National and International Issues

The Resilience of the Kashmir Freedom Movement

Kashmiris were firm and courageous in an era of totalitarianism and literal dystopia two hundred years ago; they are firm today in the face of Indian tyranny and oppression. They have declared their affinity with Pakistan, which it reciprocates. It is also evident that if the Kashmiris wanted to live with India, the problem would have died down long ago. To India, they say “Leave Kashmir!”; to Pakistan: “We are Pakistanis; Pakistan is ours!”.


There is a general impression among some segments of society that the Kashmir Movement was born in 1947. The movement is much older, spread over at least 200 years. I share with you some vignettes from Kashmir’s heroic history. 
Let me take you to the year 1832. In that year, the people of Poonch, now largely part of Azad Kashmir, rose in revolt against the despotic rule of Ranjit Singh and his regime’s policies of repression, exorbitant taxes and forced labour. Initially, the Poonch tribesmen routed the forces of Ranjit Singh, who later despatched Gulab Singh, a ruthless general in his army and the Raja of Jammu and Poonch, to crush the rebellion.



Gulab Singh, after a fierce battle, succeeded in defeating the people of Poonch; and to wreak vengeance ordered to flay alive two rebel leaders, Sardar Malli Khan and Sardar Sabz Ali Khan, along with 12 others, and chopped off hands and feet of many. Heads of Sabz Ali and Malli Khan were hung on the gallows at a crossroad to teach a lesson to others. Children were also not spared as they too were flayed. Skins of those flayed were filled with straw before they were hung. The brutalities were graphic and gruesome. The tree where the bodies of the martyrs were hung is still there in Mang, a town in Poonch, around which a Martyrs’ Monument has been built. Their principal leader, Sardar Shams Khan, was trapped and beheaded. Thousands of women and children were imprisoned, treated as animals, sexually enslaved and molested and sold off. To this day, ballads in the Pahari language are sung to pay tribute to these warriors for freedom who “from their youth dreamt of independence” [from tyranny].

Gulab Singh signed the Treaty of Amritsar on March 16, 1846 with the British colonial rulers which stipulated the sale of Kashmir by the British to Gulab Singh for an amount of seventy-five lakh rupees (nanukshahi). Hafeez Jalandhari, in his poem Pachattar Lakh Ka Sauda1  (The 7.5 million rupees sale), captures the imperialistic mindset towards Kashmiris of Gulab Singh and his breed of rajas and maharajas he left behind:
Why have those people created such a hullabaloo?
Why have animals begun resisting their own slaughter?
Call some of their females and a few males too
Blind their eyes and break open their skulls 
Teach them a lesson for saying “Leave Kashmir!”
Go set them free from the imprisonment of life
‘Leave Kashmir’ meaning we let go Kashmir
To beggars hand this hereditary kingdom of Kashmir
...
Ownership of a country bought for seventy-five lakhs
Confiscated all this booty in seventy-five lakhs
Be it cattle or humans to be bought, all for sale
Their sons, daughters, and progeny all for sale
None can ever be free, all are up for sale
Homeless till doomsday, ruined, forever on sale

These verses also mirror the mindset of India vis-a-vis Kashmiris, its occupation forces, and its appointed leaders in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). In fact, the above verses can be attributed to the leaders of the ruling party and its violent militant wing, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). If you ask them for their reaction, they are likely to relish in their content. And the frequent pronouncements of the Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat, apparently authorised to speak on behalf of violent extremists, paraphrase the lexicon of the above verses. Why? Because while the Dogra dynasty treated Kashmiris as slaves, the Indian rulers treat them as chattel or colonial subjects. They think they have inherited this ‘Hindu Kingdom’ of Kashmir from the Maharajah. Kashmiris do not agree; they want their freedom and that’s why they have been fighting Indian occupation for the past seventy one years. 


Throughout 1931, Kashmiris kept resisting the Dogra army’s reign of terror and the valiant Kashmiris went on with bare chests to face bullets and bayonets. According to the famous Kashmiri historian Prem Nath Bazaz, “not a a single bullet had been found in the back of scores of dead bodies examined and (sic) postmortem.”


