Kashmir: India’s Problem Province

By Shelby House

 

In early April, the Indian cricket team competed against the West Indies in the World T20 semifinals. At the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar (part of Indian-administered Kashmir), local Kashmiri students cheered for the West Indies, while the majority of NIT students cheered for Mother India. In no time, violence erupted; police reportedly “thrashed” students with wooden sticks. The NIT incident comes in the wake of riots at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, where three students were arrested on sedition charges for allegedly chanting slogans in favor of Kashmiri independence. Clashes like this are not new; India has historically met Kashmiri discontent with an iron fist. However, the Indian government does not treat all sedition equally. To quell ethnolinguistic division in states like Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, the India state has granted major concessions, even going so far as to create new states for discontented minority groups. India has 29 states, which are provinces with a great deal of political autonomy in order to accommodate India’s wealth of ethnolinguistic diversity. Five states, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka did not exist at the time of Indian independence; these states were created after continued agitations from discontented minority groups.

But why are Kashmiri schisms only met with harsh repression—and why isn’t this strategy working?

Kashmir’s geographic location and religious makeup make the region an important symbolic battleground and flashpoint for the India-Pakistan conflict. World powers such as Russia, the United States, and China, have used Kashmir as a proxy battleground for their own conflicts. With each new conflict, India tightens its grip on Kashmir. Laughably, India also points to the Muslim-majority region to prove its commitment to ‘secularism.’

Pakistan split from India in 1947 due to a movement by the All-India Muslim League to attain religious freedom; the leaders of the Azadi (Independence) Movement held that Muslims could never have true religious equality in a land dominated by Hindus. Currently, India—often called Hindustan—is led by the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose figurehead is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a controversial leader who has been implicated in anti-Muslim riots and violence multiple times. India’s claim to secularism is weak on all fronts—but to use Kashmir, which has been crippled politically by the Indian government since Partition, as a ‘shining example’ of India’s commitment to secularism rings hollow. India’s anxiety about losing Kashmir leads to severely authoritarian policies, which would fail in any Indian state.

Most importantly, Kashmir’s border with Pakistan complicates its relationship to the Indian state. Tamil Nadu and Telangana do not border any other country, so their threats to secede are less practicable; the government could easily crush such a secessionist movement. However, Kashmir’s threats are exponentially more credible and achievable due to its location.

Pakistan has asserted a claim over Kashmir since Partition. In the Pakistani view, Kashmir was always part of the “idea of Pakistan”—the k in the country’s name was meant to represent the state’s inclusion in the new nation. However, in 1947, the majority-Muslim Kashmir was ruled by the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh, who delayed choosing to side with India or Pakistan. During this delay, Pakistan began to inflame Kashmiri rebellions and encroach on Kashmiri territory. Singh requested India’s military aid, and India promised to help only if Kashmir was ceded to India. However, Lord Mountbatten, the last Governor-General of British India who helped facilitate the transfer of power during Partition, promised Singh that the Kashmiri people would be granted self-determination at the conflict’s end. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and leader of the Congress Party, reaffirmed this commitment, but the referendum was never held.

Instead, in the 1950s, the Indian government began systematically robbing Kashmir of the right to self-rule. Furthermore, the Delhi government attempted to micro-manage every aspect of Kashmir’s rule through coercive integrative measures instead of democratic power-sharing. Elections were regularly rigged, Kashmiri-chosen leaders were arrested, and the plebiscite is now nothing more than a pipe dream. According to the renowned South Asianist Sumantra Bose, the Indian government realized “hegemonic control could be sustained only by turning Indian-controlled Kashmir into a draconian police state in which civil rights and political liberties were virtually nonexistent.”

India’s has shamefully governed Kashmir. The region has seen multiple wars and innumerable guerilla conflicts; peace processes have repeatedly failed. India’s weak ideological claim over the state exacerbates these tensions. Kashmir was, indeed, originally meant to be part of Pakistan. However, this option has disappeared. Now, the idea of an independent Kashmir has gained substantial support. However, this concept is also politically impossible and further deepens regional cleavages.

India feels that keeping Muslim-dominated Kashmir proves the nation’s commitment to secularism. However, India’s poor governance of Kashmir does not support this claim, and Indian Muslims still feel antagonized by India. Anti-Kashmiri sentiment often takes on a religious tone. In the cricket clashes at NIT, Indian students held up banners that read “Bharat Mata ki Jai”—“victory for Mother India.” The term “Mother India” has recently been a point of controversy; some Indian Muslims believe that the phrase can be equated with idol-worship, treating India as a deity to be worshipped.

