|Mushtaq Lasharie makes a point|
by New Worker correspondent
KASHMIRIS living in London last Sunday held a protest march in Whitehall and the next day packed an evening meeting in Portcullis House to mark the 67th anniversary Kashmir’s “Black Day” and to publicise the fight for human rights in Kashmir.
The British Empire in August 1947, reluctantly and after a long and bitter campaign for independence, withdrew its rule from the Indian subcontinent, dividing it first into two nations, India and Pakistan.
India was mainly Hindu and Pakistan mainly Muslim – but thousands of people ended up on the wrong side of the boundaries, leading to bloody strife and refugees pouring across the borders in both directions.
Other than the areas directly under the British rule there were around 565 Princely States, whose lands comprised of two-fifths of the total area of India and a population of 99 million. These princely states were given the authority to decide which of the two newly formed states – India or Pakistan – to join, taking into account factors such as geographical proximity and the wishes of their people.
In the case of a dispute or when a particular state was unable to decide, the question of accession was to be determined by a plebiscite.
The Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir Hari Singh, whose state was situated between the two new countries, could not decide which country to join as he himself was Hindu but 77 per cent of the population of Kashmir consisted of Muslims.
Kashmir’s “Black Day” was 27th October 1947 when the Indian army marched in on the pretext of defending the population from being annexed by Pakistan which led to the first Indo-Pakistani war. It ended with a cease-fire agreement in 1948 that left three fifths of Kashmir in Indian hands.
India promised to hold a referendum to determine the will of the majority but after repeated promises that has never taken place and the Indian government has treated the parts of Kashmir it occupies as one of its own provinces and treats the Muslim community as hostile and dangerous separatists.
So far as it is possible to determine most of the people there would prefer a future as a state independent of both India and Pakistan.
At the meeting in Portcullis House, chaired by Dave Anderson MP and hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Third World Solidarity, speaker after speaker told of the long litany of killings, arbitrary arrests, torture and disappearances inflicted on the Kashmiri people by the Indian authorities.
Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Perry Barr, told the packed meeting room that people in Kashmir, when they leave their homes never know when, or if, they will ever return.
The Indian army is in illegal occupation of Kashmir, just as Israel is in illegal occupation of Palestine; United Nations resolutions have been ignored; promises and pledges for elections have come and gone.
He called for a formal agenda for progress, to raise awareness of the campaign to the same level as the campaign for justice for Palestine.
David Ward, Lib-Dem MP for Bradford East, referred to Kashmir as the forgotten conflict and said he was heartened by newcomers to the campaign. He said the conflict cannot be resolved by military means but must be resolved through a peaceful dialogue.
Abdul Rashid spoke of a litany of atrocities, of disappearances, of people arrested who turned up later dead in the river. And he spoke of India’s claim to be the biggest democracy on the planet. “Then let them behave like a democracy,” he said, “let the people of Kashmir have their civil rights and let them allow international inspectors in.”
Saundra Satterjee, who chairs Third World Solidarity, said the campaign was not anti-Indian but that throughout India Muslim communities were underrepresented at all levels of government.
Other speakers included Lord Hussain of Luton, His Excellency Syed Ibne Abbas, the Pakistani ambassador to Britain and Mushtaq Lasharie, the organiser for the All Party Group on Third World Solidarity.
There were many contributions from the floor from Kashmiris, refugees, with first-hand experience of life under oppression from the Indian army. One described his country as “the largest and most beautiful prison in the world”.