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Kashmir: Fiction and the Facts

On November 11, 2011, the Asia Society, a non-profit educational institution, hosted Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, a blatantly one-sided and biased panel, including writers Arundhati Roy and Pankaj Mishra, and anthropology graduate student, Mohamad Junaid. The panel explicitly supported a pro-separatist agenda as a solution to the Kashmir issue, while failing to adequately address the plight of Kashmiri Hindus and neglecting wholly the role of Pakistan sponsored terrorism. During the program, the panelists presented a number of factual inaccuracies, misleading statements, and exaggerated claims, which HAF addresses here.

Arundhati Roy (Writer)

Fiction #1 - “To put things slightly in perspective, when the United States attacked Iraq, it deployed 165,000 soldiers. There are 700,000 soldiers in Kashmir.”

Fact - According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq reached a peak of 157,800 in 2008. In addition, Ms. Roy’s assertions of 700,000 Indian troops in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir are both misleading and inaccurate. Although estimates vary, sources such as Defense News, a U.S. based publisher on news covering military and government affairs, indicate that there are around 350,000 Indian soldiers and 200,000 paramilitary troops in Kashmir. Similarly, BBC News reports that there are between 300,000 and 500,000 total troops and police in Kashmir, far less than Ms. Roy alleges. Many of the Indian soldiers, however, are posted to the Line of Control that separates the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan occupied Kashmir and have no role in law and order situations in Kashmir. 

Fiction #2 - “100,000 people tortured. Kashmir has its Abu Grahibs across the Valley.”

Fact - The statistics on alleged human rights abuses by the Indian army are widely disputed. For instance, the 100,000 number that Ms. Roy claims has been reported by organizations such as the Kashmir International Research Centre, which is a group based in Islamabad, Pakistan. On the other hand, the Indian Army asserts that 97% of the claims of human rights violations it investigated in the last 20 years in Kashmir were false and unjustified. See an article from DNA India for further details.

Even reports from human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, indicate that the 100,000 figure is grossly exaggerated. A recent Amnesty report, for instance, says from 8,000 to 20,000 people have been detained and held in custody over the last 20 years, but does not specify how many have been tortured. 

 

Fiction #3 - The borders of India, as a nation-state were first marked out by the British and Kashmir was never a part of India. It was historically been ruled by the Mughals, by the Afghans, by the Dogras...”

 
Fact - The political boundaries of India have changed throughout history, as they have for almost every current nation-state, but there has always been a shared underlying culture that has connected the various kingdoms and empires in the sub-continent. Historically, Kashmir has been closely linked politically, religiously, economically, and culturally to other parts of the Indian subcontinent. In addition, Kashmir was formally part of the first “politically” unified pan-Indian state, the Mauryan empire (ca. 322 - 185 BCE), which encompassed the contours of most of modern day India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.  Prior to the Islamic invasion of Kashmir in the 14th Century CE, it was renowned as a seat of Hindu, Buddhist, and Sanskrit learning. (Jacobsen, Knut A., Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan, Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 1. Boston: Brill Leiden, 2009.)

In fact, even after Islamic invasions established Muslim rule in Kashmir, Sanskrit was used as the court language for the first 200 years. (SarDesai, D.R., India: The Definitive History, West View Press, 2008.)   

Fiction #4 - “So initially, obviously, the first step would be to demilitarize -- to withdraw this absolutely unbelievable law called the the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which allows even non-commissioned soldiers to kill on suspicion, that gives the army complete impunity...” 

Fact - Contrary to Ms. Roy’s claims, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) does not give the Indian army “complete impunity,” but rather the ability to deal effectively with public safety in areas of conflict. Under section (a) of the AFSPA, a member of the armed forces may only use force when necessary to maintain public order and safety against someone who is acting in contravention of any law or order and only after due warning has been given. Section (b) gives the army the ability to destroy any arms dump or fortified position that is being used or likely to be used as a base for armed attacks or as a training camp. And finally, sections (c) and (d) allow Indian army personnel to act reasonably under exigent circumstances to conduct a search or make an arrest without a warrant similar to rules provided under American criminal law. To read the AFSPA in its entirety, please click here

Fiction #5 - “The Indian government, ever since India became a sovereign nation, has been at war with its, or what it calls, its own people. Since 1947, it has deployed the army in Manipur, in Mizoram, in Nagaland, in Kashmir, in Punjab, in West Bengal, in Telangana, in Goa, and now it plans to deploy the army against the poorest people in India, and that is in Central India.”

