History of the Kashmiri Occupation

Jun 13, 2023 | Blog, Monthly Blogs

Kashmir is not a free state. Its dreams of self-determination and even autonomy have been torn asunder by the Indian government. With each year that passes, those dreams seem further out of reach, but they should never be forgotten.

Forgetting is what the Modi government wants. India wants the world to believe that Jammu and Kashmir has always belonged to them and, more than that, that it has always been a Hindu state.

This month, our blog will be split into two parts. In the first post, we will examine the genesis of the Indian occupation. In the second part, we’ll discuss how India turned Kashmir from an erstwhile Independent Princely State to a Union-occupied state.

Part 1

In the aftermath of World War II, the United Kingdom began decolonizing its Empire. India, regarded as the crown jewel of the British Empire, was among the first to seek independence.

Pre-partition India included the states of what is now Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. After the war, the British felt that the goal should be to preserve the territory in a single state and that independence should conclude before June 30th, 1948.

Preserving India as a single state was difficult, if not impossible. Clashes between Hindus and Muslims occurred well before the partition. The Muslim League demanded the creation of Pakistan for Muslims throughout the subcontinent to preserve the faith, ethnic divide, and culture under the onslaught of an aggressive Hindu majority.

The Great Calcutta Killing of 1946, in which up to 4,000 Hindus and Muslims died, offered a frightening foreshadowing of what was to come.

However, dividing India into numerous states carried its risks. The subcontinent is rich in ethnic and religious diversity; dividing India incorrectly would only lead to violence, ethnic cleansing, and war, which is exactly what happened.

The Radcliffe Line

There’s an old saying, ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,’ about the famous Trojan horse that led to the sacking and falling of the city of Troy. However, a modern update to that sentiment should be ‘Beware of the British drawing lines on maps.’

The British disregard for religious, cultural, and ethnic lines has long led to dictatorships, ethnic cleansing, and civil war in most European colonies, mainly the British colonies, from Africa to the Middle East.

The Radcliffe line was created by Cyril Radcliffe – a British politician who had never visited the country before the partition and promptly left the day India became Independent. He divided India into two countries based on religion, the westernmost line was drawn to define the current border between the predominantly Hindu India and primarily Muslim Pakistan, and the Eastern line was created to define the mostly Muslim East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) and mostly Hindu India.
Radcliffe was utterly indifferent to the needs of the affected communities, sniffing that “No matter what he did, people would suffer.”

Fueling the confusion – the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act of 1947. It gave the subcontinent barely a month to divide the conglomerate of nearly 562 princely states before the two new sovereign countries, India and Pakistan, came into existence. Chaos and violence erupted.

India was never a homogeneous country before partition – even in areas with a Muslim majority population, Hindus and Sikh communities also lived and vice versa. That these communities found themselves on the wrong side of the partition led to one of the largest mass migrations in human history, with an estimated 18 million people displaced.

Kashmir caught in the crossfire

A power vacuum and a frantic power grab consumed the subcontinent as not all of the provinces and princely kingdoms assented to joining either India or Pakistan. According to the Indian Independence Act of 1947, subjects of the princely states were to decide which new dominion they would freely choose to join. However, in states where the ruler belonged to one religion while the majority of subjects belonged to the other faith, people would be given the right to exercise a referendum to make their choice.

There were three such states where that would apply:

  1. Hyderabad in the south (82,000 square miles): Where the ruler was Muslim, the famous Nizam of Hyderabad. The majority of the population was Hindus. India invaded Hyderabad, deposed the Nizam, and annexed the state.
  2. Junagadh: A princely state in Gujarat ruled by the Muslim Babi dynasty in British India, which acceded to the Dominion of Pakistan after the Partition of British India. Subsequently, the Union of India forcibly annexed the state in 1948.
  3. Jammu and Kashmir: Jammu and Kashmir was the largest of the three disputed princely states (87,000 square miles) at stake. J&K was a majority-Muslim state ruled by the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh. Under his Dogra dynastic regime, most Muslims suffered from his burdensome taxes and educational and job discrimination. In July 1931, they launched the Quit Kashmir movement. In 1947 Hari Singh’s Muslim militia started a successful armed rebellion seeking freedom from Maharaja’s despotic rule in the Poonch region of western Jammu Province. He was forced to flee Srinagar to Jammu. Knowing that his Muslim majority wished to join Pakistan, he sought some sort of accession within the framework of the rules of post-partition division. He remained in consultation with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the ruler of Pakistan, and Jawaharlal Nehru, the ruler of India.

