In 1586, the Mughal imperial army finally entered the valley of Kashmir, after being defeated twice by Kashmiri forces. The Kashmiri emperor, Sultan Yusuf Chak, had already been taken prisoner by Akbar and exiled to what’s now the Indian state of Bihar.
As the Mughal empire consolidated itself in Srinagar, it was met with local resistance during its rule. Noted Kashmiri poet and historian, Zareef Ahmad Zareef, says that this was the first time young Kashmiris started throwing stones at foreign rulers.
He notes that “the resistance was such that the Mughals had to build a wall known as Kalai around their administrative capital called Nagar Nagari in Srinagar.” The stone throwing boys were known as dilawars, bravehearts, who also coined slogans that are still popular in current resistance against the Indian rule.
Former Azad Jammu Kashmir Chief Justice, Mohammad Yousuf Saraf, writes in his Kashmiris Fight for Freedom that the Sikh ruler, Ranjit Singh, banned stone pelting even as a sport due to the fear that it might encourage resistance against the Sikh rulers in Kashmir.
Singh had also barred prayers at Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid and turned it into a horse stable for 20 years. Later, Dogra rulers also continued the ban, as they believed that a congregation of Muslims would be detrimental to their brutal rule over the Kashmiris.
In 1865, a labour revolt was instigated by shawl weavers Zaldagar, Srinagar. They demanded an end to the exploitative tax system. The Dogras gunned down the protesters.
Traveler Baron von Schonberg described Kashmir under the Dogra rule in the following terms: “I have been in many lands but nowhere the conditions of human beings present a more saddening spectacle than in Kashmir.”
British missionary Cecil Earl Tyndale-Biscoe wrote that “if we Britishers had to undergo what the Kashmiris have suffered, we might also have lost our manhood.”
During a public gathering in Srinagar in 1931, organised by the Reading Room Party that comprised of Kashmiri graduates of Aligarh Muslim University and Lahore University, one participant pointed toward the Dogra-era Shergarhi Palace with a stone in his hand and exhorted his fellows to “demolish this edifice of injustice, cruelty and subjugation.” He was arrested and when people gathered outside the Srinagar Central Jail to demand his release, 22 of them were shot dead by the Dogra soldiers.
Since Partition, Kashmiris who find themselves on the eastern side of the Line of Control, have had to deal with the Indian government. Despite unimaginable state violence, they have not relented on their pursuit of self-determination.
The new generation of Kashmiris has taken the struggle to a whole new level. With their voices choked and democratic space restricted – if not abolished – the young and the educated have taken to social media.
They don’t only provide evidence of Indian army’s brutality, but today’s dilawars are not afraid to openly talk about their ordeal, condemn the atrocities, and demand freedom.
The recent video of Farooq Ahmad Dar being used as human shield by the Indian army is an example of how Indian actions are broadcasted directly to the outside world for all to see.
Threatened by these new dynamics, last week the Indian state banned social media websites in Kashmir on the pretext that ‘mischievous elements’ were vitiating the ‘peaceful’ atmosphere.
Yet, this is the same social media where Indian army officers, cricketers, film stars, politicians, journalists and trolls threaten Kashmiris and cheer on Indian policies. No action has even been taken against these elements.
India must understand that it has, militarily and politically, failed to control Kashmir. It has certainly not won any hearts and minds among Kashmiris. Being the resilient and resourceful people they are, Kashmiris are using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to side step the ban and break the media blackout. They will not stay silent.
It is time to start moving toward a tripartite peace process aimed at finding a lasting resolution to the conflict. Ignoring the issue will not make it go away. It is a dispute that can be easily resolved by talks rather than waging a lost war against the people of Kashmir.