Let’s move to Srinagar in 1931, a major watershed in the Kashmir Freedom Movement. That year the practices of religious discrimination and persecution against Muslims, sacrilege of mosques and the Holy Quran, as well as curbs on the ownership of land and freedom of expression had reached their peak. Against this backdrop, on June 25, one Abdul Qadeer Khan, while addressing a gathering of Young Muslim Association at Khanqah-i-Mua’la, passionately appealed to his audience to rise against the “tyrannies and brutalities” of the Mahrajah. He said, “If you have no arms, fight with sticks and stones”; and pointing towards the Sher Garhi Palace of the Maharaja called out: “Knock down this edifice of injustice, tyranny and enslavement.” This clarion call was no different from the final words of the speech of Patrick Henry, made on March 22, 1775, during the United States’ War of Independence: “Give me liberty, or give me death!”


In the months of October and November 1947, the Indian Government first disarmed all the Muslims in Jammu and then massacred them in their houses and in open spaces. The bulk of them were killed on the Jammu-Sialkot road, where they had been gathered on the false promise of sending them to Pakistan. International media reported at that time that some 237,000 Muslims were killed; and about 27,000 women were abducted who were later raped or forced into marriages. Some 500,000 were pushed to Pakistan. This killing spree was the first holocaust after the Second World War.


Abdul Qadeer was arrested on the same day but his words, arrest and subsequent trial triggered a mini-revolution. People were angry and agitated. On July 13, during the trial of Abdul Qadeer for treason, the time for prayers approached, and as Abdul Khaliq Shora, from the large crowd that had gathered, rose to recite the azan, the police shot him dead. Twenty-one other persons, while facing police fire, embraced martyrdom and completed the azan. Such valour and fervour for freedom is rare in history. Throughout 1931, Kashmiris kept resisting the Dogra army’s reign of terror and the valiant Kashmiris went on with bare chests to face bullets and bayonets. According to the famous Kashmiri historian Prem Nath Bazaz, “not a single bullet had been found in the back of scores of dead bodies examined and (sic) postmortem.”2 
The year 1947, when Pakistan and India gained independence, turned out to be the bloodiest for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The people of Jammu and Kashmir wanted to become part of the newly created state of Pakistan but their political will was stymied by the machinations of the Maharajah of Kashmir, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, and Lord Mountbatten; as well as by the combined military operations carried out by the Dogra army, Indian National Army and the RSS who were supported by troops from Patiala, Kapurthala and East Punjab smuggled into the state as civilians from June to October 1947. After elaborate preparations and deep penetrations, the Indian forces, with the backing of Lord Mountbatten, occupied one part of Jammu and Kashmir on October 27, 1947. 


Since 1947, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris have given their lives for self-determination, 100,000 since 1989. Thousands of women have been molested and raped; thousands of young men have been “disappeared”; 6,000 Kashmiris have been blinded fully or partially; mass graves scattered in Kashmir have been discovered; half-widows wait for their husbands; and everyday political activists are arbitrarily picked up by the occupation forces, detained indefinitely and tortured.


Earlier, the people of Poonch, Bagh, Kotli, Mirpur, Bhimber, and Muzaffarabad had assembled an army of around 60,000 ex-army personnel and civilians and drove the bloodthirsty, marauding Dogra army out of the territory that now constitutes Azad Kashmir. Thousands were martyred in this war of independence whose blood bears testimony to the sacrifices they gave for the freedom of Kashmir. In the months of October and November 1947, the Indian Government first disarmed all the Muslims in Jammu and then massacred them in their houses and in open spaces. The bulk of them were killed on the Jammu-Sialkot road, where they had been gathered on the false promise of sending them to Pakistan. International media reported at that time that some 237,000 Muslims were killed; and about 27,000 women were abducted who were later raped or forced into marriages. Some 500,000 were pushed to Pakistan. This killing spree was the first holocaust after the Second World War. 
Since 1947, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris have given their lives for self-determination, 100,000 since 1989. Thousands of women have been molested and raped; thousands of young men have been “disappeared”; 6,000 Kashmiris have been blinded fully or partially; mass graves scattered in Kashmir have been discovered; half-widows wait for their husbands; and everyday political activists are arbitrarily picked up by the occupation forces, detained indefinitely and tortured. This is done with impunity and in violation of international law and the human rights and humanitarian conventions. 


From time to time, a familiar buzz surges to explore ‘out of the box’ solutions. India wants to take Kashmiris out of the very Kashmir box altogether by claiming implausibly that Jammu and Kashmir is its integral, legal part. This is patently a false premise.


