history of resistance against occupation. Their ultimate goal is the right to self-determination, a pledge given by the Indian leadership, the United Nations and fundamentals of international law, and they would not rest until it is fully realized. Indian actions have also created instability in the entire South Asian region undermining the regional security environment. The world has to be cognizant of the two nuclear armed neighbors in the region who are not at peace, and India is tempting the third one to join with unimaginable consequences.
The writer is Director School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad
E-mail: [email protected]
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