Why Is This Happening? Contextualizing the lockdown of Kashmir with Hafsa Kanjwal: podcast and transcript

Chris Hayes speaks with Hafsa Kanjwal, a Kashmiri Muslim woman and assistant professor at Lafayette College, about the complex history of Kashmir.
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By Why Is This Happening?

Over the past few months communication coming in and out of Kashmir, the highly contested land between India and Pakistan, has been increasingly difficult. The Indian government lead by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken steps to blackout the region in to order to once and for all place Kashmir under Indian control.

The move has been roundly condemned by international groups, and serves as another dire warning of ostensibly liberal democracies engaging in authoritarian and illiberal behavior. This week, Hafsa Kanjwal, a Kashmiri Muslim woman and assistant professor at Lafayette college, talks about the complex history of Kashmir and the current lockdown the region now faces.

HAFSA KANJWAL: For too long India has been able to commit human rights violations in Kashmir without significant pushback because so many countries have strong economic ties with India and they see India as this obvious space for investment and a huge market. But I think that narrative of Indian soft power needs to kind of slowly erode. India is seen around the world as a place of Bollywood and yoga, and nobody can imagine the kinds of violations that the Indian government does.

CHRIS HAYES: Hello and welcome to "Why Is This Happening?" with me, your host Chris Hayes, there's a phrase that someone said to me, I think tweeted at me or emailed me, and I think it might have even been in response to a podcast we did. That was the sheer number of things that require our moral attention is exhausting. It was a phrase which I keep thinking about because I keep obsessively reading the news as is my job and also my compulsion, which it's funny how that works out and doing the show. There's just so much just about the president and domestically. And then I will see something happening abroad and I'm like, "Oh my God, that looks awful."

One of the things we've done in this podcast is to use this podcast to talk in-depth about things that are happening outside of the US that require our moral attention that are where people are suffering or being persecuted and to explain the foundations of that. We've done that in the podcast discussion. We did it on the origins of the war in Yemen, which the United States is culpable in insofar as we back the Saudis. We have backed and greenlit that war. We talked about it with the million members of Muslim minorities in Western China who are in reeducation internment camps.

There is something else happening not that far from Western China actually, that also requires our moral attention. And that is the situation in Kashmir. We're going to explain the background and history. This serves as a Kashmir 101 primer in this episode, which is fascinating, and maybe you have encountered it or maybe you're very close to this issue. But the basic story is that Kashmir is always been in a highly contested piece of land between India and Pakistan and since Partition, there have been battles and wars fought over it.

Two-thirds of it is controlled by India and India has a very popular, right-wing, Islamophobic demagogue running it named Narendra Modi. Modi in the last few months has taken moves to blackout Kashmir and to once and for all put it under Indian control. The mechanism and means he's used to do that is terrifying. I mean I started seeing the story because a few months ago I started to see people retweeting into my feed that they hadn't heard from family members in three days and then a week and then two weeks and then a month. Human rights groups have documented terrible conditions and abuses in Kashmir. There is essentially a kind of lockdown that is happening there.

What makes this particularly chilling is in the example of Western China and Uyghurs, and these are different situations, China is run by an authoritarian, single-party state called the Chinese Communist Party that does all sorts of awful things and has a government that is not a liberal democracy. India is the world's largest democracy. It has a constitution and courts and rules of law and should ostensibly be the kind of place where the kind of authoritarian repression that's happened in Kashmir is not possible and yet it is happening. To me, it is an extremely dire warning about the threats of what we might call illiberal democracy. Right? Those are not, and I want to be very clear here, that's not like, "Oh it's just India and bad India and bad Modi." No, those threats are everywhere, including here in our home country.

They are throughout different parts of Europe, in Israel. There are lots of places that are democracies, that are ostensibly liberal democracies that have political movements that are pushing them to take the kinds of steps that trot over the most basic kinds of protections and liberties that we associate with the rule of law and liberal democracy. What's happening in Kashmir is one of the most urgent examples of that. Now, I want to say two things. Kashmir is complicated and the perspective you're going to hear here today is very specific.