 
Fact - Ms. Roy’s statements here are extremely misleading and distort the truth. For instance, in the cases of Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Kashmir, Punjab, and West Bengal, the army has been deployed to conduct counter-insurgency operations against violent insurgents/militants that have killed thousands of innocent civilians. Similarly, plans to deploy troops to central India is to confront a brutal Maosit insurgency that has been engaged in rampant human rights violations. Please click here, to read further on the Maoist insurgency. And in the case of Goa, the Indian army was only used to liberate Goa from more than 450 years of Portuguese colonial rule.

 

Fiction #6 - “...that is perhaps the most contentious issue of the Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir. And there was a population of Kashmiri Pandits, there still is a small population of about 5,000 Kashmiri Pandits, but about 300,000 Kashmiri Hindus actually...there was an exodus from the Valley in 1989, at the time of the uprising, and the reasons for that exodus are seriously contentious.”

 
Fact - Kashmiri Hindu Pandits are the original inhabitants of the Kashmir Valley with a unique ethno-religious culture that dates back at least 5,000 years. According to Kashmiri Pandit organizations, such as the Indo-American Kashmir Forum, nearly 400,000 Pandits (or 99% of the population) were driven out of the Valley, with many forced to live in refugee camps in Jammu and New Delhi.
 
Ms. Roy’s assertions that the reasons for the Pandit’s exodus from the Kashmir Valley are “seriously contentious” are patently false. South Asian analysts and human rights organizations all recognize that Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) were driven out of the Valley due to militant violence and threats. Furthermore, Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S., has previously written that the expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits was part of an orchestrated campaign by Islamist militants groups supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate to create purely Muslim regions in the state. (Haqqani, Husain, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005)  

Mohamad Junaid (Graduate Student in Anthropology)

Fiction #1 - “A history of 400 years of occupation, of foreign rule and we, our ancestors, hadn’t given up in those 400 years.”

 
Fact - Mr. Junaid’s assessment is simplistic and not entirely accurate. In reality, Kashmir was subjected to foreign occupation in 1339 when Muslim rule was first imposed in Kashmir, as Islam was not native to the region. Going back 400 years, Kashmir was conquered by Akbar in 1586 and integrated into the Mughal empire. Subsequently, Pasthuns invaded Kashmir in 1752, in what is considered one of the most cruel periods in Kashmir’s history. Pasthun rule ended in 1819, when the Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh was invited by a Kashmiri nobleman, Birbal Dar, to supplant the Pasthuns. And in 1846, Dogras, who are native to the state of Jammu and Kashmir established their rule. (SarDesai, D.R., India: The Definitive History, West View Press, 2008.)

 

Fiction #2 - “...[Kashmir] a place where we have had a tradition of Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism for thousands of years, a unique tradition of our own, and had nothing had to do with India, except for certain cultural contexts, but we had much more to do with Central Asia. We are essentially a part of Central Asia, not South Asia. India and Pakistan to Kashmir are outside, you know. We are much more connected to Xinxan [Chinese Turkistan], or Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and even Iran through cultural influences...”

 
Fact - Contrary to Mr. Junaid’s claims, Kashmir has always been closely connected to the political, religious, and cultural trends in the Indian subcontinent.  Kashmir has been part of pan Indian empires, including the Mauryan (ca. 3rd Century BCE) and Kushana (ca. 1st Century CE) empires, as well as part of the Vikramaditya dynasty (ca. 6th Century CE) of Ujjain in central India, at which time it became a great center for Sanskrit learning.  (SarDesai, D.R., India: The Definitive History, West View Press, 2008)  Moreover, there is significant evidence of heavy artistic influence from the Gupta empire (ca. 4th - 6th Century CE), centered in North India.  (Jacobsen, Knut A., Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan, Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 1. Boston: Brill Leiden, 2009)  In addition, Kashmir has been ruled by a number of Kashmiri Hindu kings, most notably Lalitaditya (ca. 697 - 738 CE), who consistently maintained relations and alliances with kingdoms throughout the Indian sub-continent.  Even after Turkish Muslims invaded Kashmir and established rule in 1339, for the first 200 years Sanskrit was used as the official court language. (SarDesai, D.R., India: The Definitive History, West View Press, 2008.)
 
