The May Day Student Organization (MDSO) condemns the latest escalation of repression in Kashmir carried out by the Indian government led by the fascist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In the past month, the BJP government has deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to the Kashmir Valley, already one of the most heavily-militarized zones in the world, enforced an internet and phone blackout, and arrested hundreds of people, including two former Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) chief ministers belonging to the People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference (NC). These preparations set the stage for the Indian government’s abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on August 5th, a measure that takes away J&K’s autonomy within the state framework of India, as well as for the government’s reorganization of the state of J&K into two union territories directly under the central rule of New Delhi. With these actions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fulfilled a historical pledge of the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar for the “integration” of Kashmir with India, a step that marks the advance of Hindutva fascism, which has its eyes on shoring up its base ahead of the Haryana, Maharashtra, and Jharkland assembly elections later this year and on the political opportunities created by the deepening economic crisis.
J&K has roughly 13 million inhabitants and is the only Muslim-majority state in India. To the west and north of the state are Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, which comprise Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and to the north and east are the Chinese-administered Trans-Karakoram Tract and Aksai Chin. Within J&K itself, Kashmir Valley, including the city of Srinagar (summer capital), is majority Muslim, while Jammu Division and Jammu city (winter capital) are majority Hindu and the sparsely-populated Ladakh Division has a Muslim plurality together with a large Buddhist population.
A majority of the Kashmiri population converted to Islam during the 15th-century rule of Sultan Zain-al-Abidin. Afterwards, Kashmir passed to the Mughal, Afghan, and Sikh empires in the 16th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Following the defeat of the Sikh Empire in the first Anglo-Sikh war, the East India Company took possession of Kashmir and sold it in 1846 to Gulab Singh, the founder of the Dogra dynasty in the bordering state of Jammu. During Dogra rule, class and religious divisions overlapped: a majority of landlords were Hindu, while a majority of poor peasants were Muslim. After the revolt of 1857, J&K became one of many ‘princely states’ under the British Raj. During the period of the Raj, the worker movement in Kashmir first emerged: in 1865, a militant mass struggle developed among shawl-weaving artisans and their apprentices against the taxes and levies imposed by the Dogra Maharaja Ranbir Singh and, in 1924, 5,000 silk workers went on strike, facing down soldiers directed by the Maharaja Pratap Singh.
The tenure of the last Dogra maharaja Hari Singh, beginning in 1925, witnessed the rise of the Kashmiri national movement and the question of its relations to religion, democracy, and class. The biggest political mobilization up to that time in Kashmiri history took place in Srinagar in 1931 in opposition to a police raid on a mosque in Jammu during the Friday sermon. Out of this struggle, which cost 21 deaths at the hands of the police, the political organization of the national movement was constituted in 1932: the Muslim Conference led by Sheikh Abdullah. This organization would subsequently split into two trends: one based on Muslim identity led by Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah, a future president of Azad Kashmir, and the secularizing trend of Abdullah which would rename itself the National Conference (NC) in 1939 and come under the influence of Nehru and, to an extent, the Communist Party of India. Together with Nehru and Ghaffar Khan, the Pashtun anti-colonial leader, Abdullah addressed mass meetings in Kashmir calling for the advancement of the struggle against the Dogra monarchy and the British Raj and for the implementation of land reforms. In 1946, Abdullah led the Quit Kashmir movement against the Maharaja Hari Singh, following the 1942 Quit India movement led by the Indian National Congress against the British during the Second World War.
When the territory of the Raj was partitioned into the two states of India and Pakistan in August 1947, there remained an additional 562 ‘princely states’ under British paramountcy. These states then acceded to either India or Pakistan with three exceptions among them: J&K, Hyderabad, and Junagarh (the latter two had Hindu-majority populations and Muslim rulers). In October, Pashtun tribesmen, given the green light by Pakistan’s prime minister Muhammad Ali Jinnah and led by military men from Pakistan, invaded Kashmir. In response, Hari Singh agreed to accede to India in exchange for military aid against the attack. At the end of the fighting, the United Nations recognized a formal ‘Line of Control’ between India- and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, while the Muslim Conference of Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah relocated itself to the latter.
Opposed to the landlord-dominated Muslim League that governed Pakistan after partition, Abdullah’s NC supported the presence of the Indian military in Kashmir on the promise from Nehru of a future exercise of Kashmiri self-determination. In November 1947, Abdullah became the prime minister of an emergency government in India-administered Kashmir on Nehru’s endorsement and against the opposition of Hari Singh. This situation laid the groundwork for J&K’s state autonomy according to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution ratified in 1949. As J&K chief minister, Abdullah carried out radical land reforms against landlords, who by now were mostly Muslim, a policy made possible by J&K’s ability to have its own Constitution under Article 370. Remnants of the Dogra regime and groups among the Kashmiri Pandits, supported by the Hindutva fascist trend in India, began the campaign at this time for the elimination of J&K’s special status.
In 1953, Nehru backed the arrest of Abdullah and his replacement by the Indian-puppet Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed. Abdullah was released in 1958, again faced conspiracy charges between 1959-64, and, after the dropping of his charges, travelled internationally for diplomatic meetings, including with Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. He was re-arrested in the mid-1960s and released again in the mid-70s for a re-appointment as J&K chief minister in 1977, when he had given up the demand for J&K’s state autonomy and even for the maintenance of Article 370. During this period, India and Pakistan again waged war over J&K in 1965, with the weakening of the military regime of Ayub Khan in Pakistan as an outcome of the war.
Over the course of the 1980s, the Indian State increased its intervention in J&K, suspending the government of Sheikh Abdullah’s son Farooq Abdullah; enacting curfews; arresting, torturing, raping, and killing Kashmiris; and repressing the J&K Liberation Front (JKLF), initially a secular organization opposed to both India and Pakistan, prior to its domination by Islamic fundamentalists. Extensive election rigging in 1987 by Congress, now working together with the NC after Farooq Abdullah came to an agreement with New Delhi, with the goal of ensuring the defeat of the opposition Muslim United Front (MUF), prepared the developments of the late 1980s and the next decade: an explosion of mass revolt against the Indian State, the enactment by the Indian government of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and the growth of Islamic fundamentalist groups backed by Pakistan that carried out inter-group violence among themselves as well as communal killings against minority Kashmiri Hindus.
In 1999, the armies of India and Pakistan again fought each other over Kashmir in the Kargil War, contributing in Pakistan to the removal of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his replacement by General Pervez Musharraf.
During the past two decades, there have been three phases of mass rebellion by the people of Kashmir: 2008 during the controversy over the transfer of forest land for the Amarnath Yatra, 2009-2010 following the Shopian rape and murder case and the killing of Kashmiri youth by the Indian Army, and 2016 after the Handwara incident and the killing of Burhan Wani. Each rebellion has been marked by growing mass participation, particularly in the form of stone pelting.
In the face of this complicated system of contradictions, the MDSO stands with the people of Kashmir, and the democrats and socialists of the subcontinent, in demanding the demilitarization of Kashmir and upholding Kashmir’s right to self-determination, including secession. The example of Kashmir reminds us that the struggle for democracy and progress is never given by objective social identities, but is an act of construction that must be undertaken step by step, overcoming false divisions and unifying the whole people against their real enemies.