The history of Palestinian and Kashmiri political conflict is similar in many ways. The territories are claimed by Israel and India, respectively, who make the claim based on historical antecedents. These similarities have strengthened the feeling of solidarity between the people of both territories, which have also been deepened further with the advent of social media platforms and the easy access to information. Besides the similarity of both causes, the statue of Palestine in the Muslim World and the struggle of Palestinians have a bearing on the conflict in Kashmir.
The recent air strikes by the Israeli air force on Gaza and its aftermath have shocked many and have reignited a polarized debate around the Israel-Palestine conflict. As the death toll in Gaza rose, governments, activist groups, and celebrities expressed their condemnations. Some took their activism to social media platforms. Others marched on the streets.
For Ghulam Qadir Lone, a farmer residing in “Indian administered Kashmir,” the conflict located thousands of miles from his home remains personal.
After the terrible summer morning of July 19, 2014, when Israeli fighter planes pounded Gaza, Lone, who is in his early 60s, has barely missed any news concerning Palestine. That morning, Lone asked his 16-year-old son, Suhail Ahmad, to fetch medicine for him from nearby Qaimoh village, a small hamlet in South Kashmir – an area that has become in the last decade a hotbed for a strong anti-India militant activity. “Obedient as always, he quickly grabbed the prescription. Took a quick shower and left to buy the medicine,” recalled Lone.
Around that time, hundreds of people had assembled in Khudwani, a neighboring village which Ahmed had to pass through. They were protesting the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, during which scores of children had been killed. However, protest gatherings in Kashmir have never been taken lightly by the Indian authorities, as often such demonstration for Palestine would turn into anti-India marches. As Ahmad became part of the gathering, Indian police arrived and fired live ammunition to disperse the crowd. People fled for safety, but Ahmad couldn’t. He was lifeless on the ground drenched in his own blood after a bullet lodged in his abdomen.
Lone, who had just finished his afternoon prayer, received the news of the death of his son through eyewitnesses. Before he could make a move, a few people brought the corpse to the village and hundreds rallied behind them, mourning the child.
“Whenever something happens in Palestine, it reminds me of my son,” said Lone, while narrating the events of the fateful day and pointing to a photo of Ahmad hanging on the wall behind him. “Many young lads have been martyred in Kashmir over the years. My son is among one of them,” he added.
Kashmir’s contested legacy
Kashmir, often referred to as “Switzerland of the East,” is divided among three major nuclear powers of Asia – China, Pakistan, and India, with the latter controlling the majority of the area known as “Indian Administered Kashmir.” The contested Himalayan region has entered its 32nd year of an anti-India militancy. The current lot of militants is far more inferior in comparison to their predecessors when it comes to their military capabilities. According to Indian official estimates, there are less than 300 insurgents active in the disputed region, the most of whom are locals with no guerrilla training.
Despite the militants’ relatively inadequate military training and lack of arms and weapons, the advent of social media has resurrected anti-Delhi militancy, and inspired and attracted teenagers into the insurgent ranks, lending the militancy a boost. These recent developments have led Indian military forces to renew their crackdowns on the region.
In February 2019, a deadly suicide bombing by a young Kashmiri brought India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, to the brink of war. The bombing claimed lives of 40 Indian paramilitary forces. A few days later, Indian air force claimed to have carried out an aerial bombing of a militant camp in Pakistan. On the next day, Pakistani air forces retaliated capturing an Indian pilot.
While the borders between the two nations remained tense, a massive crackdown was launched on pro-Independence and groups espousing for Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. In August 2019, Indian government stripped the region of its autonomy and annulled laws that barred non-residents from buying land in the restive region. Scores of pro-India politicians as well as those belonging to the pro-Independence and Pro-Pakistan camps were detained and booked under various laws of Indian Penal Code. A communication blackout was enforced along with stringent restrictions of civilian movement. When Delhi seized direct control of Kashmir, the last remnants of the region’s autonomy collapsed overnight, including the collapse of legislation that safeguarded ethnic Kashmiris and their property ownership rights.
Scholars Goldie Osuri and Athar Zia (2020) observed that the J&K Land Reorganization Act – which took effect on October 31, 2019 and allows for the sale of Kashmir to all Indians for ostensibly developmental reasons, based on an old Hindutva vision of a demographic change, or ethnic cleansing, from Kashmiri to non-Kashmiri, from Muslim to Hindu – is just like the legal restrictions embedded in demographic biopolitics and spatial geopolitics operationalized in Palestine since the early stages of the settler colonial Zionist enterprise, which included revocation of residency, and seizure, and destruction of land and property (1).
Over the course of two years, the Indian authorities put a stop to all political activities and imposed strict measures to prevent any possible protests, including all Muslim religious gatherings or demonstrations in support of Palestinians, as these events were frequently used to express anti-India sentiment.
The Palestinian struggle for the end of Israeli occupation has always resonated with Kashmiris, who naturally associate with Palestinians out of compassion as well as a shared sense of dispossession and disempowerment. This is well recognised by Delhi, which has ensured that expression of such solidarity is dealt with harshly.
Thus, it didn’t come as a surprise to many when the Indian police announced that it will not allow any form of solidarity protests held for Palestine in Kashmir and deemed any such demonstrations as an attempt “to engineer and incite violence on streets” in the disputed valley.
