Ethnic Tensions Deepen In Indian-Administered Kashmir

Almost three years after the Indian government’s decision to remove India-administered Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, tensions continue to run high in the region. The South Asia Terrorism Portal has counted over 500 deaths, including nearly 100 civilians, in the last three years alone. In response to growing unrest, the ruling B.J.P. party has re-doubled efforts to change Kashmir, including further reformation of the political system. As reported by The Diplomat, new proposals by the Delimitation Commission advocate for redrawing electoral boundaries and raising the region’s number of assembly seats on the basis of geographical area and accessibility, in a process some accuse of gerrymandering in favor of Hindus. Muslims in the Kashmir Valley have opposed these changes, seeing them as a further effort to marginalize Muslims. The B.J.P.’s platform enjoys popular support among many Indian Hindus, however, deepening ethnic tensions in the region.

“[The] majority community of Muslims will be divided and disempowered in totality,” Mehbooba Mufti, the last chief minister of the state of Jamma and Kashmir, told Al Jazeera. “It is a part of the same agenda. They have disempowered us by attacking our identity, our lands, our jobs. Now, we are being deprived politically.”

The B.J.P. general secretary in the region dismissed these fears and rebuffed the claim that reforms were based on religious lines, instead arguing that “the commission has proposed seats in a scientific way. Population is not the sole criteria but there are other factors like accessibility.”

Kashmir’s geographic position, in one of the most militarized regions in the world and sandwiched between two competing nuclear powers, makes the situation a powder keg. The last few years suggest that the Indian government has failed to de-escalate tensions, instead cementing the perception of a divide between Muslims and non-Muslims in Kashmir. The International Crisis Group reports that Kashmiri youth increasingly feel like armed resistance is their only option, explaining increased participation in insurgent groups. Many of these groups have been accused of having links to Muslim-majority Pakistan, which also lays claim to the region. The actions of the government and the insurgents are having a deleterious effect not only on Kashmiris, but also on India-Pakistan relations.

Kashmir’s status has long been a point of contention between the two countries, due to the Maharaja of Kashmir’s post-independence decision to join with Hindu-majority India instead of Muslim-majority Pakistan despite Kashmir’s predominantly Muslim population. This prompted an outbreak of conflict, and subsequent peace efforts have proved fragile, with further violence erupting in 1965 and 1999. Today, Kashmir is split between an Indian-administered section and a Pakistan-administered one, and it continues to be a source of tension between New Delhi and Islamabad. Recent years have seen a collapse in bilateral relations between the two countries and an increase in nationalistic rhetoric by both sides.

In this context, Indian suspicion of Muslim Kashmiris and the perception that they hold pro-Pakistan views have motivated the new policy changes and mean that the B.J.P. is unlikely to significantly change their policies towards greater reconciliation in the near future. The lack of close relations between Pakistan and India also means that compromise over the status of Kashmir is unlikely. Thus, increased integration of Kashmir by the Indian government seems set to persist, and unless there is a shift in the relationship between India and Pakistan, lasting peace may be hard to achieve.