India’s governmental chokehold on Kashmir makes a mockery of ‘secularism,’ further legitimates Pakistan’s claims to the region, and inflames Kashmiri discontentment and insurgencies. If India is incontrovertibly dedicated to keeping Kashmir or politically unable to concede it, the government must grant Kashmir the self-rule and power-sharing which other states enjoy. Kashmir cannot function or flourish as an Indian state if the government intends to keep the state held hostage on political grounds.

Kashmir is a territory divided. Many Kashmiris are Hindu and support India; others have given up on the idea of an independent or Pakistani Kashmir and seek normalcy and democracy under the Indian government. However, large, vocal groups still feel dedicated to Pakistan or the idea of a free, independent Kashmir. By crippling Kashmir, India has only made Kashmiri sedition more reasonable and appealing. If India won’t let go of Kashmir, then Kashmiris deserve the same quality of life and respect from the Indian government that other states enjoy. In turn, many Kashmiri rebellions would fizzle out, because the region would finally have a great deal of autonomy and prosperity. Furthermore, Kashmiris would no longer see themselves as the black sheep of India—which inevitably feels linked to Kashmiri religious identity. Then, perhaps, India could actually claim to uphold secularism and religious pluralism within its borders.

The Rebuilding of Palmyra

By Isabelle Sagraves

 

On March 27, 2016, the ancient city of Palmyra was recaptured from the Islamic State by Syrian forces, but the city that they recaptured was not the same as the city that was lost. After ten months of ISIS occupation, the ancient city and its inhabitants have suffered greatly. Evidence of massacres and torture has been found throughout the city, among the ancient stones and ruins of a past civilization that demonstrated tolerance and diversity. Ironically, its face has been marred by the injustice and cruelty of the Islamic State; yet perhaps through its repair, Palmyra has demonstrated the chance of real cooperation and solidarity in Syria.

Palmyra is a city of exceptional historical significance, and it has existed for millennia. Since its establishment as a major trade city in the second century CE, it has stood as a location of cultural exchange. It has been home to Arabs, Jews, Christians, and Muslims throughout its long and complex history, and it is often described as a home for pluralism and religious tolerance in its heyday. UNESCO writes on their website, “Palmyra was an established caravan oasis when it came under Roman control in the mid-first century AD as part of the Roman province of Syria. It grew steadily in importance as a city on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire, marking the crossroads of several civilizations in the ancient world.” This crossroads is demonstrated in Palmyra’s fascinating and unique architecture and artifacts, which demonstrate Greco-Roman influences mixed with Arabic, Aramaic, and (later) Muslim traditions. Palmyra is currently a UNESCO World Heritage site that includes temples, more than 1000 columns, and a large necropolis.

Today, within the context of ISIS’s advances throughout the Middle East, Palmyra is also important because of its strategic location. Located on a major highway through Syria, Palmyra gives access to a large part of ISIS’s territory, so its recapture has cut off an important route linking ISIS’s heartland to other regions it could potentially move into. The joint attack by Syrian ground forces and Russian air strikes have constituted a significant victory against the Islamic State.

However, during their ten month long occupation of the city, ISIS managed to destroy many of the precious artifacts that UNESCO protects. ISIS adopts a strict interpretation of Sharia law that advocates for the destruction of false idols, which, to them, include historical monuments. Two extremely significant destroyed monuments include the Temple of Baalshamin and Arch of Triumph, both of which date to approximately two thousand years old; many other monuments that have been destroyed were directly linked to the Muslim faith, such as a tomb of one of Muhammad’s cousins. Clearly, however, artifacts were not the only things destroyed during the past ten months: a mass grave has been uncovered with more than forty bodies, including women and children. Evidence of torture has also been found throughout the city, and countless people have fled the city to surrounding regions where they are living as refugees.

Western leaders have been rather quiet in response to this event, perhaps because of their limited involvement in the successful recapture. Contrastingly, Putin has been vocal, and, in a statement, claimed “I hope that this pearl of world civilization, or at least what’s left of it after bandits have held sway there, will be returned to the Syrian people and the entire world.” He has also pledged to fund the rebuilding of the destroyed sites. Additionally, many archaeologists and other historians around the world have taken this situation and used it to advocate for cooperation in the reconstruction process, perhaps a cooperation that could symbolize a united and strong anti-ISIS front. Maamoun Abdulkarim, the Syrian antiquities chief, claimed that the rebuilding of these destroyed sites could constitute a “message of anti-terror”.

