Opinion: Why Westerners Should Care About Kashmir

Danielle Khan

For most Westerners, the word “Kashmir” does not register as a place, but rather a beloved fabric – Cashmere. If Westerners knew about Kashmir, the place, and cherished it as such as the fabric, perhaps the conflict would have been resolved long ago.

But why should Westerners care about Indian-occupied Kashmir? How can they help resolve the conflict? To adequately answer these questions, one must first understand the conflict’s history and contemporary evolution through the lens of human rights and global implications.

Historical Context

In August of 1947, India and Pakistan sought independence from the British and were partitioned into two self-governing countries. Princely states under the British India Empire’s rule thereby had the right to choose whether to accede to India or Pakistan.i As such, Muslim majority states joined Pakistan whilst Hindu majority states aligned with secular India.

During this time, Kashmir (a Muslim majority state) was ruled by the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh, who believed Kashmir should remain independent. However, Muslim subjects along the Western state borders revolted, leading to an intervention of Pashtun tribesmen. Fearful and under pressure, Maharaja Singh signed an Instrument of Accession to India in October 1947 as a temporary solution.ii
This action resulted in the Indo-Pakistan war, as Pakistan claimed the Muslim majority state to be a natural extension of the country, while India sought to confirm the accession. Warfare between the two countries erupted and continued until the United Nations intervened, establishing a cease-fire (line of control) in July 1949 that remains today.iii Kashmiris refer to the Indian side as “Indian-Occupied Kashmir,” citing the occupation that was only intended to be temporary, with the Pakistan side being called “Azad Kashmir” – Azad meaning “Free” in Urdu.

Over the years, the Indian government has committed grave human rights abuses against Kashmiris, leading to an armed struggled between Kashmiri militants and the Indian army. Kashmiris have consistently requested the right to self-determination – a plebiscite that would allow them to decide their future, whether it be independence, to remain with India or accede to Pakistan. India has continuously denied this request, choosing to dehumanize Kashmiris and hinder their rights through violence, torture, unjust arrests, staged encounters, inhumane lockdowns, rape and sexual assault, communications restrictions, and beyond.

Ethnic Cleansing of Kashmiris

Around the world and particularly in the West, the narrative is often shaped around Islamic radicalism. Rarely do you hear about right-wing extremism and its exploitation of Christianity or far-right movements in general. Along those same lines, we certainly hear very little, if at all, about the dangerous rise of Hindu radicalism in India.
Norwegian researcher Eviane Leidig argues that in the 1930s, “Hindu nationalists collaborated with key figures in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to help advance their extreme right-wing projects. One of the

  1. Pioneers of Hindu nationalism, V.D. Savarkar, once wrote that India should model its approach to its “Muslim problem” on that used by the Nazis to deal with their “Jewish problem.”iv Hindutva who follow this RSS ideology “seek to promote the ideals of upholding Indian culture and the values of a civil society while spreading the ideology of Hindutva to strengthen the Hindu community.”v Kashmir is a key target to expand their territorial reach, among other South Asian regions.vi
    According to journalist CJ Werleman’s Hate Crimes Database, hate crimes by Hindutva against Muslims across India and in Kashmir have significantly risen since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected, with religious-based hate crimes surging nearly 30% in the 2014 to 2017 period and then doubling since Modi’s 2019 reelection.vii
    There are many disturbing parallels between the extermination of the Jews by the Nazi regime and what can be considered an ethnic cleansing (genocide) occurring in Kashmir. For instance, without warning on August 5th, 2019, the Hindu BJP government unconstitutionally removed Articles 370 and 35A, which granted Kashmir special autonomous status. Government authorities sent thousands of troops to subdue Kashmiris and blocked their access to internet and mobile phone lines for months. New York Times South Asia bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman states, “India’s Hindu nationalists have wanted to curtail the special freedoms enjoyed by Kashmir…Human rights activists said that the moves to change Kashmir’s status were only the first steps in a broader plan to erode Kashmir’s core rights and seed the area with non-Kashmiris, altering the demographics and eventually destroying its character as previous laws barred outsiders from owning property.”viii
    The Power of Western Diplomacy
    Kashmiri voices continue to be ignored by the international community. They are further silenced by the Indian government’s inhumane tactics, such as the shutdown of Kashmiri activists’ Twitter accounts and imprisonment of journalists. As human rights lawyer Arjun Sethi summed up in one tweet, “India has shown again that is it not the world’s largest democracy, it is the world’s largest authoritarian regime.”
    The unfortunate reality is that the international community is far more likely to listen to Westerners and albeit unfair, it is a strategic way to amplify Kashmiri voices and raise awareness about the conflict. Thus, Westerners can no longer ignore the Kashmir crisis, which has the potential to result in a devastating nuclear war between India and Pakistan with ‘consequences far beyond the borders’.ix
    In fact, Western diplomacy possesses the power to influence foreign policy and advocacy campaigns. Grassroots advocacy in the U.S. can hugely influence policymakers unlike other countries. We witnessed the impact of such efforts in the fall of 2019, when western activists, NGO staff, and the Kashmiri diaspora came together to demand two U.S. Congressional hearings – and it worked.
    Social media has also played a significant role in cultivating the power of Western and “celebrity” diplomacy.
    It took one tweet from singer Rihanna about the recent Indian farmer’s protests to elevate the issue to the international stage, sparking a domino effect of advocacy from other public figures like climate activist Greta Thunberg and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena Harris. Their activism inspired Western fans to follow suit, leading to immense media scrutiny and pressure on India to respond.
  2. And yet, imagine if these Western public figures had tweeted about Kashmir? If they helped their fans learn about the conflict? No one seemed to know or care about Kashmir when it suffered the months long communication ban and lockdown post-August 5th, 2019. If Kashmir received as much attention by westerners as the farmer’s protests have, perhaps we would see the Indian government falter under the growing microscope, resulting in more action to end human rights atrocities in Kashmir and across India.
    One example of the impact activism and pressure by Western activists, in conjunction with the Kashmiri diaspora can have is elucidated by the Biden Administration’s recent actions. Public outrage surrounding brutalities toward Indian farmers and Kashmiris likely inspired the administration to act, leading to President Biden’s alleged unwillingness to speak with Prime Minister Modi unless he restored 4G internet in Kashmir (which Modi did shortly thereafter). Although the restoration of 4G internet does not restore Kashmiri’s dignity, it is a positive step forward and demonstrates that Westerners can help make a difference.
    The Kashmir conflict has endured for far too long. It is time the Western world cares about and understands the ongoing plight of Kashmiris while seeking to amplify their silenced voices. Otherwise, the suffering of Kashmiris and their homeland will continue to fade into darkness – its only consciousness left in the soft fabric, Cashmere.