Krishan Dev Sethi on his political life in Kashmir

From Hard News: “Kashmiriat and the ‘illusion’ of Kashmiri independence

“I was born in Mirpur, in what is now Pakistan-administered Kashmir, in 1925. As a child I saw the terrible oppression of people in my area under the Dogra raj and I felt impelled to do something about it. So in 1940, when the National Conference (NC) held its first session in Baramulla, I went there, and that’s how I began my political journey. It was not that the formation of the NC was the first stirring of revolt against the Dogra raj in Mirpur. The Mirpuris had a long history of resistance and rebellion long before that. When the Dogra ruler, Gulab Singh, took over Mirpur, the Mirpuris, led by local rajas, staged several revolts, which were cruelly crushed. Raja Sultan Khan of Bhimber, a Chibb Rajput, was captured, brutally tortured and blinded. He died in prison. The Gakkhar Rajputs of Mirpur and the Mangral Rajputs in Kotli also rose up in revolt. So did several others. Although these local resistance movements were forcibly put down, the fires of revolt continued to simmer, as the Mirpuris regarded the Dogra rulers as oppressive foreigners and invaders and they hated them.”

“As a child, I grew up with an awareness of the cruel exploitation of the peasantry by landlords, moneylenders and the Dogra officials. They were subjected to heavy taxation and were forced into “begari” or compulsory, unpaid labour for the Dogra officials. The moneylenders in Mirpur were mainly Hindus, while the landlords were both Hindus and Muslims, the former being mostly moneylenders who had become landlords through usury. More than 90 per cent of the people in our area were Muslims.”

“This was a time of momentous political changes. Hindus and Sikhs in the part
of the state that had come under Pakistani rule were subjected to brutal murders and mass exodus, Muslims in the Jammu province faced a similar fate with several thousands of them being slaughtered by mobs led by the Sanghis — RSS and Hindu Mahasabha elements — and abetted by the maharaja’s forces. Many more were forced to flee to Pakistan. The Akhnoor, Ranbirsinghpura and lower Samba areas had a Muslim majority but they were almost completely eliminated. So, too, was Jammu town. One of the first tasks before us was to instill a sense of security among the few Muslims who remained in Jammu. For this my colleagues and I were falsely accused of being Pakistani agents, just because we tried to rehabilitate these Muslims instead of asking them to migrate to Pakistan. I was arrested on this fake charge and was released only when Sheikh Abdullah put pressure on Nehru.”

“In theory, an independent federal state seems to be the best solution. But this is easier said than done. This requires the consensus of all the nationalities, which is not easy to secure.”

“Do you think that India and Pakistan would ever agree to an independent federation of J&K?

Frankly, I don’t think both countries will. Even Pakistan, which keeps talking about freedom for J&K, is basically hostile to the idea. After all, Islamabad is only a few miles from the border of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and if J&K becomes independent, Pakistan would find the international border too close to its capital. Pakistan’s economy depends on the rivers that flow into it from the part of Kashmir that it controls. I have discovered  during my recent three trips that many people in Pakistan-administered J&K genuinely seek independence.”

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