The principle of self-determination is considered a fundamental human right in the current decade, and while the privileged often take this right for granted, it must be remembered that it was not always regarded as a fundamental human privilege. Less than a hundred years ago, much of Southeast Asia and Africa had been colonized by Europe, and while the colonizers have retreated since, some indigenous populations continue to toil against a new set of colonizers in a slightly different garb.
The people of Kashmir are still yet to undergo the process of decolonization. The BJP government in India has now adorned the garb of the neo-colonizer. In the revocation of the special status which Article 370 granted the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir, it has the malevolent intentions to change the region’s demography to undermine the will of the indigenous people.
Since the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the Kashmir issue has remained at the central front in determining diplomatic relations between both countries. It has also remained a source of much conflict and unrest amongst the populace of all parties involved. While the UNSC resolutions have promised a fair plebiscite to be held, new complications have arisen since.
It was specifically Article 35-A, which protected the property rights of people in IOK. However, the government of BJP and its ultra-nationalist agenda has endangered the rights of the Kashmiris, and the intentions of this malicious agenda is clear to deliberately change the demographics of Kashmir so that it would become impossible to hold an impartial referendum in the future.
The concept of self-determination emerged from Rosseau and John Locke’s political theories, which ultimately led to the French & American Revolution, respectively. On these grounds, the UN formulated and recognized the efforts of indigenous movements in gaining independence from 1960 onwards. The Kashmiri people, therefore, are simply advocating a globally agreed-upon cause in the face of military tyranny and human rights violations posed by India in their territory.
For innocent civilians in Indian-Occupied Kashmir, stringent laws and state-sponsored genocide is a harsh reality. However, it is remarkable that they have kept up a strong resistance movement over three generations. This is why the state has now reverted to more malicious means of stomping down the resistance by changing the socio-cultural identity within Kashmir itself. This threatens not only a resistance movement but also a unique ethnic and cultural identity that cannot be replicated.
The efforts to change the demographics of the state of Kashmir are not novel. In 1947, the state had a Muslim population of 72.40%; however, a 2011 census by India showed that the Muslim population had decreased to 68.27%. The premeditated ill intentions towards the people of Kashmir can be traced back to Dogra rule when a massacre against the population took place, which significantly reduced Muslim numbers.
The people of Kashmir have been fighting against forces that aim to eradicate their very existence for centuries. The “selling” of Kashmir by the British colonizers to Dogra rulers in itself shows a grave injustice to the indigenous people who were treated as mere tangible objects rather than human beings, and their right to choose their political fate was disregarded.
Ever since the revocation of Article 370 and Article 35A, IOK has been under a blackout with no real access to the outside world. Simultaneously, local political figures are arrested and released without real reason simply on the whim of the occupying state. If local voices that advocate for the goodwill of the people continue to be suppressed, a grave future threatens the peace and stability of the region.
Resolving conflict on a tri-junction such as this is rooted in problems of its own. India’s continued use of heavy firearms on civilians and its uncontrolled grip on the region contribute to escalating tensions. This reality, paired with the use of illicit means such as changing the demographics of the region to promote a certain political agenda, is only exacerbating the conflict.
The only way forward is that the United Nations takes active action in implementing its resolutions in Kashmir. A third-party mediation may prove more fruitful in voicing and safeguarding the best interests of the people of Kashmir since bi-lateral attempts at resolution have not been successful for decades.
It is paramount that both countries put the prosperity and stability of the Southeast Asian region at forefront priority while attempting to reach a resolution to the Kashmir conflict. The stability of the region will only be ensured if the Kashmiri people are given their right to self-determination and their right to political will. The decolonization of previously occupied countries will remain only a battle half-won if Kashmir is not added to the list of emancipated regions.