In reality, cashmere belongs to whom

Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic World

You could almost think to be somewhere in the Alps, the mountains, meadows and water are so reminiscent of a Swiss alpine pasture. A few streams have to be crossed, white flowers sprout at their edges. Then a fallen tree blocks the path and prompts you to climb. An idyll, almost too good to be true.

“If there should be paradise on earth, then it is here, here, here” - this famous verse, which the Indian poet Amir Chusro wrote about Kashmir, is particularly popular with the people of the Kashmir Valley. But Kashmir is not only a paradise, but also the region that has been the bone of contention between the two archenemies India and Pakistan for decades. Two of the three wars that the neighbors waged against each other were about Kashmir. Today part of Kashmir is ruled by Pakistan, while the rest of the rest is owned by India. Both countries, however, claim cashmere entirely for themselves.

During this nature walk near Gulmarg, too, the political reality suddenly emerges, as is often the case in Kashmir: I meet Hamid and Arif, just sixteen, casually dressed teenagers in hoodies, on an excursion into the mountains without their parents. For the photo with the mobile phone camera, Arif pulls on his hood, puts tinted sunglasses on his nose and extends his hand like a hip-hopper.

After a few minutes of exchange, the conversation drifts into politics, it is about the situation in the Kashmir Valley and the displeasure of the Kashmiris with the Indian government. Hamid soon tells of street fighting in his hometown of Sopur, which is a few dozen kilometers away from the “Line of Control”, the UN armistice line that has divided Kashmir into an Indian and a Pakistani part since 1949. He and his friends have thrown stones at the Indian soldiers several times. That went well for a long time. But one day the military responded with bullets and shot Hamid's brother Mudassir.

"Kashmiri Intifada"

Hamid now calls his brother “Shahid”, the martyr. He was a great football player and was even invited to a tournament in New York. Hamid was also shot while throwing stones. He rolls up his pants and proudly points to the gunshot wound on his leg.

Hamid's brother is one of thousands of Kashmiris who have perished in the “Kashmiri Intifada”, that is, in fighting with the Indian military, over the past three decades. Since the 1990s, Kashmir has been the scene of a guerrilla war between separatists and the Indian military, in the course of which Kashmir was transformed into one of the most militarized areas in the world.

The roots of the messy situation in Kashmir can be found in the troubled transition phase after Indian independence in 1947: At that time, local rulers were asked to join their territories in the Indian Union. Originally, Prince Hari Singh, whose dynasty the Dogris Kashmir had ruled for one hundred years, wanted to gain independence for the region. But when Pakistani tribal fighters tried to take Kashmir, he agreed to join the newly founded state of India. With the incorporation of Kashmir in October 1947, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution established Kashmir's special status within the Indian Union.

Far-reaching autonomy rights

On August 5th, Modi's government canceled this very article by presidential decree. Article 370 granted Kashmir extensive rights of autonomy. In addition to the right of the Kashmiris to have their own flag, Article 370 gave Kashmiris the power to pass their own laws outside of the Indian constitution, except in matters of defense, communication and foreign policy. The section also included a ban on non-Kashmiris from buying property in the state.

During the polarizing BJP election campaign leading up to the presidential elections in May, which was often directed against India's Muslim minority, Modi announced that he wanted to lift Kashmir's special status - a promise that was well received by his loyal Hindu electorate and has now been kept.