Khalida Shah speaks poignantly about her late father Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, the most influential leader of modern Kashmir, whose disputed legacy makes him a hero to some and a villain to others.
For decades, Sheikh Abdullah’s birthday on December 5 was a state holiday in Indian-administered Kashmir. But it has now been erased from the calendar by New Delhi, which stripped the Muslim-majority region of its limited autonomy six months ago.
“It is definitely hurtful,” Shah, 84, told Al Jazeera at her home in the main city of Srinagar, where she has been under house arrest since August last year as part of a government crackdown against Kashmiri politicians.
Her brother Farooq Abdullah and nephew Omar Abdullah, both former chief ministers, have been in detention since August.
“Indian government is trying to erase the history of Kashmir by doing this,” she said referring to the removal of Abdullah’s anniversary celebration by India’s governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
On August 5 last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had campaigned against special status for Kashmir, decided to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, the constitutional provisions secured by Abdullah 70 years ago.
Article 370 allowed Kashmir to have its own flag, a separate constitution and the freedom to make laws.
Changing demographics and erasing history
Kashmiri activists fear the removal of the special status will likely open the door for demographic changes in the Muslim-majority region, as outsiders can now buy land and settle in the Himalayan region.
Inside Kashmir’s media facility amid blackout (2:16)
Many were also angered by the Modi government’s decision to cancel the Martyrs Day holiday observed on July 13 in remembrance of 22 people killed during protests against Kashmir’s Hindu monarch in 1931.
Angry at India’s recent actions in Kashmir, Shah said her family “became enemies with people for siding with India”. Three generations of the Abdullah family ruled the region for most of the last seven decades.
Sheikh Abdullah’s rise began in 1931 when he led the people of Kashmir in resistance of the Dogra monarch at the time, Hari Singh, making him an instant hero.
The Kashmir leader, who fought for self-rule, later backed Hari Singh’s decision to join the Indian union on the condition a plebiscite would decide the future of the Muslim-majority region.
While Abdullah had been close to India’s powerful political leaders, including its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, he remained an ardent critic of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
In the years after his death in 1982, as armed rebellion against Indian rule started to take roots and pro-Pakistan voices became emboldened, many considered him a villainous figure and saw his politics as a betrayal of the Kashmiri cause.