When you get back to the privacy of your own room, you look at the scribbled message which you were handed: it is either a plea for outside intervention of the forces of freedom, or a letter to a friend or relative across the border, which the writer knows would never pass the censor if posted the ordinary way. A few minutes later your telephone rings, and a voice hysterical with fear asks whether a few opponents of the regime may come and talk privately with you. Hours later, a handful of tired, nervous men crowd into your room, insisting on searching every corner for hidden microphones before they talk. They are late because the police, knowing of their plans through wire tapping, have forbidden all taxis, the only transport available, to bring them, and so they have had to walk several dusty miles. Their story is sickeningly familiar in this day and age - a tale of persecution, repression, midnight arrests, and aggrandizement of the local "Big Brother."
Officials do not deny that thousands of Indian soldiers and gendarmery are stationed in the state to help preserve an outward calm. (Reliable estimates put the figure at 125,000-one soldier to every dozen adult inhabitants of occupied Kashmir.) A rigid censorship exists. All public assemblies and gatherings, except regime-sponsored ones, are banned. The prisons are full to overflowing, and those behind bars include twenty-five or more political leaders - among them a former prime minister - who are being detained under a local law which permits imprisonment without charge or trial, on executive order alone, for periods of up to five years.
As to the recent elections there, Hitler and Stalin could have approved of their conception and execution. In the Vale of Kashmir itself, only five out of a total of forty-five constituencies were contested, all the others returning unopposed ruling party candidates. Moreover, even where the five contests did occur, permitted opposition candidature was limited to purely domestic controversy. This was inevitable, since it is "unlawful," under the constitution imposed from Delhi last year, for anyone to declare for any policy other than the status quo of absorption into India.
To appreciate how this sorry state of affairs has come about, one has to recall the year 1947, when Britain handed over the reins of government to the two newly born states of Pakistan and India, with consequent partitioning of the subcontinent. So far as the then autonomous princely states were concerned, they were faced with three choices: accession to India or to Pakistan or complete independence. The third alternative proved in every case illusory.
The last British Viceroy, Earl Mountbatten, then holding the ring between the rival claimants in this territorial lottery, affecting more than five hundred separate states and 93 million people, declared, with the prior approval of the governments of both India and Pakistan, the considerations that should decide the states' choice. The overriding factor was to be the will of the people concerned, which was to be implemented through the medium of a formal accession instrument lodged by the ruler either in Delhi or Karachi. In cases where the ruler's personal wishes conflicted or were likely to conflict on communal religious or other grounds with those of his subjects, the latters' will, to be given a free, prompt opportunity to express itself, should prevail.