On Friday, March 29, News Editor Emma Burris and Staff Writer Viviana Pereyó attended a teach-in on the shared histories of Palestine and Kashmir. 

As CU Palestinian Solidarity Month came to a close, student groups and guest speakers gathered to hold a teach-in titled “The Aftermath of Partition: Understanding the Occupations of Kashmir and Palestine.” This event was sponsored by the Qalam Pakistan Initiative, an academic project spurred by Columbia’s History Department and Center for Study of Muslim Societies. Student groups collaborated with the Initiative to put on the event, including activist group Columbia AAPI Interboard, South Asian cultural group the Sapna Project, and the South Asian Feminisms Alliance

The teach-in featured various guest speakers from Columbia and beyond. Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, an architectural historian and Barnard Architecture professor, began the event with a presentation on the process of partitioning, or the division of previously-unified land into multiple parts. Siddiqi discussed how while partitioning is a system of territorial distribution, it’s based on “artificial political divisions” as opposed to purely land. She discussed how many nations were built out of partitioning and intended to create a homogeneous state along the lines of religion, ethnicity, or language. Partitioning didn’t occur just because politicians drew a line through a map or were fueled by historic grievances, Siddiqi emphasized. “Partition was a process,” she stated, “carried out through governmental orders and building programs… in the attempt to resolve political uncertainty.” 

After Siddiqi’s opening presentation, she introduced two guest speakers for a moderated conversation. The panel featured South African journalist and author Azad Essa, who is currently a reporter for Middle East Eye and used to work for Al Jazeera English. Azad Essa’s book, Hostile Homelands: The New Alliance Between India and Israel, was available for sale after the event. Lafayette College South Asian History professor Hafsa Kanjwal was also a panelist for the event. Kanjwal’s book, Colonizing Kashmir: State Building Under Indian Occupation, was also available for purchase after the event. 

Siddiqi moderated a discussion between Essa and Kanjwal based on questions asked by audience members. Friday’s discussion began with a question read by Siddiqi asking Essa and Kanjwal to speak on the historical connections between Kashmir and Palestine in their research. Kanjwal started the conversation, stating that Kashmir and Palestine were both partitioned in a time of decolonization. While many nations were gaining independence from colonial powers, Kashmir and Palestine were both partitioned in 1947. 

Despite this similarity, Kanjwal emphasized the differences between the contexts regarding their partitioning. After the British Raj ended in 1947, the region split into India and Pakistan, in which the majority of citizens were Hindu or Muslim, respectively. Kashmir was left a disputed territory with a Muslim-majority population and a Hindu ruler. Ultimately, the area was split between India, Pakistan, and China, as the Indian National Congress couldn’t come to an agreement about how the territory would be split. Palestine, Kanjwal remarked, was instead partitioned due to settler colonialism. 

Essa expanded on Kanjwal’s words, stating that both Kashmir and Palestine have been subject to an “us versus them” mentality. Ethno-nationalism was a tool used by both India and Israel, with a Hindu versus Muslim mentality in Kashmir and a Jewish versus Palestinian state mentality in Palestine. Essa attested that both India and Israel used a colonial approach against Kashmir and Palestine, respectively, using surveillance and collective punishment. He highlighted farmers’ protests in India earlier this year where Indian police forces used drones to expel tear gas as a form of crowd control, a tactic that he claimed India picked up from Israel’s use of tear gas on protesters as a means to maintain law and order. Siddiqi agreed with this point, stating that the two nations share many “contagious practice[s].” 

The panelists then discussed the next audience member’s question, who asked: “How might you think about the forced displacements or feelings of belonging? How are they translated differently for Palestinians and South Asians?… How have they created solidarities? How have they affected each other?” Essa began, discussing how partitioning changes landscapes, creates generational trauma, and ignites a nostalgic longing for life pre-partition, even for those who never experienced it. 

