The Great Indian Fiction on Kashmir

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Since January 2009 The Economist has been banned or censored in 12 countries including Saudi Arabia, Libya and China. India is the ‘only democracy on the list’; having censored 31 issues of the weekly, it is on the top. The main reason for this censorship is the publication of a map of Kashmir that does not comply with the Indian version. As a result, the Indian authorities stamp “Illegal” across it. In a twisted world of virtual realities, what is ‘illegal’ is in fact an accurate cartographic depiction of Jammu and Kashmir, with due appreciation of Pakistani and Chinese controlled territories.

A cursory look at the map of India shows Kashmir sitting atop a vast landmass. Despite being the site of endless misery and violence, Kashmir enjoys pride of place; secular Indian politicians and Hindu fundamentalists alike celebrate the possession, and describe Kashmir as taj or crown of India. Amid such triumphalistic clamour, the sufferings of Kashmiris are drowned out. However, at times, when Kashmiris rise to full scale rebellion and the brutal state response results in much innocent blood spilt, the world takes momentary notice. On such occasions, with its usual dismissive demeanour, India almost always attributes Kashmiri public dissent to Pakistan, Islam or terrorism. For some time now, the Lashkar-e-Taibba is providing a more convenient disguise; the Indian authorities have been blaming it for orchestrating stone throwing Kashmiri youth who are out on the streets protesting daily murder by the Indian forces.

The Indian version of the map that is named as ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ is a cartographic illusion, embodying the fantasy of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian Prime Minister and a Kashmiri by descent, who was instrumental in effecting its questionable accession to India. The taj that is shown spread across a vast geography in all four directions is in reality much smaller; only 48 percent of the area depicted. Discard the exaggerations, from top and the sides, and the taj, that coveted crown, looks more like a misshapen wig created by a concoction of coercion and deceit.

The Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir was cobbled out of disparate cultural, ethnic and linguistic geographies, when the British sold it to a local Hindu chieftain, who had aided them against the Sikhs. Gulab Singh, the ‘buyer’ of the Kingdom had no regard for the sufferings of its inhabitants, a majority of whom were Muslims. This continued when a century later, in 1947, the borders of Jammu and Kashmir were redrawn, and India and Pakistan took over. An intractable dispute was born that has cursed the region ever since.

Long before, China had never accepted the border arrangements between the British Empire, Afghanistan and Russia in the northern area of Kashmir. This position was maintained even after the communist takeover in 1949 and led to the only Sino-Indian war in 1962. This ended with the Chinese taking control of a large north-eastern portion known as Aksai Chin.

At present, Kashmir is divided between India, Pakistan and China –” India controls the majority of the territory with central and southern parts totalling 141,338 square kilometres. This is followed by Pakistan with the northwest portion, known as Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan consisting of 85,846 km2. The area under Chinese control consists of 37,555 km2 of mainly deserted territory, but with much needed water resources thanks to its close proximity to Karakoram.

The ‘legal’ map that is depicted everywhere, from government stationary to administrative reports and postal stamps to surveys, is based on an elaborate hoax, whereby the whole of Kashmir ‘belongs’ to India. This provokes a political rhetoric which serves an inflated sense of grandeur that has animated Indian politics for too long. This deliberate hyperbole is emblematic of India’s relationship with Kashmir and its emergence as an object of desire and dispute. There are no signs or demarcation lines that distinguish between those parts administered by Pakistan or under Chinese control. The map is taught in schools often with fundamentalist religious zeal, creating a whole generation of ignorant, and often very militant, Indians who are unwilling to entertain any view other than what is drilled through official or religious channels. This has frozen Indian political reason.