As many as 21 Kashmiris, including a young artist, were arrested and interrogated in May for participating in a rally against Israel’s recent attack on occupied Palestinian territory. The detainees, according to police, were released only after being “counselled,” but not before widespread outrage of their detention on social media.
Artist Mudasir Gul was among those detained. Gul, who operates a small studio and tutoring centre in Srinagar, Kashmir’s capital, painted “We Are Palestine” on May 15. However, Indian authorities stormed the site hours after Gul finished painting the pro-Palestine mural and forced him to spread black paint over it before detaining him.
“I felt it was my responsibility to protest for Palestine,” said Gul, who is in early 30’s. “We Muslims are like one body and if one part is injured, it hurts the entire body.” Gul says that the horrific pictures of kids getting killed due to Israeli bombing prompted him to resist it through his art. However, after spending three days in police custody, Gul says: “It is not possible to do much now”.
“Palestine is close to our heart,” said Gul. “I might do abstract art for Palestine but making a graffiti and openly protesting for this cause has been criminalized here.”
While for Gul the cost of standing with Palestine might have been raised by several notches by the security and civil establishment in Kashmir, the region as the whole, and among the youth in particular, are far from giving up on the Palestinian cause or that of Kashmir. The reason is in the histories of the two places and decisions taken 100 years apart.
A long history of solidarity
According to Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who has an expertise in international law and head of Kashmir Law College, there are definitive parallels between Palestine and Kashmir, especially because both regions “were being claimed” and through this shared sense of identity loss. This has prompted solidarity between the people of these two regions.
Dr. Hussain accentuates: “In 1919 formal acquisition of Palestinians properties was introduced and 100 years later similar moves were ushered in by the government of India’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status allowing non-state residents to buy property here. But for Kashmiri people standing in support of Palestinian rights is neither surprising nor new”.
The Kashmir-based political commemorator highlighted that during the six-day war in 1967, just like rest of the Muslim world, Kashmiris also felt a sense of humiliation. The occupation of parts of Jerusalem led to some demonstrations against Israel in the Kashmir valley. But in 1969, when an Australian citizen allegedly burnt the Al Aqsa Mosque, there were massive demonstrations. “In fact, some tourists were also attacked violently. The tourists were flogged with nettle and others were rubbed with wild berry seeds that caused a burning sensation on the skin,” Dr. Hussain added.
Echoing similar emotions on how the older generations of Kashmir felt vis-á-vis Palestine, Ghulam Hassan, a businessman from Srinagar city in his 60s, also noted that Kashmiris see support for Palestine as part of their faith. Hassan added: “When people in Sheikh Jarrah were being thrown out of their homes, I could feel pain and was glued to TV to get the updates and prayed for their victory.”
The 2008 street protest, which erupted in Kashmir valley over the transfer of local land to a non-resident Hindu body, were especially significant as the youth participating in the demonstrations were said to be heavily influenced by the Palestinian intifadas. According to local police, although stone pelting protests were common occurring in the valley, the international press, as well as the Kashmiri, immediately drew parallels of these protests with Palestinian intifada. A police officer told me that with the advent of social media the “solidarity between Kashmiris and Palestinians has been on the rise and is becoming more evident since the last two years”.
The officer added: “There is clearly a greater understanding between the two peoples, something that did not exist a lot, owing to the pro-Palestine position India has taken in the past.”
In the past India has maintained that it stands for what it referred to as “just Palestinian cause,” despite also maintaining diplomatic and military ties with Israel. But this time, something might have changed. Last month India abstained on a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council proposing to establish a Commission of Inquiry into violations surrounding the latest violence in Gaza. India also dropped its stock phrase of strong support to the “just Palestinian cause” in its statement at the UNHRC on May 27.
Palestinian researcher Abdulla Moaswes, who is currently pursuing his doctorate from University of Exeter, believes that not only has the “duplicity of India’s position become more and more clear” but there is a growing sense “of knowing, understanding, and responding to the interconnections between Palestine and Kashmir”. “The sharing of technology, tactics, discourses and logics between the Indian and Israeli colonial occupations is well-documented and hugely impactful, as are the diplomatic and economic networks that tie India and Israel to broader, more transnational structures and contestations,” said Moaswes.
The Palestinian scholar also shared that he has heard stories of Kashmir being mentioned in Palestinian classrooms as an analogous struggle to Palestine. Moaswes noted that Palestinians are very appreciative for the solidarity that comes from Kashmir, and most Palestinians do in some sense understand the colonization of Kashmir. “They (Palestinians) know enough to know that Kashmir is under an occupation that is illegitimate in the eyes of its residents and that they are fighting a just and important freedom struggle,” he added.
Shared political history, struggle, and religious feelings have prompted Palestinian solidarity among the Kashmiris. That the lived experiences on both sides are available as never before has only enhanced mutual support for each other’s political concerns, enabling individuals from these lands to connect and share their horrid living experiences. The disempowered people of Kashmir and Palestine probably sense that more than merely their difficulties and resistance is shared, but that their political future is too.
- Osuri, G., and Zia, A., “Kashmir and Palestine: Archives of Coloniality and Solidarity,” Identities, 2020.
This article is based on Azaan Javaid’s interviews with Kashmir artist, Mudasir Gul, with Kashmiri law expert Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, with a senior police official in Kashmir, and with Palestinian scholar Abdulla Moaswes.