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Crisis in Kashmir

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Many people in our communities here in Sheffield are agonising over the future of their loved ones in Kashmir.

Most of the Pakistanis in Sheffield and the UK have relatives or friends in Kashmir. It's an area as delightful as the Peak District. There are 12 million people spread across lush countryside ten times the size of Wales. But Kashmir is experiencing a very tense time.

When the British Empire left India, it put a border across Kashmir, separating the Muslims on the Pakistan side from the Hindus on the Indian side. Communities shifted as the wall went up. And so the soldiers and militants of Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir have been killing themselves and others, martyrs to the cause of a British-made border, since 1949.

No-one seems able to stop the violence. Tens of thousands of people have been killed. To complicate matters, opinion is divided into three. Some look to India, many Muslims look to Pakistan, and a substantial third view is that Kashmir was - and should be again - an independent state.

With boundaries largely based on religion, instead of sharing and getting along, Kashmiris have suffered years of violence and fear of a rival mindset across the border. There have been wars, attacks, protests, curfews, reports of torture and times of relative peace. It took six decades, until 2008, for India and Pakistan to finally re-open a trade route across the 'Line of Control'.

Borders are only a recent invention and a perfect world would not separate communities. This particular divide-and-rule trick played out as the British Empire was replaced by the Commonwealth. Kashmir is located between India, Pakistan and China. It has what militaristic British leaders could dismiss as border skirmishes - except the rivals have nuclear weapons.

Keep an eye on news from Kashmir

Hindu nationalism is rising in India. Prime Minister Modi is a demagogue with the same bombastic attitude as Donald Trump. He was banned from the UK for ten years in relation to the Gujarat Massacre of more than 2,000 Muslims, for which many hold him complicit.

In August 2019, Modi seized the Indian-administered side, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, for the Indian state, imposing a lockdown and removing the rights of residents instantly. Activists and politicians were arrested before the clampdown. Then silence.

The blackout continued for weeks. Internet, phone lines and travel routes were cut. Pakistan reacted by suspending the last remaining rail link to India. Mobile services were offline for 72 days until October of this year, but internet services remained down after that and many businesses stayed closed. Some protests turned violent.

The Indian government revoked Kashmir's special status under the constitution's Article 370, which gave certain rights of property ownership, education and jobs to Kashmir residents. India has now declared Kashmir a 'union territory' with far less autonomy than states. Modi said that stripping autonomy would bring stability and development to the region by integrating it into India. To many Kashmiris, this is an another occupation - another Palestine.

At this tense time, please keep an eye on news from Kashmir. If you have neighbours or friends from Pakistan, why not have a conversation with them? It would be appropriate to start with the Muslim greeting 'As-Salamu Alaykum', which means, 'Peace be upon you'.

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