Hinduism in Kashmir has also been intimately linked with Hinduism in other parts of India. For example, Hindu pilgrimage sites in Kashmir, such as Amarnath, are considered sacred by Hindus throughout India, not just in Kashmir. Moreover, several rivers that flow through the state of Jammu and Kashmir, including the Vitasta (Jhelum) and Maurdhvriddha (Maruvardhavan), which is a tributary of the Chenab, are considered sacred rivers in many Hindu scriptures, including the Rigveda. Additionally, Kashmir has attracted several prominent Hindu philosophers and saints from other parts of India, including Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya. And finally, several religious commentaries and works by Kashmiri Hindus have been considered authoritative by Hindus in other parts of India. (Agarwal, Vishal, lay historian)
 

Fiction #3- “One, in Kashmir, Wahabism is really not a problem, you know. In a way they are one of the oppressed lot...because a majority of people are very pluralist, have been influenced by Sufism, follow different sort of lines of Islam, and have Islamic sensibilities, which means that they’re not really asking for an Islamic state, which in and of itself is an oxymoron, it cannot be an Islamic state in itself...What would it look like, really?”

 
Fact - Wahhabism and Islamic extremism have gained influence in Kashmir since the beginning of the insurgency in 1989. For example, Wikileak cables on India reveal that many Kashmiri Muslims embraced Wahhabi Islam during the Insurgency, unlike most Muslims in other parts of India. To read the Wikileaks cables, please click here.
 
Moreover, increasing Wahhabi influence in Kashmir has led to the marginalization of women and the proliferation of groups, such as Jamiat-Ahali-Hadith (JAH), which claims to have 1.5 million members, 700 mosques, and 125 educational institutions in the state. To read more, please see articles from Times of India and Himal Magazine.  

 

Fiction #4 - Which state in this world is really an Islamic state? It could be a state where Muslims form a majority and they say, ‘Okay we are first rate citizens, and the rest are second rate citizens,’ but that’s not going to happen in Kashmir.”

 
Fact - Mr. Junaid’s statement are clearly incorrect. Both Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shiite) are not only Muslim majority countries that discriminate against minorities, but are theocratic Islamic states, where Islam is the primary ideological foundation of governance. For instance, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “[t]he Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran proclaims Islam, specifically the doctrine of the Twelver (Shi‘a) Jaafari School, to be the official religion of the country. It stipulates that all laws and regulations, including the Constitution itself, must be based on Islamic criteria. The head of state, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution and has direct control over the armed forces, the internal security forces, and the judiciary. The Supreme Leader is chosen by the Assembly of Experts, a group of 86 Islamic scholars elected by popular vote from a government-screened list of candidates. All legislation passed by the Majlis (parliament) is reviewed for adherence to Islamic and constitutional principles by the Guardian Council, half of whose members are appointed by the Supreme Leader.”
 
Similarly, Saudi Arabia is also an Islamic state, which according to USCIRF, “persists in banning all forms of public religious expression other than that of the government‘s own interpretation of one school of Sunni Islam; prohibits churches, synagogues, temples, and other non-Muslim places of worship; uses in its schools and posts online state textbooks that continue to espouse intolerance and incite violence; and periodically interferes with private religious practice.” To read USCIRF’s complete report on Iran and Saudi Arabia, please click here.
 
Furthermore, there are several other Muslim majority countries where Islamic law heavily influences the constitution and legal system, such as Pakistan and Malaysia. Given the growing influence of Wahabi Islam in Kashmir, Mr. Junaid cannot claim with any certainty that Kashmir would not become an Islamic state or implement significant aspects of Islamic law into its legal and institutional structure.

 

Fiction #5 - “You know, Kashmiri Pandits were the Pandits, they were the Brahmins. We were the undercaste, who converted and mastered Islam. So there was one sort of relationship, it was a caste relationship in a way. The second was a relationship of class. The Hindu minority was, during Dogra rule before 1947, it was embedded within the state structures, which continued even after 1947. Kashmiri Muslims were largely peasantry, landless peasants. And from 1931 onwards when this political mobilizations began in Kashmir, these were really subaltern struggles for better education, better rights, you know, uh, equal citizenship. They didn’t demand that they are the first citizens. They demanded equal citizenship. And it is fairly well documented in the New Kashmir document, which came out in 1944.”

 
Fact - The first statement from Mr. Junaid is inaccurate as many Kashmiri Pandits were also converted to Islam. During the reign of Sikander in the 14th Century CE, for example, large numbers of Pandits were forcibly converted to Islam. (SarDesai, D.R., India: The Definitive History, West View Press, 2008.)
 
