August 12, 2019
By Zainab Ramahi
As a Kashmiri living in North America, I have been to Kashmir some twenty times. I have experienced the instability, power outages, curfews, and closures that are a cruel part of everyday life, and witnessed massive non-violent demonstrations against the military occupation. I have seen Indian military personnel haul Kashmiri kids playing cricket into armored vehicles, and listened carefully to the stories of my aunt, an ophthalmologist, who operated on hundreds of youth blinded by pellets shot by the Indian army.
As a Palestinian, I have also studied and witnessed first-hand the settler colonization of Palestine. It was exactly this time two years ago that I was in Kashmir, working on a legal research paper, combing through newspaper articles offering the latest on the Indian government’s attempts to use the law to eliminate Kashmir’s semi-sovereign status. It all seemed familiar, like déjà vu, until I realized I was simply looking at a different application of Israel’s use of the law to justify the denial of basic rights to Palestinians.
On August 5, the Indian parliament by a majority vote revoked the special semi-sovereign status of Jammu and Kashmir by scrapping Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and bifurcating the state into two union territories. Article 370 enshrined the limitations on the power of the Indian parliament to make laws for Jammu and Kashmir, the essential term of Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947. Without Article 370, Kashmir has been stripped of any semblance of autonomy, ushering in a new stage in India’s colonial relationship with the state. India has moved at least 48,000 troops to the region, in addition to the 700,000 already stationed there that have made Kashmir the most densely militarized zone on earth for decades. The Indian government imposed a total security lockdown in Kashmir, with orders to shoot-to-kill upon seeing Kashmiris in the streets, and a communications and media blackout, shutting down landlines, mobile phones, and internet.
Israel is an oft-cited example of an ethno-nationalist political configuration. Ethno-nationalism is rooted in colonial narratives that dictate a racial hierarchy of belonging in which the subordination of some members of the population, the out-group, is structurally entrenched and often backed up with physical violence. As per its Nation State Law, Israel is not a state of its citizens, but rather belongs to Jewish people that have membership and belonging in the state. The full privileges of membership in Israel are extended exclusively to its Jewish population.
A community might measure what rights its members enjoy by looking at those from which they are excluded. When, in July 1952, leaders of the Indian government and several Jammu and Kashmir political parties convened in Delhi to resolve outstanding issues relating to Kashmir’s accession, the Indian government was openly concerned that extending the fundamental rights granted by the Indian Constitution to the restive Kashmiri populace might have the effect of impeding the central government’s ability to deal “swiftly and effectively” with troublemakers. In 1954, when numerous provisions of the Indian Constitution were extended to Jammu and Kashmir, the order came with the caveat that the fundamental rights afforded broadly to Indians could be suspended anytime in Kashmir in the interests of “security” and without judicial review.
India’s neocolonial relationship with Kashmir is brilliantly illustrated by laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which grants special powers to Indian Armed Forces in so-called “disturbed areas,” a category of which Kashmir has been a part since 1990. AFSPA grants the Indian military sweeping powers to arrest without warrant, shoot-to-kill, and destroy property. Characterized by Human Rights Watch as a “tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination,” AFSPA also handily provides immunity for military personnel who conduct extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and mass disappearances.
Reviewing the literature on AFSPA and its origins, it is not hard to draw the connection to Israel’s justification of the use of torture and indefinite detention against the Palestinian population by declaring the areas in which it is applied to be in a state of emergency, remaining so for decades.
Hindutva, a form of Hindu nationalism, is the official ideology of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its followers claim that Muslims and secularists have undermined the strength of the Hindu nation. Hindutva nationalists and Zionists often try to reframe the conflicts not as ones over human and political rights, sovereignty, consent, and self-determination, but as being caused by irrational and implacable Muslims and Islamists who if not confronted and stopped will take over the world. In this context, all the repression and state violence to which millions of people are subjected is justified in the name of fighting terror and defending democracy and civilized values.
The frame of “terrorism,” which legitimizes global silence on the issue of Kashmir and the ongoing violence against the population, supports an economy of arms trade between India and Israel. In this context, the aggressive religious nationalisms of Zionism and Hindutva are neutral shared security interests. Kashmiri and Palestinian quests for self-determination are reduced to neighboring Muslim or Arab states causing unrest.
Suggesting that the two nations are not un-self aware of their close ideological ties, India and Israel have fostered political and military links in recent years, including arms sales, joint intelligence operations, trade agreements, and cultural exchanges. Since 2003, when then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon signed an agreement with the Indian government declaring that India and Israel were “strategic partners,” Israeli technology and tactics have been deployed regularly by Indian forces occupying Kashmir. The Shin Bet and other Israeli agencies responsible for human rights abuses and killings of Palestinians have provided training and advice to India on how to suppress the people of Kashmir. Today, India is the largest buyer of Israeli arms and Israel is training Indian military units in “counter-terrorist” attacks and urban warfare to be used against Kashmiris and resistance groups in northeast and central India.
Hindutva groups have tried to minimize attention to human rights violations in Kashmir, the conditional annexation by India in 1947, or the right to self-determination, by limiting the discussion on Kashmir to the issue of displacement and killings of the upper caste minority Kashmiri Hindu Pandits in the late 1980s, and by insisting that Kashmir is not an international issue.
Similarly, Zionists seeking to draw attention away from Israel’s abuses of Palestinians’ human rights often focus exclusively on suicide bombings or the rule of Hamas. Their aim is to silence any discussion of the historic Palestinian demands for the implementation of the refugees’ right of return, an end to the military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and equality for Palestinian citizens in Israel.
Kashmiris are held hostage by larger post-colonial turned neo-colonial states of India and Pakistan that have competed to claim them in the name of religion and nationalism. So too are Palestinians caught between peace process after peace process while the number of illegal settlements increases unabated.
Both Kashmir and Palestine must be re-centered in the global discussion around self-determination and the demands of the people who have lived for so long under colonial military occupation regimes. Much of that work can begin in exposing and resisting the lure of ethno-nationalism and racial supremacy, placing Hindutva and Zionism in this context, and understanding these long-running “conflicts” for what they are: colonialism.
Many have written about an imminent ethnic cleansing in Kashmir. As anthropologist Patrick Wolfe has noted, “the question of genocide is never far from discussions of settler colonialism.” As a Palestinian and Kashmiri there is little escape from the violence of the colonial machine. As I sit with my family and wait on news – any news – the only thing I can think to do is write.