Kashmir: A People and Region torn between Two Maps

It was in the 18th-19th century, in the British period, that cartography came to India. It was in this period that a map was drawn for India. It wasn’t simply a map – it had given British India a marked and formally recognised territory. Since then, India has been quite protective about it. So post-independence and partition, India had claimed all the regions that constituted the map of British India. It has also tried to extend it, make the map bigger. Today, India is among the largest nations, or rather one should say, India has one of the largest maps in the world.

But in its quest for a bigger map, India doesn’t seem to mind being inauthentic. It doesn’t mind having a map that does not reflect the reality. This points to the region of Kashmir that is actually a part of Pakistan. The region in question is what is called ‘Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’ in India and ‘Azad Kashmir’ in Pakistan. In the first India-Pakistan war (1947-49), Pakistan had conquered one-third of Kashmir. But still India has not recognised it. It has refused to make any changes in its big map. The entire Kashmir is shown as a part of India.

It seems to be a paradox as this is the same India which has created such an uproar about Arunachal Pradesh being shown in the map of China. While India cannot tolerate Arunachal Pradesh being shown in the map of China, it has parts of Kashmir that are formally with Pakistan.

So how does one read this? For this, we must look at the importance that any country attaches to the map. The map is an epitome of a nation-state. It marks its territorial sovereignty. Maps are serious and sensitive pieces of paper. India, like other countries, attaches a high value to it. For India and Indians, the map of India is and should be fixed. Any change in it would mean the collapse of the entire nation-state. Failing to reflect the reality post the India-Pakistan war of 1947, shows this sentiment. The unchanged map serves to reflect the notion that India was, is and has to be, a unitary and bounded nation-state, even though it is just an illusion.

The unchanged map shows India’s refusal to accept or acknowledge that some parts of Kashmir were conquered over by Pakistan. The use of the word “occupied” in “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” also shows that India considers Kashmir to be a part of India. In such a scenario, can India and Pakistan really resolve the Kashmir issue? When India has already claimed Kashmir to be its part, what solution can they arrive at?

The world atlas reflects the reality. It shows Azad Kashmir and the region of Gilgit-Baltistan as part of Pakistan. But India is adamant about it, as though if it doesn’t change its map the reality would change. Speaking of reality, beyond these imaginary boundaries lies the reality of a terrible life that people in Indian Kashmir live, or rather, survive. In the name of protecting the ‘sovereignty’ of the nation, Kashmir is ruled by draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) which has changed the meaning of ‘normalcy’. The ‘normal’ in Kashmir is characterised by heavy militarisation, check-posts on every corner of the street, fake encounters, torture and rape. Kashmiris live in the shadow of guns. They live with the constant threat to their lives and honour. This seems to be the cost that they are incurring to keep the map of India intact.

It is tragic that people seem to be more concerned about the map than about the people inhabiting the region. The unchanged map also points out that there remains a possibility that India may try to recover the territories that were taken over by Pakistan. But in this ongoing struggle over the maps, who is suffering? What is at stake? It is not the map, not the nation, but common lives. It is time that India should leave this hypocrisy and reflect the reality in the map. The entire Kashmir is not a part of India and in the part that is, India should respect the inhabitants of the land, and not the land. Life is more important than a map. Let there be peace. If it is the question of being fair, let the people of the land decide for themselves. Let them re-draw the map if they have to. Kashmir is not just a territory to be acquired; it is not just a barren land, a battle field and a mere location on a map. It is a region with human lives. 

This article was published on South Asia Monitor and they have the copyright.