In his piece, ‘China and India: the great game’s new players’ (The Guardian, 25 September), Jaswant Singh, former Indian Foreign Minister extends this sterile mindset when he blames China for ‘promoting bogus Pakistani claims that undermine India’s territorial integrity’. He calls it ‘verbal trickery’, forgetting that he is the one who is employing trickery by pursuing what I call the Great Indian Fiction on Kashmir. That Kashmir is an internationally accepted dispute, in which the land is occupied by more than half a million ruthless Indian Army soldiers fails to impress Singh. It is ironic that Singh should peddle such fictions. Last year, he lost his political position for challenging another great Indian fabrication about Pakistan. In his book, Jinnah, Partition and Independence, Singh sought to correct popular Hindu/Indian historiography of the Partition and blamed the Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru and not Mohammad Ali Jinnah for the divide. He also praised Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, as a great nationalist who had been demonised in Indian history. Singh’s book challenged the very myths that form the foundations of modern India. It provoked angry reactions across the Indian political spectrum with the secular Congress party accusing him of ‘denigrating India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’. The publication resulted in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that describes itself as the ‘Hindu nationalist party’ expelling Singh from its ranks saying that the party will not "compromise on matters of ideology or discipline". The book was also banned in Gujarat, the Indian state run by the BJP and notorious for the state-sponsored pogrom of 2002 that resulted in deaths of thousands of Muslim civilians.

As a Kashmiri born under Indian occupation, I have been taught the same ‘Indian geography’ in relation to Kashmir. It was much later that I realised the exactness of the illegitimacy of Indian claims. This geographical delusion represents an elaborate denial of history –” the unfulfilled Indian promises of holding a plebiscite to allow Kashmiris to determine their future. This colonial mapping has led to the effacement of the democratic rights of Kashmiris. Whenever Kashmiris rise for their right of self-determination, India, instead of addressing the democratic demands, ruthlessly clamps down on them. By continuously advancing myths about geography and re-writing history, India portrays Kashmiri demands for justice as a grave threat, not only to India’s integrity as a nation-state, but also against the Bharat Mata, the Hindu concept of India as a sacred religious space. In an abominable effort to garner some moral justification for its brutal occupation, it also invokes its claims over ‘Pakistan occupied Kashmir’.

In early 1994, at the height of the Kashmiri resistance, when the demand for Kashmir’s independence was at its strongest, the Indian Parliament, the law making assembly of the world’s largest democracy, in a blatant refusal to appreciate popular Kashmiri sentiment, unanimously passed a Special Resolution that reiterated that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir belonged to India. The Resolution also demanded: “Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression”. This is a timeless trick in the Indian strategy. Last week, after months of slumber, when the Pakistani government, forced by growing public anger against Kashmiri deaths, finally made public pronouncements calling on India to "review the practice of describing Jammu and Kashmir as its integral part", the Indian reaction was unequivocal. S M Krishna, the External Affairs Minister, responded by ‘pointing out’ that Pakistan is in "illegal occupation of some parts of Jammu and Kashmir". With brazen effrontery, he further said, "It is desirable that they vacate that [the Pakistani part] and then start advising India as to how to go about doing things in Kashmir."

It is extremely intriguing that India often talks about ‘Pakistani occupied Kashmir’ but never mentions Aksai Chin, the area under Chinese control since 1962. Significantly, there is no mention of China or the Chinese part of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian Parliament’s 1994 Special Resolution, which demands Pakistan to vacate its part. In fact, such demands are never made to the Chinese. Kashmiris see this as a duplicitous and cowardly Indian position that avoids facing China but gleefully seeks confrontation with Pakistan, a smaller and poorer country, with a less significant military power.

Despite creating this self-deluding fiction and despite the armed soldiers garrisoned at every corner, the relationship between India and Kashmir remains on the edge. This fiction and the heavy Indian military presence are symptoms of Indian denial of any Kashmiri right to choose their political future. The present and ongoing Kashmiri intifada has so far claimed more than 100 civilian lives with thousands more injured, mainly due to the fire arms of the occupying Indian soldiers. Despite such a heavy price there is no end in sight. Indian intransigence is characteristic –” much like the demon king Ravana from the famous Hindu epic, the Rāmāyaṇa. In a region that is surrounded by three nuclear powers and contains nearly half the world’s population, where extremism both Hindu and Muslim is on the rise, such obduracy threatens calamitous consequences. As a growing power, which seeks to display its muscle so brazenly, India must exert its might with a sense of responsibility both towards Kashmiris and the whole region. To exorcise the morbid ghosts that India has raised in the region, it must undo its own fable that has compromised its conscience and morality. An honest lesson in geography can be just a start for a hopeful and possibly peaceful future.

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An edited version of this article was first published in The National.

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