KASHMIR: A STORY OF PERPETUAL HEARTBREAK

The abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 by the Indian government and the subsequent internet shutdown in Kashmir marked an important moment in Kashmir’s history. The special political and constitutional status of the Jammu and Kashmir state was reduced to the status of a union territory and the region split into two. The internet shutdown that followed was a direct attack on the freedoms of speech and communication of the Kashmiri people, leaving the residents cut off from their families and friends.

During this prolonged period of digital inactivity imposed by the state, several Kashmiris left or rather disappeared from Whatsapp groups and chats, a result of Whatsapp policy for inactive accounts. Moreover, in the two years since the abrogation, we see the rise of a surveillance state with indiscriminate policing, the increased presence of military forces, and the controlling of journalistic expressions becoming the norm. There is more pressure on and regulation of the local press, making it a difficult profession in the Valley.

The Indian government is keen on shaping narratives about Kashmir and opening it up for development projects. The concerns of the people, particularly around the special status of the region as well as their demands for self-determination are not heard by the government. The history of Article 370 is tied to the tenuous position of Kashmir and its borders. By reading down this important part of the Indian constitution, the government has ignored the voices of the Kashmiri people.  

​​The recent past of Kashmir and its people has been closely related to questions of self-determination and political freedoms. This history is also shaped by communal tensions, the formation of new states, and their effects on the material realities of Kashmiris. This is a complex subject, with many political factions and groups seeking power in different periods. During the colonial period, the British and their allies sought to control this region since it lay close to Central Asia.

After the partition and the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947, a part of Kashmir acceded to the Indian union on a conditional basis. Jammu and Kashmir was the only state that had negotiated the terms of its membership with the Union of India. Article 370 details these conditions,  laying the autonomy of the region, a unique provision accorded by the Constitution of India that came into force on January 26, 1950.  

In the years that followed, the Indian state took an aggressive approach in this process of integration, referring to Kashmir as an “integral” part of India. Subsequently, wars between India, Pakistan, and China further impacted the position of Kashmir.  During this time political groups such as the Plebiscite Front campaigned for self-determination and called on the Indian government to hold a plebiscite, a promise made by Jawaharlal Nehru during the formation of the Indian nation.

The 1980s saw a rise of insurgency, with demonstrations, strikes, boycott of elections, and targeted armed violence by certain factions of the self-determination movement. The insurgency weakened since the mid-1990s and waves of violence were felt by civilians. While Pakistan and India attempted to hold dialogues regarding Kashmir, India refused to negotiate with the groups fighting for self-determination. In the 2000s, protests continued and were sometimes triggered by instances of violence and rapes by the Indian army. Civilians were killed during the counter-insurgency operations of the army.  

It is evident that life in Kashmir is impacted by larger political forces and by human rights violations committed by those in power. Police and military forces exert immense control over the region and everyday freedoms are restricted. The Indian state routinely attempts to squash the protests and resistances of the Kashmiri people. And yet, Kashmiri people continue to be resilient through years of occupation.  

The word azadi meaning freedom has a deep connection with the resistance movements of Kashmir. “For us [Kashmiris], azadi means not just getting rid of foreign occupation of our beloved motherland but also to remove hunger, poverty, ignorance, and disease, and to overcome economic and social deprivation. One day, we shall achieve that azadi” This statement made by Maqbool Bhatt, a Kashmiri pro-independence leader active in the 1960s and 1970s, is revealing of this connection. This demand for azadi finds itself in forms of art, music, and everyday resistances of the Kashmiris.  

Ahmer, a Kashmiri rapper, writes about the injustices his community experiences in his songs.  

“Through Kasheer, I want everyone to know that nothing has changed in Kashmir over the years and we are still being controlled back home. This is the anthem, the people’s anthem. We are depressed even when things seem to be normal around us because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Who knows, there can be a complete shutdown for months. You can’t even use your mobile phones anymore and no one is going to give a damn about it, because that’s how it’s supposed to be in Kashmir.” 

The walls and shutters of shops in Kashmir show graffiti, with messages for freedom, messages against the current Indian government. Cartoons, underground literature, and newsletters not only criticized external forces but also their own political leaders who have not lived up to their promises. The Indian Independence Day and Republic day are marked as black days and rallies were held on these days. As a response to curfews, the population would voluntarily shut down for a day in a self-imposed curfew. These responses to occupation, through art, music, and counter-movements against the state, are important ways of expressing their demand for azadi.  

In this edition of Azaad Awaaz, we attempt to document instances of resistance and resilience by the Kashmiri people. As students who live in India, our focus has been to invite Kashmiris to give their accounts and experiences of Kashmir, occupation, and resilience. The team of Azaad Awaaz has ensured in due diligence that consent of each interviewee is solicited before publishing any interviews and names, as cited in this Patrika’s edition. We won’t be publishing any of the interviews (except Vichaar’s podcast) of this edition on the CNES social media platforms or its YouTube channel.

In Awaaz in Focus, Dr. Asifa Amin Koul talks to us about student movements and protests in Kashmir. In our podcast Vichaar, we have a conversation with Mir Suhail, an artist, and cartoonist, about political and personal expression through art. Talkpoint presents perspectives from students, a letter was written by Aaliyah, a Kashmiri student studying in India, and an essay about the abrogation of Article 370 by an Indian student. In Nazariya, the issues of caste, class, and the political economy of Jammu and Kashmir are discussed.

The team would like to thank Professor Ambreen Agha for reviewing this edition, and Professor Wajahat Ahmed and Bhavneet Kaur for their guidance and mentorship.

Any questions or queries on the edition’s content can be directly sent to the CNES Research Team at cnes@jgu.edu.in