As St. Olaf students, we fight to protect human rights, and this often means speaking truth to power. How do we ensure we are not unwitting participants in rhetoric that undermines the principles we uphold?
This is the question we must answer with Kashmir.
The “Kashmir region” actually refers to three areas in Northern India – Jammu (Hindu-majority), Ladakh (half-Buddhist) and the Kashmir Valley (Muslim-majority). The valley is the most powerful of the three. For historical context, following the British withdrawal from India after centuries of colonial subjugation, the nation was split into India and Pakistan. Nearby kingdoms had to choose who to join – secular India or Islamic Pakistan.
As the ruler of Kashmir deliberated, Pakistan invaded. In response, the king asked India for help signing a formal treaty of accession to join India. The prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, appealed to the United Nations, who suggested a referendum if Pakistan removed their troops. Decades later, the soldiers remained and no referendum occurred.
You may have heard references to “Pakistan-administered” Kashmir, or that Kashmir is claimed equally by Pakistan and India. Suppose the U.S. Army marched into Ontario and declared it a U.S. territory. Ontario would not simply become “U.S.-administered.” Similarly, Pakistan has no legal claim to Kashmir.
For the Kashmir region, two laws were enacted by the Indian government. The first, Article 370, limited the Indian government’s control over issues in Kashmir. In 1954, an additional law, Article 35A, allowed Kashmir to privilege those it deemed “residents.” This allowed the Kashmiri legislature to deny basic rights to non-residents, all in the name of “freedom.”
Under Indian law, women cannot be penalized for marrying someone from another state. By the Articles, if a Kashmiri man marries a non-Kashmiri woman, she and their children gain resident status. However, if a Kashmiri woman marries a non-Kashmiri man, she and their children forfeit this status.
Under Indian law, Muslim women are protected from the archaic practice of “triple Talaq,” where a man can say the words, “talaq talaq talaq” to instantly divorce his wife. By the Articles, this practice remains legal in Kashmir.
Under Indian law, historically disenfranchised groups can access one of largest affirmative action programs for educational, political and economic opportunities. By the Articles, these citizens are confined to menial labor with zero possibility of social or economic mobility.
Under Indian law, children have the right to an education and cannot be married. By the Articles, Kashmiri children lack this right and are not protected from child marriage.
Under Indian law, homosexuality is not a crime and non-binary is recognized as a gender identity. By the Articles, these protections do not apply in Kashmir.
Under Indian law, agencies have been set up to combat government corruption. By the Articles, these agencies were forbidden from operating in Kashmir.
On August 5, 2019, the Indian government nullified Articles 370 and 35A via a presidential order and a vote in India’s legislature.
Peaceful Kashmiris have been caught in the middle of attempts to address terrorist threats in the region. After the Articles were removed, the Indian government implemented a temporary communications blackout in Kashmir. Though drastic, it was a necessary step, and schools and markets were soon open again.
There have been some protests, but not the ones you might expect. These rallies featured flags of Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lakshar-e-Taiba and ISIS, terrorist groups condemned by the US, EU, and India. In addition, protestors chanted “Burhan Wani,” the leader of al-Qaeda in Kashmir killed in 2016. Protest videos also offer evidence that nonviolent protests, in most cases, are being addressed peacefully by the Indian police.
Strangely, this debate omits the 1990 ethnic cleansing of Hindus, where 400,000 natives were killed, raped and driven from their homes by insurgents sponsored by Pakistani intelligence. The valley was inundated with threats of violence if Hindus remain. Over 30,000 homes, businesses and temples were attacked.
An entire population of native people was erased, and those responsible now occupy their stolen land.
No paragraph of ornate prose or verse of poetry can change the facts. When we fight for the rights of the oppressed, we must be willing to follow that struggle where it takes us. We cannot advocate for one persecuted group and willfully ignore another simply because it is convenient to do so. The only people who benefited from Articles 370 and 35A were powerful Sunni Muslim men: a local heteronormative patriarchy. The removal of these discriminatory laws means equal protection under the law, for everyone, irrespective of religion.
Will we defend the Articles and their denial of rights? Or will we welcome a new age of equality for the people of Jammu, Ladakh and the Kashmir Valley?