Kanjwal spoke next, giving a historical account of Kashmir’s partitioning. She stated how Dogra Maharaja Hari Singh oversaw a massacre and ethnic cleansing of over 250,000 Muslims, causing another group of over 250,000 refugees to flee to Pakistan. Kanjwal attested how this significantly altered what was once a majority Muslim region, changing it into a majority Hindu region. She continued, stating how these events contributed to Kashmir’s status as a “secular fantasy of South Asia.” Over time, Kanjwal explained, Kashmir became increasingly militarized and was eventually occupied by over 750,000 soldiers, which she described as “in some ways inspired by the first intifada in Palestine.” She attested that during this time, the resistance movements of Kashmir and Palestine were labeled as terrorism by the US during the Global War on Terrorism as Islamophobia became prevalent in both US public opinion and policy. Kanjwal also reminded audience members of a 1948 United Nations resolution that called for a plebiscite, or a referendum, on Kashmir’s status, which ultimately failed under the shadow of the first Indo-Pakistani war. State-building and climate regimes were then used as mechanisms for colonial control, Kanjwal stated.

The next question centered on how the partitioning of Kashmir fueled nationalism in South Asia. Essa discussed how much of India’s desire to be a nationalist state under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is rooted in relations between India and Israel. India began purchasing weapons from Israel as early as 1962, Essa stated. He described how in order to become closer to the US and join the global capitalist economy during the Cold War, India first became closer with Israel.

As the arms industry became increasingly privatized in the 80s and 90s, Israel became the “gold standard” of conflict and occupation management, according to Essa. This privatization of the arms industry created a demand for war, which combined with India’s desire for military self-sufficiency, led to the nation seeing Israel as a potential collaborator. When India received help from Israel in their war against Pakistan, it strengthened a sense of military kinship between them. 

As of 2014, India has been the largest buyer of Israeli weapons, which Essa stated is a means for Modi to make India a militaristic and ethno-nationalist state. That year also represented a turning point during which there was a more visible demand from India for a Hindu nationalist state. In the past, Israel had been seen as a collaborator and partner. However, when Prime Minister Modi took office, this political shift created a desire to emulate Israel and their colonial technologies, Essa affirmed. Since then, India’s purchasing of weapons has gone up to 200%; many drones used by Israeli forces are even built and assembled in Indian factories. Article 370, which had given Kashmir a special status that allowed for autonomy in terms of internal administration, was revoked in 2019. This led to tier citizenship in the region, privileging Hindus after Kashmir was put into direct control by India.

Siddiqi then asked the panelists to discuss the urgencies of the current moment. Kanjwal started, remarking on the “immense silencing” of Kashmiri voices through the jailing and censorship of voices that “parallels authoritarian governments.” She added that while India is known as the world’s largest democracy, human rights documentation and adequate journalism in Kashmir isn’t happening. Kanjwal declared that there’s little political will to challenge India’s actions in Kashmir because of its status as a key international business partner. 

Kanjwal discussed how it is difficult to reconcile present-day Kashmir, where voices are being silenced and journalists are unable to speak out without having their passports revoked, with the same Kashmir which was rife with protests in 2016. However, she ended on a positive note, mentioning the mobilizations for self-determination and importance of hope and continued action. Essa concurred, stating that although there’s an “authoritative state in the making in India,” the world has always been changing and will continue to change. 

Essa spoke on how the US has been “supporting the madness in Gaza,” and how it is an expression of the US’s decline as things take place around it. As events progress, states create new authoritarian projects elsewhere. Essa reminded the audience that the extermination of indigenous peoples is not new, just occurring in new ways. Due to India’s rising authoritarian practices, Essa stated, there is a disconnect between the narratives the US cultivates regarding India. According to Essa, the US sees India as an ally in the rising threat of China, so it is beneficial for the US to push false narratives about India and maintain the nation as an ally. 

