Kashmiri Pride and Dignity: My Grandfather’s Dream Will Not Be Forgotten

In Kashmir, dissenting voices, even those of legislators and parliamentarians of opposition parties, have been muzzled. And with the lack of accountability suspension of phone and internet services in the Valley, the populace of Kashmir continues to remain incommunicado. In doing so, the federal government has ignored constitutional checks and balances that ought to prevent the over centralization of powers in India.

The display of arbitrariness by the Modi administration in J & K affects me at a personal level. I have always been a proud Kashmiri and have cherished my historical inheritance and had a deeply entrenched consciousness of my dignity.

My maternal grandfather Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s Kashmiri nationalistic passion and his unquenchable zeal to improve the socioeconomic position of Kashmiris, debilitated by feudalism, remained an integral part of his political persona till the day he died. His sense of Kashmiri nationhood made a great impact on my identity.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah explicitly declared the antimonarchical stance of his organization to the British Cabinet Mission which was to chart the course of India’s destiny, including that of the princely states:

“The fate of the Kashmiri nation is in the balance and in that hour of decision we demand our basic democratic right to send our elected representatives to the constitution-making bodies that will construct the framework of Free India. We emphatically repudiate the right of the Princely Order to represent the people of the Indian States or their right to nominate personal representatives as our spokesmen.” (Opening address by Sheikh Abdullah to the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly, 1951)

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and his political organization fought tooth and nail against Dogra autocracy, and demanded that the Treaty of Amritsar be revoked and monarchical rule ousted. He described the Dogra monarchy as a microcosm of colonial brutality and the Quit Kashmir movement as a ramification of the larger Indian struggle for independence. At the annual session of the National Conference in 1945, the unity and integrity of India were recognized and the demand for India’s independence and the right of self-determination for the various ethnic–cultural groups in the country was put forth. Abdullah’s political ideology was well-delineated in the London Times:

“The Sheikh has made it clear that he is as much opposed to the domination of India as to subjugation by Pakistan. He claims sovereign authority for the Kashmir Constituent Assembly, without limitation by the Constitution of India, and this stand has a strong appeal to Kashmiris on both sides of the Ceasefire line and if this movement of purely Kashmiri nationalism was to gain ground, it might well oblige India, Pakistan, and the United Nations to modify their view about what ought to be done next.” (The Times, 8 May 1952, quoted in Taseer 1986: 148)

Soon after his release on 29 September 1947, Sheikh Abdullah categorically stated his position at a public rally in Hazaribagh, Kashmir:

“Our first demand is complete transfer of power to the people in Kashmir. Representatives of the people in a democratic Kashmir will then decide whether the State should join India or Pakistan. . . . All around us we see the tragedy of brother killing brother. At this time Kashmir must come forward and raise the banner of Hindu–Muslim unity. In Kashmir we want a people’s government. We want a government which will give equal rights and equal opportunities to all men – irrespective of caste and creed. The Kashmir Government will not be the government of any one community. It will be a joint government of the Hindus, the Sikhs, and the Muslims. That is what I am fighting for.” (People’s Age, quoted in Krishen 1951: 38)

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah made some controversial observations in an interview with the London Observer in 1950. He voiced his concern over the increased vulnerability and instability of J & K caught between two countries that were hostile toward each other. He expressed his solicitude over the political and economic hardships that the location of the state would cause its populace. The only viable option, according to him, was for J & K to have a neutral status vis-à-vis both India and Pakistan. However, because of the ruptured politics within the state given its diverse political, religious and ethnic affiliations, the sovereign and autonomous status of J & K would need to be acknowledged and guaranteed not just by India and Pakistan, but also by the UN and other world powers. Abdullah’s candid observations created a furor in New Delhi. His ‘politically incorrect’ views met with particular objection from India’s right-wing Deputy Prime Minister, Vallabhbhai Patel.

In 1952 Abdullah voiced his antipathy towards Hindu majoritarianism in Jammu, the stronghold of the right-wing Praja Parishad. He referred to the attempts of the Congress Party and the central government to enforce the complete integration of J & K into the Indian Union as juvenile, impractical and ludicrous. In March 1952 Abdullah stated that, “. . . neither the Indian Parliament nor any other Parliament outside the state has any jurisdiction over our state. . . . No country – neither India nor Pakistan – can put spokes in the wheel of our progress” (Delhi Radio, Indian Information Service). He further declared that “the existence of Kashmir did not depend on Indian money, trade, or defense forces, and he did not expect any strings to be attached to Indian aid. Threats and taunts would not intimidate him into servile submission (The Times, 26 April 1952).

The unilateral deoperationalization of the special status of my native land, Kashmir, and revocation of Article 35 A by Prime Minister Modi’s government on August 5, 2019 was a challenge to the democracy, secularism, and regional autonomy that I was raised to remain invested in. The divestment of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood and its division into two union territories are manifestations of the damage wrought by thoughtless majoritarianism. My ancestors struggled for the unity and integrity of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and, despite the ethnic, religious, linguistic, and cultural divides in the region, were successful in keeping it together. The erasure of the semi-autonomous status of Kashmiris is a disregard of the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India as well as a breach of trust.

Respect for rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the integrity of the constitution, and right to a dignified existence were ingrained in me. Kashmir has always been a political issue which will continue to be fought on the political field.

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.