Tomorrow, October 27, is a day that is etched in the minds of many Kashmiri people as “a black day” or the day they became occupied. For it was on this day that Kashmiris in India claim that the beginning of Indian occupation of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir began 69 years ago and is seen by them as a collective affront to freedom, justice, dignity and honor.
Dr. Fai, Secretary General, World Kashmir Awareness, highlighted the continued injustice, tyranny and inhumanity of the Indian military in its occupation of Kashmir. He said, “At this moment in our historic struggle for self-determination, the Kashmiri people with poise, confidence and unity are taking their inalienable struggle in a new direction of non-violence and peaceful agitation,” a struggle which he described as one “receiving massive international support”.
According to him, the “historical conflict began in 1846 with the illegal, immoral and inhumane sale of the historic state of Jammu and Kashmir to a non-Kashmiri Dogra family for services rendered to the British Raj. From that point, onwards, Kashmiris have longed for self-determination. Yet, tragically, their legitimate aspirations were crushed with the grotesque, irregular and illegal ascension, by the brutal foreign ruler Maharaja Hari Singh who did not have the consent of the people. With the arrival of Indian soldiers – the historic Black Day of Occupation begins its most recent and insidious manifestation.”
The Kashmir dispute is a fallout of the partition of India. The Muslim-majority parts of British India became Pakistan, and the Hindu-majority regions became the dominion of India. There were, at that time, some 575 princely states in India under indirect British rule. Lord Mountbatten gave them the choice of joining either India or Pakistan, and instructed that their choice must be guided by the religious composition of their populace as well as by the borders they might share with either India or Pakistan.
Since more than 85 percent of the population of Kashmir at that time were Muslims; the major rivers in the state flowed into Pakistan; the state shared a border of over 750 kilometers with Pakistan; the only road connecting Kashmir with the outside world throughout the year passed from Srinagar to Rawalpindi; and the majority of the people of the state had cultural and historical ties with the people of Pakistan, it was a natural assumption that the area would accede to Pakistan.
On October 26, 1947, the Hindu ruler of Kashmir said his Muslim-majority kingdom would accede to India and not join newly created Islamic Pakistan. The Indian Army entered the state enforcing military law. Kashmir has since been claimed by both India and Pakistan, and roiled with violence, involving Indian troops and Kashmiri nationalists. So far 58,000 civilians have been killed, officials say, but human rights groups put the toll at a figure approaching 100,000.
India itself took the issue of Kashmir to the United Nations, which passed some 18 resolutions related to Kashmir, recognizing the status of the state as disputed and calling for a resolution of the conflict based on the will of the people of the state, which the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, himself also publicly promised. Today, all that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are saying is that India should live up to this promise that it made of holding a plebiscite in accordance with the UN resolutions.
Voices in India in recent years have been calling for the same. A Hindustani Times survey late last year discovered that 87 percent of Kashmiris want Azadi (freedom). Swaminathan Aiyar of The Times of India wrote in one of his columns, “We promised Kashmiris a plebiscite more than six decades ago. Let us hold one now”. And Vir Sanghvi of The Hindustan Times stated, “So, here’s my question: why are we still hanging on to Kashmir if the Kashmiris don’t want to have anything to do with us?”
So what do the people of Kashmir want? The right of self-determination is a fundamental human right and is highly valued in all societies. Kashmiris demand this right as guaranteed to them under the United Nations Security Council resolutions. Both India and Pakistan have much to gain if there is peace, stability and economic cooperation in South Asia. Economic interests and other internal and external forces can merge both countries toward a common goal and that is to have peace and economic cooperation in South Asia.
The people of Kashmir must decide upon their future. The demand of the Kashmiri people for self-government cannot forever be silenced by bombs or bullets. India, a country motivated to marching toward democracy, must not feel discomforted by the will of the Kashmiri people. And Pakistan should not assume that Kashmir would automatically accede to it.
The Kashmiris are a proud people and the path they choose to take must be theirs and theirs alone.