This is not what we say. These gruesome human rights violations and crimes against humanity are recorded in a report compiled and released, in June 2018, by the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. The All Party Parliamentary Kashmir Group (APPKG) has also substantiated them in a report published on October 31, 2018. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Physicians for Human Rights, as well as international media, have published detailed accounts of these crimes. No further proof is required. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recommended creation of a Commission of Inquiry that could observe and establish the full horror of Indian atrocities in IOK.



I have quoted these instances from the Kashmir Freedom Movement to demonstrate that Kashmiris will not give in, they will not capitulate, and they will not surrender their right to self-determination. India knows that this is the writing on the wall; but its imperialistic designs and instincts deter it from recognizing the reality. Kashmiris do not want to be part of India; and India should know that you cannot forcibly make a people part of your state against their will, even after centuries of occupation. 
Another stark reality about Kashmir is that the Kashmiris are the most unarmed people on earth; and their right to defend themselves has been snatched from them. They are facing a 700,000 strong occupation force, armed to the teeth, and yet they resist peacefully and refuse to give up their right to liberty. India is not facing an equal army, or even an organized asymmetric, guerrilla group; it is facing the people of Jammu and Kashmir. 
From time to time, a familiar buzz surges to explore ‘out of the box’ solutions. India wants to take Kashmiris out of the very Kashmir box altogether by claiming implausibly that Jammu and Kashmir is its integral, legal part. This is patently a false premise. Others, from time to time, talk about the 4-point Musharraf formula, the Good Friday Agreement, the Andorran solution, a Trieste-like solution, the status quo, and so on. These are good references for diplomacy, but no framework should deviate from the political will and wishes of the Kashmiris recognized in the UN Security Council Resolutions passed from 1948 to 1957. The principles, precepts, and purposes, along with the modalities that they prescribe in these resolutions, are the grundnorm and a touchstone for any formula for a just and lasting solution of the Kashmir dispute. A decision, which is not based on a popular reference to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, will not succeed. And any solution that does not acknowledge the longevity of the Kashmir Freedom Movement, the Kashmiris’ strong aspirations for freedom and self-determination, and their visceral hatred for slavery even during the most despotic regimes, including the present one in IOK, will neither have the endorsement of the Kashmiris nor stand any chances of success. 


Another stark reality about Kashmir is that the Kashmiris are the most unarmed people on earth; and their right to defend themselves has been snatched from them. They are facing a 700,000 strong occupation force, armed to the teeth, and yet they resist peacefully and refuse to give up their right to liberty. India is not facing an equal army, or even an organized asymmetric, guerrilla group; it is facing the people of Jammu and Kashmir.


Besides, India is not talking about diplomacy on Kashmir. Its current policy, as substantiated by former BJP External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, is based on the doctrine of the use of brute force. No talks, no consensus, no democracy. In this atmosphere, the yearning for a bilateral dialogue as a panacea is premature. Even public airing of various scenarios for ‘out of the box’ solutions, unilaterally, and expectant concessions, turn into a diplomatic monologue, which are pocketed by India as Pakistan’s acquiescence in the perpetuation of India’s illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir, and a probable starting point for the next conversation, if it ever graduates to a substantive engagement. 
Kashmiris were firm and courageous in an era of totalitarianism and literal dystopia two hundred years ago; they are firm today in the face of Indian tyranny and oppression. They have declared their affinity with Pakistan, which it reciprocates. It is also evident that if the Kashmiris wanted to live with India, the problem would have died down long ago. To India, they say “Leave Kashmir!”; to Pakistan: “We are Pakistanis; Pakistan is ours!”. For its part, Pakistan, since 1947, has also been steadfast in its principled stand on Kashmir. Kashmiris’ resilience is what keeps the freedom movement going. It must be respected fully and reflected in any dispensation for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.


The writer is the President of the State of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and former Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York and Geneva. E-mail: [email protected]


1.  A.G. Noorani, The Kashmir Dispute 1947-2012 (Karachi: Oxford University Press, New York, 2014), 1-2
2.  Fida Hussain, Abdul Qadeer Khan Ghazi, hero of 1931 uprising (Srinagar: Kashmir Monitor, July 13, 2007).

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