It is from a Kashmiri woman, a Kashmiri Muslim who obviously believes in the project of customary self-determination, does not think that India has acted well towards Kashmir from the very beginning of Partition. I know that this is a very contested history and you are getting one side of it here. So I just want to state that in the same way, like if I brought on a Palestinian author to talk about Israel Palestine or an Israeli author to talk about the history of the conflict. This is a perspective here. That said, what's happening right now has is being roundly condemned by all kinds of international groups. It's not just that some partisans think it's bad that they've cut the Internet out for a month in Kashmir.

So that's thing one to recognize. Thing two is there's one point in which we talk about the ISI in the conversation. That is the intelligence service of the Pakistani government and the ISI is sort of notorious because they have made common cause with the Taliban, with all kinds of violent jihadists through the years. They have been viewed by particularly American foreign policymakers as kind of double dealing often insofar as they've cultivated ties, sometimes armed or trained or supported various Jihadi groups the U S is literally fighting at the moment that they are ostensibly partnered with the Pakistanis as well. This has been a thorn in the side of American policymakers for a long time. I do mention that. I mention the horrible terror attack that happened in the 2008 Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, the bombing in Mumbai.

So today's guest is Hafsa Kanjwal. She's an assistant professor at Lafayette College. She has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan on the social history of modern Kashmir. She's also from Kashmir. She was born there. Her family is there. You will hear in this episode, she describes her mother actually has recently gone back to Kashmir amidst the blockade and blackout that's happening there. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the region. I found this was one of those podcasts where I walked in and I knew a page and a half worth of stuff and walked out with a book basically of stuff. I had learned so so much in this conversation.

In this conversation, just so you know, a big chunk of it is before anything that's happening now because it is impossible to understand what's happening now without reaching back into history to understand what modern Kashmir is and what its antecedents were and what the political context of the struggle over it is. So you will also get, I think, a pretty good history of India and Pakistan and Partition and things like that. But crucially, I think what Hafsa does so well is bring the context and the history of this down to this incredibly human level to force us all to consider what it would be like if it were our families who were under the conditions that Kashmiris now find themselves under, and the degree to which what's happening there really does demand our moral attention. You're from Kashmir?

HAFSA KANJWAL: I am from Kashmir, yes. I was born there and I lived there until I was about six. And then my family left during the period of the armed rebellion. But I go back fairly often for my research and also to visit family.

CHRIS HAYES: And you now are an academic, you're a historian. You have a Ph.D. from Ann Arbor and you study and write about Kashmir in South Asia.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes, exactly. I did my Ph.D. on a Kashmiri history post-Partition and I teach South Asian history, including courses on Kashmir at Lafayette.

CHRIS HAYES: So maybe let's start. I guess maybe we could talk a little bit about Kashmir pre-partition. What is Kashmir and why has it always had this kind of tug of war, liminal existence even, I think, pre-partition.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, that's a good question. I think it's important because a lot of people only talk about Kashmir since partition, as if Kashmiri history began in 1947 and that's certainly not the case. Historically, Kashmir has been a unique space. It was independent, ruled by its own Buddhists, Hindu and Muslim kings for a period of time. And then in the 16th century, you saw basically foreign invaders to Kashmir. The Mughals ruled over Kashmir, the Sikhs and then the Dogras. So in the period right before Partition, Kashmir was ruled by a Dogra Hindu ruler, and the British basically gave the Dogra family the territory for helping them in the Anglo-Sikh wars.

So this is a bit of the colonial history of the region. There were Hindus. There were Buddhists, and then there were Muslims. Some of them had come from families from central Asia who left central Asia, went to Kashmir and basically started preaching Islam to the local population. Others were basically converted from the Hindu population. There were lower caste Hindus who were basically pushing back against Brahmanical Hinduism and converted to Islam because they thought of it as being a more egalitarian religion.