The importance of Palmyra as a symbolic location cannot be underestimated. ISIS used it as an effective symbol as its ruined buildings served as the backdrop for many propaganda messages. The anti-ISIS forces can also harness the symbolism behind Palmyra through the rebuilding process. The rebuilding of Palmyra can be used as a powerful demonstration of cooperation and solidarity against the Islamic State, but it also has the potential to become propaganda for Putin or Assad if they are the only ones involved. In this way, it may become important for Western countries to speak up about this event and to asist in the reconstruction of an ancient city that once symbolized a vibrant community of coexistence and tolerance.

A Scandal of Olympic-Sized Proportions

By Adithya Sivakumar

 

As the world closely watches chaos unfold in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, another nation in the bottom half of the hemispheres is grappling with crises involving its elected officials: Brazil. Slated to host the Summer Olympics later this year, Brazil has already been swamped with concerns about the environment for visitors, especially with the prevalence of the Zika virus. However, a new problem of political instability could lead to massive negative effects on the Brazilian economy and major events such as the Olympics.

The current president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was elected in 2011 to oversee a booming economy after the popular presidency of her mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva (Lula).  As the first female president of the Latin American nation,  she  is known as having a hard line on corruption, even removing six of her own cabinet members due to graft allegations. Her effective management of the government has won her praise from various sectors of the public.

Her honeymoon stage with the public’s opinion, however, began to see its end in late 2014,  when details of a massive corruption scandal involving Brazil’s state-owned energy company, Petrobas, were released. The premise of the scandal was that government officials enjoyed massive kickbacks from the energy company in exchange for contracts, a process that largely happened in Rousseff’s oversight of the company as head of board of directors. At first, it appeared Rousseff was safe from any real attempt at impeachment, as the Senate found her to be clear of benefiting personally from any of the aforementioned exchanges.

In early 2015, the scandal became even worse, engulfing politicians across party lines and those in Rousseff’s inner circle, which exacerbated the force against the President who was also facing high unemployment rates and a stagnant economy. Demonstrations ranging in the millions have been organized to protest the government, and Rousseff’s approval rating has dropped to abysmal levels. More arrests of senior figures began to cause Rousseff’s walls around her to slowly collapse, and the threat of impeachment was slowly becoming more viable which each new development in the scandal and products of the economic recession.

Then, after months of back-and–forth discussion, impeachment proceedings finally began against Rousseff in late 2015, and not even due directly to the Petrobas scandal; in fact, she was indicted based on possibly doctoring accounting to hide the extent of deficit in her reelection campaign. Additionally, the impeachment was approved by the speaker of the lower house, who himself was facing corruption charges from the Petrobas scandal, which may have given him political impetus to impeach Rousseff or fall just like countless politicians around him.

Interestingly, dissent against Rousseff mainly stems from the middle class, white, and privileged segments of society, not necessarily the poorer, less white segments. This divide may stem from the fact that Rousseff and her left-wing party pushed for relief for poorer Brazilians, which may have caused a loyalty among these segments toward Rousseff’s party. Nevertheless, the segments on the street have played a large role in pressuring lawmakers to do something about Rousseff, indicating the power these privileged groups hold in Brazilian elections.

Unfortunately for Rousseff, even with this group’s backing, her position in the government hit a new low in the past week. The earlier impeachment charges had died out, indicating that Rousseff could escape the imminent threat of dismissal. However, once Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor Lula was put under investigation for corruption, alarm bells went off for the Brazilian public who knew the two worked in conjunction. Their fears appeared to be realized when, in a surprise appointment, Rousseff appointed Lula to the chief of staff position in her cabinet. Subsequently, a judge heading the Petrobas scandal investigation released a phone call between Lula and Rousseff that implies that the appointment was to put Lula out of prosecutors’ reach; this is due to the stipulation that cabinet members can only be tried by the Supreme Court, not prosecutors like those heading the Petrobas scandal investigation. After the release of these calls, many Brazilians once again took to the streets, demanding Rousseff’s ouster. Impeachment proceedings were opened again, and a Supreme Court judge blocked Lula’s appointment due to the contents of the phone call. At this juncture, Rousseff has walked into what appears an inevitable demise. Her ruling coalition does not appear to be able to defeat a move for impeachment in the lower house, which would lead to near-certain conviction in the senate.

Despite the political upheaval that is likely to come about due to these developments, Brazil hosts a whole barrage of other issues, especially the new onset of the Zika virus. Many towns are unable to control the virus due to the lack of funding for medicine and prevention, a condition that is widely blamed on the recession. And with the eyes of the world already upon Brazil due to the Summer Olympics, it appears that without a change in governmental policy, instability will be the word of the year in Latin America’s most populous nation.