By Robert Fantina, World BEYOND War, October 2, 2023
Remarks at the Kashmir Institute of International Relations
I’d like to start with the Oxford dictionary definition of settler-colonialism.
“Settler colonialism is an ongoing system of power that perpetuates the genocide and repression of indigenous peoples and cultures. Essentially hegemonic in scope, settler colonialism normalizes the continuous settler occupation, exploiting lands and resources to which indigenous peoples have genealogical relationships. Settler colonialism includes interlocking forms of oppression, including racism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism.”
I would like now to review this definition in its component parts, and see how it defines the current, and decades-long, situation in Kashmir.
- “Settler colonialismis an ongoing system of power that perpetuates the genocide and repression of indigenous peoples and cultures.”
This has been the case in Kashmir since 1948. The United Nations determined, and India agreed, that a plebiscite was to be held, so the people of Kashmir could decide for themselves whether they wanted their nation to become part of Pakistan or part of Kashmir. It is somewhat telling independence was not a choice the U.N. saw fit to offer them.
Since that time, Kashmir has been the most militarily-occupied country in the world. The limited self-government that India granted Kashmir, which abruptly ended in August of 2019, did not prevent constant repression of the people there. Arrests without warrant; indefinite incarceration; beatings, torture, disappearances, rapes – all have been part of the Kashmiri experience at the hands of India for over seven decades.
- “Essentially hegemonic in scope”. India rules and controls Kashmir and Kashmiris, has for decades and that situation worsened with the abrogation of Article 370. The plebiscite guaranteed by the UN has never been allowed; doing so would risk India losing control of Kashmir, and that India will not allow to happen.
- “Settlercolonialism normalizes the continuous settler occupation”.
With the abrogation of Articles 370 and related changes, Indians have been purchasing land in Kashmir, and all the Kashmiri government officials have been replaced with Indians. Immediately following the abrogation, Indian men began posting online of their enthusiasm about marrying Kashmiri women. Journalist and activist Rituparna Chatterjee stated that “Women’s bodies have been battlegrounds for men for centuries. The latest comments on Kashmiri women are only testimony to this fact.”
With the rampant hostility against Muslims by Hindus, the treatment Kashmiri women would receive at the hands of the men now able to live in Kashmir is beyond frightening to consider, but their interest in marrying Kashmiri women helps to normalize the occupation.
- “Exploiting lands and resources to which indigenous peoples have genealogical relationships.”
Kashmiris have lived in the region of Kashmir from time immemorial. For India, it is strategically located, adjacent to India’s ‘enemy’, Pakistan. The fact that Muslim Kashmiri’s have those ‘genealogical relationships’ to the land is meaningless to the racist Indian government. They tell the world, despite the clear evidence to the contrary, that Kashmir is and always has been a part of India.
- “Settler colonialism includes interlocking forms of oppression, including racism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism.” We will look at each of these individually.
- Racism is rampant in Kashmir; the Hindutva movement doesn’t see Muslims as equals, causing untold suffering in mainly-Muslim Kashmir.
In June, 2020, journalist Sudha Ramachandran summarized Hindutva:
“Hindutva is a modern political ideology that views India as a Hindu nation and defines Indian culture in terms of Hindu cultural values. Its goal is to make India a Hindu state. In his 1923 treatise, Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Sarvarkar said that Hindus are the only true Indians as their pitrbhu (fatherland) and punyabhu (holy land) are in India. Muslims and Christians, however, could not be considered Indian as their holy lands were not in India but in ‘far off Arabia or Palestine.’ Sarvarkar’s ideological successor, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, who was one of the founders of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh; an extreme right-wing paramilitary organization) said that the ‘foreign races’ i.e. Muslims and Christians in India ‘must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion … must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or … stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen’s rights.’”
On August 5, 2020, exactly one year after the abrogation, the murderous Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the cornerstone of a Hindu shrine to be built on the site of a 16th century mosque that was destroyed by Hindu extremists 31 years earlier. The occasion, and the date on which it occurred, were certainly intended to send a message to all Muslims within India, and perhaps especially in Kashmir, that they would be granted no rights under Indian governance.
- ‘White supremacy’ in this example of settler-colonialism, doesn’t fit, only because the occupier is Indian, and not, as is so often the case of settler-colonialism, from the Global North. But the concept remains the same; one group oppresses another due to their language, customs, nationality or religion.
- ‘Heteropatriarchy’ certainly plays a role in the occupation of Kashmir as it nearly always does in settler-colonial crimes. Across India, women’s “…access to health services continues to be determined by factors such as where a woman lives, how educated she is, her wealth quintile, and the community she belongs to,” said Sanghamitra Singh, lead for policy and programs at the Population Foundation of India.” This situation is worse in Kashmir.
Rape is a common weapon used by Indian soldiers in Kashmir. A report from
November 25, 2020 from GEO News states the following: “Indian forces have sexually assaulted and gang-raped more than 11,000 women in illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir during the past three decades, according to a report from a local news outlet, which added that another 2,342 women were martyred as well.” Charges are extremely rare, and convictions almost non-existent. And in Kashmir, as in other locations, the rate of rape is most likely underreported, due to the stigma and the general tendency to disbelieve and/or blame the victims.
- “Capitalism”. In May of this year, India hosted a G20 summit in Kashmir, to attempt to show that the country – which it refers to as a part of India – is a stable site for international tourism. Certainly, the landscape is breathtakingly beautiful, and the government of India took measures to assure that that was all the visiting dignitaries from around the world would see. There would be no protests, not because there isn’t extreme dissatisfaction with the Indian government, but because all protest leaders who have not been jailed have been killed; it takes time for new leaders to emerge. And public gatherings of Kashmiris are fraught with danger. People protesting risk being beaten by Indian soldiers, arrested and held indefinitely without charge, or killed. The motorcades of the foreign officials were routed such that they saw only the beauty of the countryside, and not the burned-out buildings, destroyed when Indian soldiers were seeking protest leaders. Yes, these government officials, blinded by the advantages of wealth, power and prestige that their roles provide them, will buy into the Indian narrative of peace and prosperity in Kashmir, and return home and encourage that tourist dollars be spent there.
The Indian government states that the issues it is causing in Kashmir are simply internal problems, of no concern to any other country. This myth contradicts United Nations resolutions that India itself agreed to. Governments that accept Indian officials’ statements that Kashmir is a part of India, ignore international law. They disregard the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a list of thirty (30) articles that outline the basic rights every individual on the planet is entitled to; India violates them all on a daily basis in its treatment of Kashmir and Kashmiris.
Education and advocacy must both be used to liberate the people of Kashmir. But they are insufficient; actions must be taken at ballot boxes around the world, and in the streets. Everyone who believes in human rights and international law, both of which the government of India holds in contempt, must assure that their voices are heard. The Kashmiris speak out under threat of death; we must be their voices.
 Ramachandran, Sudha. “Hindutva Violence in India: Trends and Implications.” Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, vol. 12, no. 4, 2020, pp. 15–20.
 https://www.geo.tv/latest/32054-indian-forces-raped-molested-more-than-11000-women-in-kashmir-kms#:~:text=SRINAGAR%2FKARACHI%3A%20Indian%20forces%20have,women%20were%20martyred%20as%20well. Accessed on February 25, 2021.
 See my book: Settler-Colonialism in Palestine and Kashmir.