CHRIS HAYES: Like liberatory essentially.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes. Yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: Which is the story in through much of the subcontinent, converts to Islam being from lower castes and it being a sort of way out of this hierarchy.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes, exactly. Yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: And so what is the language spoken in Kashmir?

HAFSA KANJWAL: So Kashmir, the state itself is quite diverse. Kashmiri is the language that's spoken by the Kashmiri-speaking Muslims. But there's also Dogras who speak Dogri. There's other groups of Muslims that speak Balti and other languages. But Kashmiri is one language that's at least spoken in the Kashmir Valley, which is where most of the troubles are.

CHRIS HAYES: What I'm hearing from you is a place that is at a crossroads of a bunch of different intersecting cultures, and for long periods of time pre the colonial era is multi-ethnic, multilingual, multi-confessional. It is a kind of diverse and mixing pot place.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, absolutely. It's incredibly diverse geographically, but also it's because of history, things that happened in history that kind of pushed certain groups of people to have to live in coexistence with each other.

CHRIS HAYES: It is on the border between India and Pakistan.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes. It's on the border between India and Pakistan and claimed by both countries.

CHRIS HAYES: Right. So in the sort of colonial era, despite the fact that it has a majority Muslim population, it has a Hindu ruler who was essentially granted authority by the British empire.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Right. Yes. And he was particularly harsh towards the majority Muslim population, who at the time were mostly peasants. Even up until 1941 which was before partition, only up to one percent of Kashmiri Muslims were literate. So most of them were having to partake in forced labor. They were agriculturalists, but most of their produce had to be given to the ruler as taxes, really large taxes. The historians basically say that the ruler ran a Hindu state and was discriminatory towards Kashmiri Muslims. In 1931 is when Kashmiris basically see that their history of self-determination begins in many ways.

So it's even before partition, where Kashmiri Muslims, but then also other communities in Kashmir, began to articulate a sense of freedom or a desire for freedom against the Dogra rulers. That was their goal. That was their goal was to overcome this oppressive rule and to have a better employment, better forms of self-governance for Kashmiris themselves.

CHRIS HAYES: Is there an armed uprising in '31?

HAFSA KANJWAL: At that time, no, it was not an armed uprising. It started on July 13th when there were people that were protesting and the Dogra army actually fired into a crowd. So even to this day, the 22 people that were killed by the Dogra army, it's still commemorated as Martyrs Day in Kashmir.

CHRIS HAYES: Wow. What happens to Kashmir at partition?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Basically Kashmir is this unique space because it has a Muslim majority population and a Hindu ruler. The idea was that the princely states, over 500 of them, would have to decide whether they would join India or Pakistan. So all of these princely states kind of get broiled up into the logic of Partition. It was clear in many cases where the ruler was Hindu or the ruler was Muslim and the population were also Hindu or Muslim, but Kashmir was this space that was different, in addition to Hyderabad and another state called Junagadh.

Kashmiri women walk past security personnel as the Indian government imposes restrictions on the Kashmir region on Aug. 11, 2019.Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

But what happens in Kashmir is that there is a local rebellion led by Muslims in the region of Jammu, which is where the Dogras came from, and they fight against the Dogra ruler because they want to join Pakistan. They're worried that the Dogra ruler is going to join India. He kind of takes his time. He doesn't decide to join either country. It seems that he actually wanted Kashmir to remain independent away from both of these countries, just so that he could continue to have control over the people. This rebellion is really important because it's often overlooked in history. So it's an indigenous rebellion of Kashmiri state subject against the Dogra ruler. And in response, it's quashed pretty heavily. So historians say that up to 200,000 people were killed in this rebellion and over 200,000 people were sent into exile into what would now become Pakistan.

CHRIS HAYES: What year is this happening?

HAFSA KANJWAL: This is happening in 1947, so at the time of partition.

CHRIS HAYES: So right at the point of partition?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes.

