Earlier this week Kashmir, a region in the north of India separating India and Pakistan, broke out in protest. Triggered by the murder of Burhan Wani, it ended up being the worst conflict in the region for six years. Wani was the 22-year-old commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, a Kashmiri separatist group.
Kashmir is a contentious place because of its location between India and Pakistan. Although it is often regarded as heaven on earth in South Asian culture, as it is a place of natural beauty, there is little love shown to the Kashmiri people, who have been treated inhumanely by the Indian government and its army for more than 50 years. During the Partition of India in 1947, when the states of India and Pakistan were created to soothe religious tensions, it was caught in between. Despite having a Muslim majority, the princely state came under the rule of the Hindu Maharajah, Hari Singh.
Singh needed military assistance, which India was willing to provide if Kashmir became part of India, but there have been numerous conflicts since a deal was agreed. The part of the narrative that is especially interesting for those wanting independence for Kashmir is that the UN resolution in 1948 called for a withdrawal of troops from both Pakistan and India but also called for a plebiscite. Neither the withdrawal of troops nor the plebiscite have occurred.
‘Kashmir is often regarded as heaven on earth in South Asian culture’
However, the idea of Kashmir gaining self-determination has remained strong. This idea helped to spark the recent protests. Wani’s group, Hizbul Mujahideen, is known as a terrorist group in India and several other countries, including the US and the European Union. Whilst the question of if Wani was a terrorist is up for debate, depending on your view of Kashmir, it is undeniable that this protest shows that Kashmiri people have had enough of their human rights being repeatedly violated by the Indian Army.
What started out as a vigil for Wani grew into a wider protest against their treatment by the Indian army. In this protest we saw not only the anger at the recent treatment of Wani and the media attention given to him, but anger that has been bubbling for decades. More than 68,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1947. My dad, who is actually from India, told me that Kashmir hates India when I was younger. When you see how many people have died, it is an easy statement to understand.
It gets easier when you see how Kashmiris have been treated after the death of Wani. Since Friday, a curfew has been imposed and continues to be in place. The curfew has meant no, or limited, internet and phone network access in an effort to stop the protests. A Kashmiri source, currently under curfew, has told me how he “can smell tear gas in [his] home”. The source is lucky. Unlike the majority of people under curfew, he can come back to Britain with the knowledge he will be safe and away from the threat of gunfire.
Most Kashmiris are not so lucky. So far, more than 30 people have been reported dead, with more than 200 people injured. Although some of those harmed and killed are policemen, the majority of these are civilians, attacked by the Indian Army, who are trying to retain control over the region. My source tells me, whilst “people throw stones, the army fires guns”, a statement which reflects not only this protest, but the violence that has been inflicted on Kashmir for more than 50 years. These people want the freedom that they won’t wake up in the morning and see guns, that there won’t be more violence and that there won’t be any more armed forces occupying Kashmir.
‘A Kashmiri source, currently under curfew, has told me how he “can smell tear gas in [his] home’
It seems a simple enough idea until you remember that Kashmir remains a pawn between India and Pakistan. What should matter most – the people – have been constantly neglected in a battle of political wills. India has shown no sign of respect for Kashmir and the lives lost by claiming this protest is part of India’s “internal affairs”.
Although Pakistan’s treatment of Kashmiris has not been perfect, Pakistan has shown more concern for the plight of Kashmiris than India has. Pakistan has registered its complaint regarding India’s violation of human rights in Kashmir with the UN Security Council and has called for UNSC resolutions to be implemented.
This is the least that should be done. However, it is unlikely that it will happen. What makes the Kashmir situation even more tragic is that so many countries are willing to turn the other cheek. If this was happening in another country, would there be such little backlash against using tear gas on civilians? Probably not. Kashmir shows how much money matters over human rights. Is it a coincidence that India is the world’s fastest growing major economy and has gotten away with grievous human rights violations? No, not at all.