Additionally, although the New Kashmir document promoted equal citizenship for all Kashmiris, the events and circumstances surrounding the 1931 “political mobilizations” are widely disputed. According to Kashmiri Pandit sources, including Kashmir News Network, much of the political activity and riots in 1931 were communal in nature and large numbers of Hindus were targeted and attacked.

 

Fiction #6 - “In 1947, when South Asia was burning, Kashmir was the only place where there was no communal violence, when it could have happened. Although the Maharaja, who was a Hindu who colluded with a lot of right wing Hindu groups in Jammu and led to a massacre of more 100,000 Muslims in Jammu, and drove out ½ a million Muslim residents in that region, it did not provoke any reaction in Kashmir Valley. Kashmir was very peaceful. There was no violence between Hindus and Muslims.” 

 
Fact - Mr. Junaid’s statements here are also inaccurate and misleading. According to several sources, there was significant communal violence in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947. For instance, large numbers of Hindus were massacred and thousands fled as refugees from Mirpur and other cities in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). See New World Encyclopedia and Kashmir News Network for further information.
 
In addition, although there are some reports of Muslims in Jammu being attacked by Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Punjab and elements of the Maharaja’s army, the number of Muslims killed and/or refugees from Jammu is unclear.

 

Fiction #7 - “...on 20th January 1990, when the mass migration of Pandits happened, by that time 270 people were killed in Kashmir out of which 201 were Muslims and 69 were Kashmiri Pandits. Over the last 20 years, 219 Kashmiri Pandits have died...so we cannot talk in terms of this equation that Kashmir has a Hindu Muslim issue."

 
Fact - Mr. Junaid has presented these statistics as fact, when in actuality they are widely disputed. According to the South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP), for example, between 1988 and 1990, 183 Kashmiri Hindus were killed. Moreover, SATP estimates that approximately 1,490 Hindus were killed in Kashmir from the start of the insurgency until 2003. To view these statistics at SATP, please click here. Kashmiri Pandit organizations claim the number of deaths are even higher.
 
In addition, Mr. Junaid completely ignored the organized and systematic campaign by Islamist militants to cleanse Hindus from Kashmir, involving documented massacres of innocent civilians, rapes, threats, assassinations, and intimidation. Public announcements were placed in newspapers, sermons made from mosques, and posters hung on houses ordering all Kashmiri Hindus to leave the Valley, threatening violence if they did not. To read more, please click here.
 
Several hundred Kashmiri Pandit cultural and religious sites have also been destroyed, damaged, or illegally occupied since 1989. To find out more about destroyed Hindu religious sites in Kashmir, please view news articles at Express India, Rediff India Abroad, and Hinduism Today.

Pankaj Mishra (Writer)

Fiction #1 - Went to Kashmir in 2000 to write about Kashmir - “...wasn’t the worst year -- there no major massacres, for instance, unarmed protesters”

 
Fact - In the past, Indian security forces have been accused of killing unarmed civilians and protesters. The Army, however, disputes these accusations, and asserts that force was necessary in those particular circumstances to maintain public safety.
 
Not surprisingly, however, Mr. Mishra failed to mention the numerous massacres of innocent Hindu civilians by Islamist militants in Kashmir, such as the Nadimarg massacre on March 24, 2003, the Prankot killings and the Wandhama massacre in 1998, and the Udhampore and Sangrampora massacres in 1997. To read more, please click here.

 

Fiction #2 - “70,000 people killed in the last 20 years, not to mention innumerable many orphaned, widowed, tortured...” [in reference to by the Indian army]

 
Fact - Mr. Mishra’s statements are extremely misleading for several reasons. For one, there are no definite figures of the total number killed since the Islamist insurgency began in Kashmir in 1989. Most sources, however, place the total number of fatalities between 40,000 and 50,000. A CNN article states that there have been around 40,000 deaths in the conflict.
 
Secondly, Mr. Mishra implies that 70,000 people were killed by the Indian army, when in fact large numbers of civilians and military personnel have been killed in attacks by militants. Furthermore, most of those killed by the army have been militants/insurgents. According to SATP, for instance, there have been 14,634 civilian fatalities (most of whom died from terrorist/insurgent violence), 6,014 security/army personnel killed, and 22,561 terrorists/militants killed.