Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is considered one of the most intractable challenges faced by independent India. Ever since Partition in 1947, the foundation was laid for the long-standing conflict in and around Jammu and Kashmir that persists till today. The Kashmir issue has been the primary cause of diplomatic, political and military standoffs between India and Pakistan.
At the time of Independence, Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession, thereby acceding his princely state to the Indian Union. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) historically belonged to the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. This territory has been under Pakistan’s unlawful control ever since the Pakistan Army orchestrated the tribal invasion of the territory in October 1947.
On the night of 21-22 October 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was invaded by Pakistani raiders from Pashtun areas, supported by the Pakistani Army. Violence and terror were unleashed on Hindus and Sikhs of Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Bhimber, Kotli, Poonch and surrounding areas. Thousands of Hindus and Sikhs perished, and thousands of young women, girls and children were kidnapped and taken captive by raiders. The lucky ones, who managed to flee and reached Jammu later, lived on as PoK refugees. The violence did not stop even after the Indian Army was deployed in the area. For two years, until a ceasefire was announced, the Indian Army protected the refugees, often under siege, surrounded by Muslim areas and the Pakistani Army. The woes of non-Muslims worsened after a ceasefire was announced and the areas came directly under Pakistani occupation.
As of today, there are no estimates of Hindus or Sikhs left in the region and the entire population is assumed to have either been expelled or killed. A figure of 1.5 lakh seems the base figure of missing Hindus and Sikhs from PoK. It is interesting that Pakistan, to this day, complains of the expelled and/or killed Muslims of Jammu, but no mention is made of the unfortunate Hindus and Sikhs of PoK by any organisation or government.
Since then, PoK has been a tale of deliberate neglect, political suppression, deprivation of free speech and liberty, systematic demographic changes, sectarian violence, illegal detentions, tortures and extra-judicial killings, arbitrary dismissals of elected governments, electoral rigging, etc. There are curbs on political pluralism, freedom of expression, worship and association. The media is muzzled, as is the publication of books. Those opposed to the accession to Pakistan risk arbitrary detentions and torture. There is a pervasive fear of the Pakistani military, ISI and terror outfits acting on the government’s behest or independently.
Gilgit-Baltistan, which has more ethnic affinity with the people of Ladakh’s Kargil district, has been the most neglected, isolated, and disenfranchised area. Its status has been kept ambiguous and undefined ever since Pakistan forcibly and illegally occupied it in 1947-48. The Constitutions of Pakistan in 1956, 1962, 1972 or 1973 never recognised the multi-lingual Gilgit-Baltistan region to be a part of Pakistan. Even the 1974 Interim Constitution of PoK did not acknowledge Gilgit-Baltistan to be a part of the occupied state. For the last 45 years, the region has been witnessing sectarian clashes. In UNHRC sessions, residents of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan have been raising cases of human rights abuses by the Pakistani establishment. Shina and Baltis living in the areas of Gilgit Baltistan are also victims of Pakistan aggression. Pakistan has destroyed Shina and Balti culture brutally. Scripts of both languages are no longer available. A strong movement has started in Baltistan for the revival of their local language called Balti. There is a complete ban on teaching Balti in Baltistan.
Discrimination based on religion is rather rampant in Pakistan and all territories under its illegal occupation. In the June 2018 report, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) drew attention to the provision in PoK’s Interim Constitution, which in similarity with Pakistan’s Constitution, defines who may be considered a ‘Muslim’ and uses this definition to discriminate against the minority communities. The amended Interim Constitution of 2018 has made no changes to this discriminatory provision and declared the minorities to be non-Muslims. Other than this, the strict blasphemy laws have also been widely criticised as being discriminatory and draconian.
According to the report by Law and Society Alliance, the PoK Interim Constitution (13th Amendment) Act, 2018 entitles the Pakistani government to authoritatively suppress dissenting voices. It states, “No person or political party in ‘Azad’ Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the state’s accession to Pakistan.” Further, members of nationalist and pro-independence political parties claim that they regularly face threats, intimidation, and even arrests by local authorities or intelligence agencies, for their political activities.
The literacy rate in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan is at a dreadful stage. The report cites the Pakistani non-profit organisation Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, Islamabad, as saying that the literacy rate in the area is an abysmal 14 per cent for men and 3.5 per cent for women. The condition of healthcare is no better in PoK. The number of hospitals in PoK is only 73. The situation is far worse in GB where the number of hospitals is only 33. According to the latest data available, the unemployment rate in PoK is higher than the national average of Pakistan, measuring 10.3 per cent.
Besides, Pakistan has been engaged in systematic plunder. Large swathes of forests in PoK have been cut down by the Pakistan military in collaboration with the local timber mafia and transporters, robbing PoK of Rs 51.84 billion each year. According to one estimate, forest wood worth Rs 480 billion has been stolen by Pakistan so far. Not only this, but Pakistan also milked other natural resources and minerals of the region for its own benefit. Also, the construction of the Diamer Bhasa dam threatens to inundate areas and lead to floods.
The list of atrocities, human rights abuses, and lack of freedom of speech and the theft of natural resources committed by the state is too long. Yet, it is India that is portrayed as an enemy of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The truth is that if it were not for Indian soldiers who bravely fought, pushed back and eventually defeated the Pakistani invading armies in 1947, the fate that the people of PoK and GB are enduring today would have also doomed the people from Srinagar, Rajouri, Baramulla and Uri to Leh and Kargil.
The author is Dean, Students' Welfare, Central University of Jammu. Views expressed are personal.