Srinagar, they say, with its twisting waterways, floating houseboats and ice-capped mountains is a city made in God’s image, but precisely which God that is has been fiercely debated since the Indian independence of 1947. Today, it remains as polemical as ever with Hindus and Muslims still fighting over the jewel to India’s crown. Srinagar’s mother state, Jammu and Kashmir, was a principality during the rule of the British Raj and was subsequently absorbed into India following partition. Ever since, it has been coveted by suitors north, east and west for its natural beauty, prosperous wool trade and strategic precedence as the meeting point between India, Pakistan and China. As such, Kashmir’s story is one of strife, suffering and violence.
This autumn has given little hope for change. As reported by Al Jazeera (23 October, 2021), October has been bloody in Kashmir with 38 killings in the last 20 days, including the slaughter of 11 members of the Hindu and Sikh minority communities by a militant outfit named The Resistance Front (TRF), who, according to Indian security forces, are sponsored by the Pakistani government. The purpose of these attacks, as explained by The Economist (21 October, 2021) was to terrorize minority groups and deter future migrants from settling there, which would give Kashmir an even greater demographic semblance to its westerly neighbour. The persecution of Hindu and Sikh minorities in the region, however, is only one side of the story. As described by Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, his triumphant 1981 novel set in Kashmir, there lies beneath the surface a “delicate tracery, the intricate crisscross of colourless lines, the cold waiting veins of the future.” Such are the multiple threads to Kashmir’s tale, which if followed carefully, reveal the past, explain the present and foretell that which is to come.
As such, the violence that plagues Kashmir today is not inexplicable nor was it unforeseeable. It was rather a matter of cause and effect – the consequence of political errors by India which were then stoked by its neighbours. The most glaring of these was the decision by the Indian government to abrogate Article 370 on August 5th, 2019, which nullified the region’s semi-autonomous status. Its implications were that the Muslim majority state would now be at the mercy of Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. This message was reinforced immediately as Jammu and Kashmir were quickly sent into a strict military lockdown which was characterized by violence, disappearances and silence from Delhi.
Two years later, the architect behind the decision to revoke Kashmir’s status and its aftermath, Indian Minister of Home Affairs, Amit Shah, was sent to the region to quell the unrest. Whilst speaking to youth club members last week he said: “I have come here to seek your cooperation. The administration has extended its hand of friendship towards you. Come forward and strengthen the democracy here. No one would be allowed to disrupt the peace in Kashmir. From the perspective of peace, development and infrastructure, this is the ideal situation and no one would be allowed to stop it.”
Only after the use extensive use of arms has the “hand of friendship been extended.” The Indian government will need to do much more to gain the trust of Kashmiris, whose skepticism is all but justifiable. For peace and stability to emerge in the region, these words must become action, the needs of Kashmiris must be served and cooperation between India and Pakistan must begin, lest two nuclear powers continue to play with fire.