The Expelled and the Excluded: Kashmiris Under India’s New Citizenship Laws

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In Kashmir, the state of emergency is quite literally permanent. Indian legislation, from the 1953 “Presidential order” to the 2019 “Reorganization Bill” have been organizing the settler-colonial land dispossession, as well as the severe repression of Kashmiri revolts. 

Article published in The Funambulist 29 (May-June 2020) States of Emergency. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

Let nothing be called natural 
In an age of bloody confusion, 
Ordered disorder, planned caprice, 
And dehumanized humanity, lest all things 
Be held unalterable!
Bertolt Brecht, The Exception and the Rule (1937).

In 2004, news spread in Kashmiri villages along the India-Pakistan border, ominously called the “Line of Control,” that “Divided Kashmiris” were gathering across the banks of Neelam river that runs almost parallel to the border. A ceasefire in the years-old pattern of artillery exchanges between Indian and Pakistani forces had unexpectedly opened this moment. With the roaring river between them, dozens of families looked across earnestly trying to identify their long-separated kin. But they were nervous, for things could quickly take an ugly turn. As one of the world’s most militarized borders — which, for all practical purposes, is a 460-mile-long zone of impunious killing — a simple misunderstanding between the militaries closely watching from their bunkers could trigger a massacre. Yet, for these families — traumatized by a history of ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, and incessant Indian military assaults — this moment to see each other, even from a distance, had arrived after too many years to be missed. 

Junaid Funambulist (1)
Indian police officers involved in a counterinsurrection operation in Anantnag on June 16, 2018. / Photo by Umar Fayaz Dhobi.

An Associated Press photojournalist captured the poignancy of the moment in several videos showing people sobbing and consoling each other. They spoke loudly, but the river drowned their voices. They simulated hugs and kisses. Some lifted newly-born children over their heads to share family news. Others, following Kashmiri tradition, sought to rekindle kinship ties by exchanging bags full of dried almonds — except, the bags flung over the roily waters never reached the opposite bank. The moment didn’t last long. After half-hearted attempts to allow divided Kashmiri families to meet, Indian forces restarted shelling and raiding what they claimed were “terror pads,” but which were, in reality, no more than Kashmiri villages, many with refugees from Indian-controlled Kashmir systematically expelled over the previous decades. Especially since Narendra Modi-led BJP came to power in India in 2014, attacks on Kashmiri villages across the Line of Control increased in frequency and intensity. A past-master at igniting Hindu nationalist passions using spectacular violence against Muslims, Modi projected the assaults as proud achievements of a “New India,” the unabashedly bullying avatar of India.