Kashmir and the myth of indivisible India

Saving the region from descending into a total chaos can only come through embracing a radical new thinking.

Indian policemen patrol a street during a strike called by Kashmiri separatists in Srinagar, against the recent killings in Kashmir region
The truth is that the valley is out of control, and the Indian government remains out of touch - both with the Kashmiris and the reality on the ground, writes Chak [Reuters]

This summer has been among the bloodiest over the past few years in Kashmir.

There are no celebrations throughout this fabled valley, just atrocities carried out, justice denied and the  laments of a cold, uncaring world.

The occupying Indian armed forces enforced a curfew during Eid al-Adha. On a day that Prophet Abraham is believed to have been willing to sacrifice what he loved most, Kashmiris remember the sacrifices they make for freedom – “azadi“.

Kashmir was cast into despair as news spread of two deaths on Eid al-AdhNasir Shafi, aged 11, was killed, while walking home from Friday prayers.

“What crime did my son commit?” wailed his distraught father, as tens of thousands attended the funeral. Nasir’s death came 70 days after the start of an uprising that has claimed 82 lives so far, fuelled by the killing of the now lionised Burhan Wani.

Losing touch with reality

India continues to claim that those killed are marginal troublemakers, in a total denial of what reality portrays.

New Delhi has sent military reinforcements to Kashmir to confront this so-called meagre threat three times already. The truth is that the valley is out of control, and the Indian government remains out of touch – both with the Kashmiris and the reality on the ground.

India, a country with tremendous people and power, harms itself by refusing to acknowledge what everyone else already knows: The need for Kashmiri self-determination.

Importantly, the creme de la creme of Indian society are courageously questioning their government’s logic.

The Indian scholar Pankaj Mishra wrote in 2010: “Once known for its extraordinary beauty, the valley of Kashmir now hosts the biggest, bloodiest and also the most obscure military occupation in the world. With more than 80,000 people dead in an anti-India insurgency backed by Pakistan, the killings fields of Kashmir dwarf those of Palestine and Tibet.”

New Delhi's response to unrest is grotesque, including mass rapes, forced disappearances and more than 2,700 unidentified bodies in mass graves, documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.


Recently, in a stunning admission, senior Indian Congress Party member Jyotiraditya Scindia said that there should be “plebiscite” in Kashmir.

Furthermore, Arundhati Roy, renowned Indian Booker Prize winner, said in 2010 that Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. In addition, leading Indian columnists and intellectuals Swaminathan Aiyar and Gautam Navlakha, Angana Chatterji and Vir Sanghvi – and a host of others – are saying it is time for India to allow a referendum in Kashmir.

Between a rock and a hard place

Kashmir’s cry for freedom existed before the British transferred the control of Kashmir in 1846. Political machinations managed to placate or channel this inevitable revolutionary process of self-determination, but never exert a total control over it.

The collective social feelings of Kashmiris is keeping this process in motion, although its intensity varies. The chronic resurfacing and unpredictability of explosive Kashmiri protest is what bewilders New Delhi.

OPINION: The ghosts of Kashmir’s past

Essentially, what the reputable Indian intelligentsia appreciate – perhaps better than their government – is that Kashmir is about its people, not land. And, the Kashmiri social consciousness is intensely aware of its arrested civilisation, of liberties denied and injustices perpetrated.

This is what has and continues to fuel agitation, even before the hanging of the Kashmiri icon Maqbool Butt in 1984.

New Delhi’s response to unrest has been grotesque, including mass rapes, forced disappearances and more than 2,700 unidentified bodies in mass graves, documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

OPINION: Kashmir and Palestine – The story of two occupations

Certainly, whether recognisable or not, India is between a rock and a hard place. Yet  if it seized the opportunity, it could achieve an advantageous outcome, something that could even serve its interests.

By including Pakistan and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), India can secure the moral high ground. Otherwise the situation will worsen, as the recent killing of 17 Indian soldiers attests.

India’s military advantages are also increasingly irrelevant, as thousands of Kashmiri villagers have expelled all remnants of the Indian state from their lands.

India as a geographical term

Unfortunately, saner voices are drowned out by fanatics, who believe in short-sighted violence. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, speaking in Geneva, called for unconditional access in divided Kashmir. Pakistan later agreed a conditional access, but India flatly rejected the idea.

Hussein said“Human rights violations will not disappear if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity.”

Perversely, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government is doubling-down by construing a narrative portraying resistance to India as “foreign” and refusing to accept UN intervention.


Of course, this is understandable. After all, Winston Churchill said “India is a geographical term … no more a united nation than the equator”. And, the fear-mongering of Hindutva extremists revolve around this nightmare disintegration possibility, especially if alternative identities perpetuate.

The dangers posed by ignoring the Kashmiri dispute go without saying. The conflict has led to three wars between India and Pakistan and nearly led to a catastrophic fourth, nuclear, war.

In order to save the region from descending into the chaos, brave decisions must be made. This can only come through embracing a radical new thinking in regards to identity.

Now, more than ever, round-table talks including Pakistan, India and the legitimate representatives of the Kashmiri people under the auspices of the UN should commence.

Farhan Mujahid Chak is an associate professor of international affairs at Qatar University. His latest publication, ‘Islam and Pakistan’s Political Culture’ was published by Routledge in October 2014.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.