Gandhi's Legacy Was Betrayed By Modi—But It Can Still Be Reclaimed by Kashmiri Peaceful Resistance | Opinion

The two of us writing this piece, one a Pakistani-origin practitioner of music and medicine, the other a historian from India, have practiced or taught in the U.S. for more than twenty years. Each of us is committed to friendly relations within and between India and Pakistan, and between these two countries and the U.S.

Today's Kashmir, locked-down and shut off from the world, isn't what one of us saw as he and his band played bin May 2008 at the edge of Srinagar's ethereal Dal Lake. Coming from Kashmir, Lahore, Kolkata, New York and Toronto, the band's members found a common language of compassion, freedom and unity. For that one 2008 day, guitars silenced the guns.

Kashmir's old conflict, dating back to 1947, took a dramatic new turn on August 5 when the Indian government abruptly, probably unconstitutionally, and certainly most undemocratically eliminated Kashmir's special status with the Indian Union.

Not a single Kashmiri was consulted as Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, guaranteeing the special status that reconciled popular Kashmiri leaders to joining the Indian Union, was suddenly gutted.

Among other things, that special status barred non-Kashmiris from buying land or landed property or voting in Hindu-majority India's sole Muslim-majority state, thereby preventing any deliberate alteration of its demography.

Not only was special status abolished overnight, "Jammu & Kashmir," as the space was formally known, was removed from India's map of states and replaced by two "union" or federal territories. Across a tense border from them sits a large portion of pre-1947 Jammu & Kashmir that Pakistan has administered for 70 years.

Combined with a prolonged internet and mobile-phone shutdown still in force in parts of India-administered Kashmir, India's refusal thus far to let UN officials or reporters from other countries enter its Kashmir areas means that the world knows very little of what is happening to about 13 million human beings who live there.

It would appear that several thousand Kashmiris are in jails or detention, including a large number of young men. Many, it is clear, have been moved to prisons far from Kashmir.

Insisting that very few dead bodies have showed up, the Indian government claims that there is no revolt and that Kashmiris have largely welcomed the takeover. We ask the government to let international observers and journalists enter Kashmir and find out what is happening.

While Kashmir has been silenced, many in other parts of India have criticized the takeover. However, supporters of the annexation seem to form a large majority. This is a harsh truth that Kashmiris and people elsewhere have to recognize.

Supposedly democratic India, a nation currently celebrating the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth and continuing to print his face on its paper currency, seems enthusiastic and even excited about compelling millions of Kashmiris to call themselves Indians.

Leading for thirty years a nonviolent campaign for India's liberation from British rule, Gandhi fought also for freedom of belief and speech. His uncompromising opposition to anyone being coerced to utter a particular slogan, confess a particular faith, or wear a particular symbol was in fact one reason why a group of Hindu extremists killed him in 1948.

On August 14, several eminent Indians associating themselves with what they called "the Gandhian fraternity" issued a strong statement against the takeover. But their voices have been drowned by the noise in favor of eliminating Kashmir's special status.

The August takeover was preceded by a sudden infusion into Kashmir of tens of thousands of additional Indian soldiers. The Indian government does not give any figures, but Kashmir today may contain half a million or more Indian soldiers, from a range of military and para-military forces. The justification? Combating terrorism and insurgency.

Today Kashmir possibly has a higher soldier-to-civilian ratio than any other part of the world.

We urge the people and leaders of the India-Pakistan subcontinent to find non-coercive and democratic solutions to its problems, and we urge the people and leaders of the US not to ignore the profoundly troubling turn of events in Kashmir and the region surrounding it.

In these times, when almost every nation, the US not excepted, faces populist, ethno-nationalist and majoritarian pressures, the India-Pakistan situation is of course specially disquieting because of the nuclear capabilities of the two neighbors involved.

That India is being governed today by Hindu ethno-nationalists who seem to regard the country's minorities—Muslims, Christians and other non-Hindus—as inferior, anti-national, and not deserving of protection, adds to our grave concern.

To the Kashmiris, with whose sorrows we deeply empathize, we say, "Give a thought to the strategies of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." Along with a resolve to find and preserve unity among Kashmiris, strategic, realistic and nonviolent noncooperation with the government of India may prove more helpful than angrier or more desperate reactions.

Salman Ahmad founded the rock band Junoon and is a UN goodwill ambassador on Polio Eradication. He is author of the book Rock & Roll Jihad. He tweets at @sufisal. Rajmohan Gandhi is a historian, serving as Research Professor at the College of Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own.​​​​​

Gandhi's Legacy Was Betrayed By Modi—But It Can Still Be Reclaimed by Kashmiri Peaceful Resistance | Opinion | Opinion
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