Kanjwal remarked on how the Kashmiri occupation has accelerated as India continues to borrow Israeli tactics as a means to silence voices in Kashmir, shutting down communications and media and arresting dissenters. Much of Kashmiri journalism concerns publications celebrating “victories” against the region and the Muslims who reside there, she stated. Essa affirmed that the CAA, the Citizenship Amendment Act, mandates that Kashmiri residents without proper paperwork are unable to claim citizenship the way non-Muslim undocumented immigrants can, thus making them stateless in India. Muslims are not part of the Hindu nation that this ethno-nationalism continues to create and enforce. Being stateless means being susceptible to political prosecution, ethnic cleansing, and being marked by the state as a journalist or dissenter, Essa emphasized. 

Kanjwal described the ways in which the Indian state has “erased Kashmir’s Muslim identity,” pushing a false narrative that Kashmir is and always has been “Hindu Land,” despite the fact that it was a Muslim majority before Indian occupation. This narrative continues to be pushed by Indian secularism as Muslim history is spun into a history of “foreign invaders,” Kanjwal emphasized.

Dispossession today makes it difficult to access details of the ongoing conflict in Kashmir, making celebratory announcements by the Indian media the main information source as journalists continue to be persecuted, Kanjwal stated. The news that continues to get through describes how Kashmiri colonies have been built for the Indian armed forces and their families. Hindu communities are being armed and over a thousand Kashmiri schools are being run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist paramilitary organization.

The last question was “Why is Palestine so visible and why is Kashmir less visible in the world of global struggle?”, which introduced conversations about thinking of the Palestine and Kashmir conflicts from a distance. Essa challenged the perception that India was very pro-Palestine for several decades, which was not a yes or no question owing to the complicated conflicts within the Global South and internationally. He explored the idea of India from the “outside,” of things like non-violence, Gandhi, and even Bollywood. He painted a picture of India as a state that is secular and cares for its people, the largest democracy in the world. This picture was part of creating a sort of Indian Exceptionalism, similar to American Exceptionalism and the idea of the American Dream. He then claimed that the reason Kashmir hasn’t received as much attention as Palestine is because India has played a large role in making sure it doesn’t. 

Essa continued to discuss India’s shifting position in the Global South and internationally over time to track its relationship with Israel and Palestine. He discussed how self-interest began to drive India’s policies after it became an independent state, including in industries like energy and oil, which the Arab world had access to. This drove India to desire acceptance and collaboration with the Arab world to improve access to those valuable resources and industries. India had also worried about the Arab world supporting Pakistan after Partition due to the conflict with Kashmir, so they intentionally allowed the view of India as Pro-Palestine to exist to garner support from the Arab world. Accepting Israel too fast would validate Pakistan’s views and turn the support of the Arab world away from India and to Pakistan.

Around the time of the Cold War, the Soviets had aided the Indian Independence movement, while Pakistan instead became closer to the US. This meant that Pakistan stood opposite to both the Soviets and India, Essa stated. As an attempt to gain control over the situation and prevent other nations in the Global South from supporting Pakistan, India became the leader of the Global South. This allowed India to become a leader in constructing the idea of anti-colonialism. “The idea of anti-colonialism is owned by India,” Essa said. During the war on terror, the idea of Kashmir as a terrorist state was intentionally pushed through inaccurate coverage geared towards India, he claimed. The idea that anybody who was pushing for anything to happen in Kashmir was a terrorist also became prevalent. There was a shift in foreign policy as India began to stand against China, which led to US media supporting that shift as it adjusted its alliances to India rather than Pakistan. 

Kanjwal concluded, speaking on how conversations about decolonization need to happen more rigorously. “What informs how these definitions of decolonization were made?” she asked, calling back to Essa’s claim on how India owned the current definition of anti-colonialism. She furthered the discussion by asking the audience “How do people there imagine decolonized futures?” 

The teach-in was immensely informative and successful in communicating both of the panelists’ extensive knowledge of the occupation of Kashmir, the occupation of Palestine, and how India and Kashmir’s relationship parallels that of Israel and Palestine. The panelists were able to draw connections between India and Israel’s use of colonial technology as well as how both nations collaborated in the production of weapons and military tactics. Plenty of audience members ended up approaching the panelists for clarifying questions and to purchase a copy of Essa or Kanjwal’s books for themselves. 

Image via Columbia AAPI Interboard