CHRIS HAYES: So just so people know, the British colonial administrative system, which was incredibly complex and heavy-handed, also had a lot of autonomy for the princely states, meaning that local, essentially feudal type rulers of both Hindu and Muslim, were sort of outsourced local administration. And then when time came for independence and Partition, they were the ones who were choosing which state. In most cases, that prince aligned with the…

HAFSA KANJWAL: With the people.

CHRIS HAYES: ... population over which he ruled, and so it was fairly easy. Kashmir is this really important place where that breaks down, because you have a Hindu leader and you have a Muslim population. So the tension there is intense from the beginning.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, exactly. So basically after this massacre, what ends up happening is that there's tribesmen that come from northwest Pakistan. It's contested historically whether they came on their own to liberate these Muslims from the Dogra ruler or whether they were supported by the Pakistan state. This is what the Indian government kind of points to, as everything was fine in Kashmir until the tribesmen came and wanted to take over Kashmir.

CHRIS HAYES: So there's indeterminacy in '47 and there's a rebellion and there isn't ... Am I understanding you correctly? There is no legal declaration yet about which state it will join?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes, exactly.

CHRIS HAYES: In that period of indeterminacy, folks from northwest Pakistan come into Kashmir?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes.

CHRIS HAYES: And the Indians say, "This is where things go South."

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes. But there's people who join them who are actually within the Jammu Kashmir state. They're Kashmiri state subjects, and they also join these tribesmen to try deliberate Kashmir. What ends up happening is that the Maharajah panics. He turns to the government of India, asks them for military assistance, and the government of India basically says that we will help you, but you have to formally accede to us. You have to sign a treaty of accession.

CHRIS HAYES: I see. So this Dogra Hindu ruler who has a bunch of majority Muslim subjects who are now in revolt and being aided by citizens of a foreign state, Pakistan, turns to India. This nut knocks him off the fence.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes, exactly.

CHRIS HAYES: He says, "Okay, come help me fight off these Pakistani invaders." And India says, "Yes, but then you have to join India."

HAFSA KANJWAL: You have to join us. Yes. So again, there's disputes over whether he signed the treaty before the Indian army came or whether it was after all of that. I mean it remains to be seen historically. But the treaty of accession was signed. It basically called for Kashmir to be acceded to India and India would have control over Kashmir's foreign affairs, communications, and defense. Everything else would be still left to the local Kashmiri state.

CHRIS HAYES: I see. So there's local autonomy built into the original agreement?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes, original agreement, and this was an agreement that had existed with other princely states as well who had acceded. But over time, once the Indian nation-state began to cohere and form, that level of autonomy was kind of eroded and all of the states became under this federal structure of India. It's important to think that nothing was set. Everything that was happening was happening as history evolved. There was no kind of grand vision. We can look back at it now and think that, of course, India always had the centralizing mission, but things are a lot more complicated than that.

CHRIS HAYES: Well, I mean even in the U.S. context, right? I mean the amount of independence the 13 colonies have when they first become states is quite different than what they have by 1840 and certainly after the Civil War. There's a centralizing force that happens in which these very distinct state entities become more and more coherent as a federal national whole.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Right. Absolutely.

CHRIS HAYES: You're saying something similar happens in India?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Something similar happens to other states in India, but in Kashmir, things are still very different. The treaty of accession is signed. The Indian army comes into Kashmir officially on October 27, 1947 and this is when Kashmiris believe that their military occupation began. The two countries, India and Pakistan formally go to war. India manages to gain control over two-thirds of this former princely state, and then Pakistan has control over one-third. So the territory of Kashmir is actually split.

CHRIS HAYES: That's the line to this day?

HAFSA KANJWAL: That's a line to this day. Initially-

CHRIS HAYES: Like North Korea, South Korea, the same thing. That's the line.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes. Initially it was called the "ceasefire line" by the U.N. and then now it's called the Line of Control. India actually interestingly takes the dispute to the United Nations. So it's India that internationalizes the conflict from the get-go. It takes it to the United Nations. The United Nations has the first resolution in 1948 on Kashmir that basically called for a cessation of hostilities between the two countries and the implementation of a plebiscite. So that Kashmiris themselves could decide what country they want to be a part of. That fundamentally is the crux of the issue today is that that plebiscite has not taken place.