Hari Singh offered to sign the so-called Stand Still Agreement with Pakistan and India. The agreement stated that all laws and regulations before the partition would remain in effect until the parties involved agreed to change them. Pakistan readily signed the agreement, but India ignored it. Nehru made no secret about his aggressive designs on J&K, regardless of the wishes of the majority population of J&K or the difficulties Hari Singh may have had.

For Muslims on either side of the line of control, it signaled that India’s intentions were clear and that they intended to disregard the independence of the Princely State and acquire it for itself at whatever price. Under coercion, Hari Singh succumbed and relented to the Hindu position and actively began removing Muslims from positions in his army and distributing arms to Hindu militia. Maharaja’s forces committed the first Muslim massacre called the Poonch Massacre, in which dozens of Muslims were killed indiscriminately.

Infuriated by the news of the genocide in Poonch, the fighting spread to the neighboring regions tribal Frontier region of Pakistan, which entered the fray to rescue their Muslim kinsfolks. By now, India had already plotted to take over the entire Jammu and Kashmir with the connivance of the British and the Maharaja. A brutal campaign of reprisals followed, leading to the largest Jammu Genocide of 1947.

The Jammu Genocide

The genocide began on October 19th, 1947, when houses in Bhimber Tehsil were set ablaze, but it accelerated over the next week. Massacres occurred at Akhnoor Bridge, Kathua, Sambha, and Sahob.

As the violence worsened, Singh delivered Kashmir to India on 26 October 1947. India invaded the next day.

Dogra forces decreed that all Muslims should leave Jammu immediately, and while many attempted to flee, they never had a chance to escape to Pakistan. Paramilitary forces from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) forcibly rounded up migrants. They killed them with impunity, with Indian troops being either willing participants or looking the other way as the massacres occurred.
When it was all over, at least 237,000 people were dead. The scar of the massacre still runs deep. It fundamentally changed the demographics of the region. Before the slaughter, Muslims made up 61 percent of the Jammu region. After the killings, Muslims were a minority.

The false hope of a referendum

As the Indian subcontinent descended into violence and warfare, it threatened to spill beyond the borders of India.

In 1948, the U.N. brokered a ceasefire and called for a referendum on the status of Kashmir’s future under Resolution 47.

The agreement called for a withdrawal of all Pakistani Troops, for India to scale down their forces to a minimal amount, and allow for a plebiscite to determine the control of the country.

Fighting would continue between India and Pakistan for another year. However, neither country agreed to disarmament, and the vote on self-determination never occurred. India and Pakistan would fight two more wars over control of Kashmir.

With peace remaining elusive between the two nuclear-armed countries, India has abandoned all commitments to the plebiscite it is legally required to hold.

The occupation begins

India took the dispute to the United Nations Security Council, which passed resolution 39 (1948) and established the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to investigate the issues and mediate between the countries. A cease-fire was ordered, and the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was established to monitor the cease-fire line compliance. Under the UNMOGIP, the UNSC passed resolution 47 on April 21, 1948, mandating a UN-supervised plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir to decide its accession to India or Pakistan.
The Indian government used delay tactics and intransigence to hold the referendum at various stages UNSC appointed its representatives to visit the region to seek agreement between the disputing parties. The Canadian President of the UNSC, General McNaughton, in 1949, Sir Owen Dixon in 1950, and then Dr. Frank Graham in 1905. All of the missions failed to achieve demilitarization of the region to hold a free and unfettered plebiscite. Nearly all of the UNSC representatives and the American ambassador Loy Henderson were critical of India for trying to sabotage the process of holding the referendum. The issue remains unresolved to this day.

After the violence subsided and with the autonomy promised in the Indian Constitution. Article 370 provided for the region’s self-government, and Article 35A would protect the demographic makeup of the valley and reserve jobs and land from outsiders who were not native to the valley.

That was the promise India made to Kashmir, one it has since reneged on. In our subsequent blog, we will explore how those promises were invalidated and led to the current occupation and settler colonialism we see today.

This blog is part of a series – next month; we will examine how India has eroded the little autonomy it gave to Kashmir over the following decades.