Palestine solidarity: Kashmir’s vocal past and muted present

‘Absence of street protests doesn’t mean they are not concerned’

May 18, 2021

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir 

Kashmir, which is being spoken of as a second Palestine in the making, has a long tradition of expressing solidarity with Palestinians through strikes, protests, wall graffiti, prayers in mosques and writings.

But this time, there has been an outpouring of grief, anger and support only on social media. Analysts explain why.

The most strident anti-Israel protests yet erupted in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, in June 1967, when the Zionist state annexed East Jerusalem.

According to Khalid Bashir, a former civil servant and author of the critically acclaimed book “Kashmir: Exposing the Myth Behind the Narrative,” a group of angry protesters had set fire to two churches: The Catholic Holy Family Church and the Protestant All Saints Church.

While Bashir said the buzz around the arson at the time blamed an outsider for misleading the protesters, former professor of law and columnist Sheikh Showkat Hussain attributes the attacks to the dearth of information at the time.

“Some foreign western tourists, who could very well have been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, were spanked with nettles. Anger ran very high at the time. This was the first attack on Al Aqsa [Mosque],” Hussain said.

Yasser Arafat’s ‘close ties’ with Indian leaders

Exiled Islamabad-based pro-freedom Kashmiri leader Muhammad Farooq Rahmani writes in his Urdu book “Azadi ki Talaash: Kashmir ki Jidojihad, Manzil ba Manzil” (“Search for Freedom: Kashmir’s Struggle, Destination by Destination”) that a man died of a bullet injury in Srinagar and another suffered a bullet injury in the leg in the northern Kashmir area of Sopore during widespread protests in many districts in August 1969, when Al Aqsa was set on fire by an Australian Jew.

In Sopore, many student protesters were arrested, and the fathers of several others were threatened with detention in their places, Rahmani writes.

Rahmani writes that on Aug. 23, 1969, a complete strike was observed in the Kashmir Valley. A curfew was imposed for more than 160 hours in Srinagar and the arrest spree continued after protests that also saw the imposition of a law which barred the assembly of more than four people. Big protest gatherings were organized in major mosques and other places of historical importance.

Between 1970 and 1990, said Zahid Ghulam Mohammad, a writer and columnist, students mainly led the pro-Palestine protests whenever something major occurred in the occupied land or the neighborhood.

Zahid said that Kashmiris would sometimes begrudge former Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat’s close ties with Indian leaders or the lack of reciprocal support from the Palestinian resistance’s leadership for their own struggle against Indian rule.

“Pro-India politicians would use this lack of reciprocal Palestinian support as a propaganda tool against the pro-freedom leadership. But the grassroots and spontaneous expressions of support for the Palestinian struggle have always been there because it is an emotional issue for the world’s Muslims,” said Zahid.

After 1990, when the still raging popular anti-India insurgency erupted in Kashmir, the Kashmiri pro-freedom leadership started conflating Kashmir with Palestine ever more stridently, according to Sheikh Showkat.

When the Indian state had virtually collapsed in 1990 due to a mass revolt against Indian rule, a popular pro-freedom song in Urdu was hummed by protesters at massive rallies or played from mosque loudspeakers.

Masjid Aqsa rotee hai

Ummat-e-Muslim sotee hai

Kyun ye tabahi hotee hai

Jago jago subah huee

(As Masjid Aqsa cries, the Ummah is sleeping. You are surprised at the destruction! Wake up, wake up, the dawn is here)

Al Quds Day in Kashmir

​​​​​​​Pro-freedom parties would hold demonstrations on Quds Day, which is observed in support of Palestinians on the last Friday of Ramadan. Even this year, when nearly the entire pro-freedom leadership is in jails or under house detention, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a group of pro-freedom parties, asked people to observe the day.

‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Support Palestine’ graffiti, written over the years after Israel bombarded Gaza can still be seen splashed across walls in several parts of Kashmir. In fact, Nowhatta, the site of probably the highest number of incidents of violent clashes between Indian forces and young protesters, was nicknamed ‘Gaza Strip’.

After Aug. 5, 2019, when India scrapped Kashmir’s autonomy, jailed thousands of pro-freedom and pro-India leaders who rejected the decision as well as activists, booked journalists under anti-terror laws and criminalized most forms of dissent, Kashmiri pro-Palestine support could find expression only on social media.

“Kashmiris are so much mired in their own misery right now, but the absence of street protests or gatherings doesn’t mean they are not concerned about the Al Aqsa attack,” said Showkat.

Gowhar Geelani, a journalist who was booked under an anti-terror law last year for his social media commentary, wrote on Twitter: “Israel, ladies and gentlemen, is a terrorist state. Its founders ran a sleeper terrorist cell. And it is not the only such state. It has a partner in crime!”

Facebook user Miraj Din took a dig at Muslims across the world with this post: “Muslims suddenly behaving like as if there is an Ummah. Ah! Is there any such entity called Ummah? Isn’t there a huge difference between timely sudden reactions and a sustained engaging concern? “

“Kashmiris, Uyghurs, Rohingyas, Palestinians and many others believe the other way around. Well! Best of luck with your profile pictures, updates, retweets and Facebook shares.”

Disputed territory

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.

Also, in the Siachen glacier region in northern Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani troops have fought intermittently since 1984. A cease-fire took effect in 2003.

Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or unification with neighboring Pakistan.

According to several human rights organizations, thousands have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989.



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