India’s government has revoked the special status of Kashmir as an independent area, Al-Jazeera reported. The move has enraged Pakistan officials, likening it to Nazi ideology. Kashmir has been disputed over for 70 years by India and Pakistan.
According to Al-Jazeera, until this month, Kashmir had “the right to its own constitution and autonomy to make laws on all matters, except defense, communication, and foreign affairs.” With India passing restrictive legislation against the Muslim-populated region, Pakistani officials have voiced concerns over religious persecution that may lead to ethnic cleansing, gaining support from China. Two of the three wars fought by India and Pakistan have been over the territory of Kashmir, alluding to the long-standing conflict over its sovereignty and rule.
India under British Rule
“In August 1947, the British Empire withdrew its rule from over South Asia and partitioned its colony into two nations: India in the center and Pakistan—with one wing in the west and the other 1,000 miles away in the east,” said Dr. Michael H. Fisher, the Robert S. Danforth Professor of History at Oberlin College. “While many people in South Asia had long been demanding that the British quit India, the births in 1947 of the separate nations of India and Pakistan were, nonetheless, sudden and traumatic. None of the principal parties—British, Indian, or Pakistani—was really ready for what would take place.”
What led to the sudden and unsteady partition? “Throughout the war, the British demanded great sacrifices from India but provided little in return, other than vague promises for the postwar future,” Dr. Fisher said. “The British government of India loaned some 100 million pounds sterling to the British imperial government—money that Indians had to provide. Plus, the British war effort demanded vast amounts of clothing, equipment, and food from India, taken with little concern for the effects on the Indian economy or people.”
In addition, the British-instigated famine of Bengal in 1943 left three million people to starve to death. The British also imprisoned several ranking members of the Indian National Congress throughout the war, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi. This led to instability in the region, allowing politically left and right organizations to erupt in violent uprisings against one another. Hindu nationalism radicalized local Muslims, and in turn the Muslims—led by Muslim League commander Muhammad Ali Jinnah—gained British support to extricate themselves from perceived Hindu authoritarianism.
After the War
With Hitler’s surrender, Britain found itself with a mess in its lap. Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs in India clashed and argued over which lands would belong to an independent India or Jinnah’s new nation of Pakistan, often along religious lines. Two years later, tensions came to a boil.
“In February 1947, the British appointed Lord Louis Mountbatten as the last Viceroy to oversee the transfer of power,” Dr. Fisher said. “The great-grandson of Queen Victoria and a cousin of the current British king, George VI, Mountbatten immediately moved the projected date of independence ahead by nearly a year to August 1947, just five months after his arrival.”
Mountbatten also told Nehru and Jinnah, both on the official Boundary Commission resolving the nations’ borders, to accept the partitioning of two independent countries out of colonial India. “But desperate fighting had already been going on for months; the result was what would today be called ethnic cleansing, leaving the western wing of Pakistan 97 percent Muslim, with about five million Hindus and Sikhs driven out,” Dr. Fisher said.
It was a messy and hostile affair. “Even years after Partition, the now-independent governments of India and Pakistan searched out in each other’s lands for the 40,000-50,000 women and children who had been abducted and forcibly made part of the family of their abductors,” Dr. Fisher said. “Some had partially reconciled themselves to their new lives, but they were given no choice. Once identified, they were forced to move to their official nation: Muslims to Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs to India.”
Finally, the aftermath of repatriation perpetuated tensions between the two nations. Dr. Fisher said that often, women would return to their home nations to find their family members had died—or survived and were now prejudiced against them, believing the women to be contaminated by life in the opposite land.
Unfortunately, things are little better now. Dr. Fisher noted that “While India is officially secular, there are leading politicians and political parties who question the place of Muslims in today’s India.” That sentiment may have contributed to the legislation against Kashmir.
Dr. Michael H. Fisher contributed to this article. Dr. Fisher is the Robert S. Danforth Professor of History at Oberlin College. He earned his M.A. and his Ph.D. in History with a concentration on South Asia from the University of Chicago. He also holds a B.A. in English from Trinity College.