Historical Background of the land [Kashmir]

The Kashmir turmoil of 1990s was an important event not just politically but socially too as it had deep repercussions in the social and emotional make-up of the people associated with that land. The entry of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front in the 1980s ripped apart the secular social fabric of the land with its infamous exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits.

But what was even worse was the destruction of the rich heritage of a syncretic culture that was the quintessential Kashmiriyat. With the Islamic purists infiltrating the land and the culture of the Valley and their mindless suppression by the Indian military, the Paradise on Earth, as Kashmir was famously called, turned into hell. The lives of both who were robbed of their lands and with it, a dignified living and also of those who stayed behind, turned into nightmares with refugee camps, trauma of the loss of home and family, no source of living, and the incessant military operations combing their houses and random killings. A brief revision of the political scenario of the land is, therefore, necessary for our understanding of the social make-up of its people, especially the women.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir largely consists of three regions, the province of Jammu, the Valley of Kashmir and the Ladakh region. The Gilgit-Baltistan and the Azad Kashmir regions are mostly Pakistan controlled, whereas, while Aksai-Chin has been taken over by China. It is this geography of Kashmir that creates the trouble. When India became independent, it allowed the princely states the choice of accession to either Pakistan or to India. Kashmir’s ruler, Raja Hari Singh wanted to stay independent; a choice liked by neither India nor Pakistan. Pakistan made claims to the land as the Valley of Kashmir largely consisted of a Muslim population. There had already been a movement against the Dogra Hindu ruler Raja Hari Singh in 1931 and again in 1946 led by Sheikh Abdullah who wanted freedom from the oppressive monarchy and the establishment of a secular, democratic state. When India gained freedom in August 1947, Kashmir stayed independent till October 1947 when on the 26th day of the month Raja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession ceding Kashmir to India as he feared that the Pakistani tribal invasion would capture Srinagar and dethrone him. Pakistan and India entered into their first war as Pakistan refused to recognize the treaty. The war ended in 1948 when the United Nations intervened on India’s insistence and asked the Pakistani tribal army to move out of Kashmir. India was also to demilitarize the land and Pandit Nehru agreed to the UNCIP’s (United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan) proposition of holding a plebiscite to decide for the future of the state. The plebiscite was however, never held as both parties could not come to a peace agreement. Pakistan withheld the areas it had captured, today known as Azad Kashmir. Meanwhile Sheikh Abdullah was made the Prime Minister of the interim government in October 1948 and a ceasefire declared on January 1st, 1949 which till date remains the Line of Control. In October 1949, India adopted Article 370 granting Kashmir a “special status” and “internal autonomy” except in matters of defense, communication, and external affairs. From this point, the politics gets tumultuous. Sheikh Abdullah, who previously, supported Kashmir’s accession to India, now turned hostile and demanded freedom for the state. He was arrested in 1953 and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed was appointed the new head. India too changed its stance from allowing the people of Kashmir the choice of accession to maintaining that ‘Kashmir was an integral part of India’. Another war in 1965 occurred between the two nations and the situation worsened in 1971 with India helping in the partition of East and West Pakistan. The Telegraph cites Indira Gandhi’s Emergency declaration and its policy of puppet heads for the states as the major reason why India lost the favor of the Kashmiris.
“The balance of influence had decisively tilted in Pakistan's favour by the late 1980s, with people's sympathy no longer with the Indian union as it had been in 1947-48 and 1965. Mrs. Gandhi's attempts to install puppet governments in state capitals, manipulating the democratic process in the state legislatures, deeply angered the Kashmiris.”
By the 1980s, activists were clamoring for an independent Kashmir and there were protests against the Indian government engineered mainly by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). This faction formed with the arms and training support from Pakistan, stressed the need for armed rebellion.
Protests, firings and curfews became routine. In January 1990, Indian forces shot at unarmed protesters at the Gawakadal Bridge and almost 100 people died. This led to a huge protest staged in Srinagar where an estimated one million people came out on the streets. Again, some forty men were killed on the orders of the Governor Jagmohan, whose policies have been described as heavy-handed and detrimental to the secular atmosphere of Kashmir. Meanwhile, a Pandit director of Doordarshan was killed by the militants; pamphlets, and posters started appearing on public places asking the pandits to leave the valley. The infamous exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits took place in 1990 when an estimated two lac (2,00,000) Pandits left the Valley never to return. Killings of important political activists had created panic among them and they took refuge in Jammu, Delhi or further down south. Kashmir has been burning since then. The conflict remains unresolved. Thousands of lives have been claimed by the conflict, people have been displaced, and disappeared never to return. There has been gross injustice and large-scale human rights issues with women suffering the most.

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