India’s decision to revoke Article 370 is just another chapter in Kashmir’s long history of imperial oppression.
On August 5, India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government issued a surprise executive decree stripping away the autonomy that the state of Jammu and Kashmir was granted in exchange for joining the Indian union after independence in 1947.
Since the decree, Indian authorities also imposed an unprecedented lockdown in the region, cutting off all communication lines, restricting movement and putting prominent Kashmiri politicians under house arrest.
The government’s decision to revoke Article 370 of India’s constitution, which ensured the Muslim-majority state its own constitution and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications, was undoubtedly the most far-reaching political move on the disputed region in the last seven decades. However, neither the Indian government’s decision to impose direct rule from New Delhi, nor its attempts to silence the Kashmiri cries for freedom and dignity is anything new.
A brief look back in history makes it evident that Kashmir’s oppression and colonial exploitation started long before the formation of modern India. Ever since its annexation by the Mughal empire in 1589 AD, Kashmirhas never been ruled by Kashmiris themselves. After the Mughals, the region was ruled by the Afghans (1753-1819), Sikhs (1819-46), and the Dogras (1846-1947) until the Indian and Pakistani states took over.
The Mughals, who did nothing to alleviate the region’s poverty or help it fight famines, instead built hundreds of gardens in Kashmir, converting it into a luxurious summer refuge for the rich. The Afghans not only sent Kashmiri people to Afghanistan as slaves, but also imposed extortionate taxes on the region’s famed shawl weavers, causing the shawl industry to shrink in size. Next came the Sikhs, who, according to the British explorer William Moorcroft, treated the Kashmiris “little better than cattle”.
The discrimination Kashmir’s Muslim majority is still facing to this day also came to the fore for the first time during the Sikh rule. Back then, the murder of a native by a Sikh was punished with a fine of 16 to 20 Kashmiri rupees to the government, of which 4 rupees would go to the family of the deceased if the victim is a Hindu, and only 2 rupees if the deceased is a Muslim.