CHRIS HAYES: Never happened?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Never happened. And over time India completely eroded Kashmir's autonomy, even the limited autonomy that it had on paper. For Kashmiris, India has served as a colonizing power since 1947.

CHRIS HAYES: Do all Kashmiris feel that way though?

HAFSA KANJWAL: A vast majority do. A vast majority of Kashmiri Muslims do. There are Kashmiri Pandits or Kashmiri Hindus, which is a small minority of Kashmiris. Many of them would probably want to be a part of India. But again, the issue there is that fundamentally this movement for self-determination is not just about one group or one religion. It's kind of thinking broadly in terms of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir and that each region and the peoples of each region has the right to express themselves. And of course in all colonial contexts, you will have people who will be against or for what the vast majority of the people want.

CHRIS HAYES: Yeah. I mean we had Patrick Radden Keefe in here months ago to talk about his book about the troubles in Northern Ireland. And of course in Belfast there are unionists. They're not the majority, but there are unionists in Belfast who want to be part and there are folks that want independence or want to join the actual Irish Republic. That is exactly the source of the conflict. So the line here gets drawn in '47, the Line of Control, two thirds of it under Indian control, one third under Pakistani control. Over the next seven decades there are series of wars fought essentially over that territory, right?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, yeah. There are wars, and the big war obviously 1947, 1948. Another war 1965 and then the Kargil war in 1999.

CHRIS HAYES: And each of those wars come to essentially the same equilibrium standstill?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah. They result in India and Pakistan kind of going to the table and agreeing to have bilateral talks over Kashmir but nothing really happens. In all of the aftermath of these wars, Kashmiri voices and the Kashmiri people have been the ones that have not been at the table or not been included in these negotiations over their future.

CHRIS HAYES: So these are state to state negotiations between the state of Pakistan, the state of India whose army is are, in some senses, on both sides occupying Kashmir.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Right, exactly.

CHRIS HAYES: What is life like for folks living in Kashmir in the Indian territory and the Pakistani territory?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, that's a good question. In the Indian side of Kashmir, it's important for people to know that it is the most militarized zone in the world. So over 700,000 Indian troops are in Kashmir. If we just think about at the height of the occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan there might've been between 150 to 200,000 U.S. troops. So this is an incredible amount of foreign troops that are not just at the border with Pakistan but also in civilian areas. As a result, life has been completely shifted in accordance to this. So there's been a number of human rights violations that have occurred, especially since the late 1980s. There's been mass rapes of Kashmiri women by Indian soldiers. There's been enforced disappearances. Kashmiri human rights groups say that between eight to 10,000 people, mostly young men, have been disappeared which means that to this day their families do not know about their whereabouts. There's been mass graves that had been discovered by international organizations, extrajudicial killings, torture.

I mean, there's a whole slew of human rights violations that have gone on. But beyond that, daily life is just difficult for any average Kashmiri. If you think about the day to day in terms of going to school, running a business, things like that, just things don't happen under a state of normalcy. So even today, schools have not been operating in Kashmir for over two months now. And this is a regular feature of most young people's lives. During days that have been curfewed where there's strict shoot on site orders, businesses are not in operation. So every single aspect of daily life gets impacted by this occupation.

CHRIS HAYES: What is it like on the Pakistani side?

HAFSA KANJWAL: So the Pakistan side, I have not been to the Pakistan side. But what we certainly know is that there are certain human rights violations that occur. The U.N. has reported on them, but they in no way compare to what's happening on the Indian side. This has been documented and recorded. Just recently, India did not allow a U.S. senator to go and visit Kashmir and see what's happening there, but Pakistan did. The Pakistani side of Kashmir, he was allowed access there. So I think a lot of people try to equate the two countries when it comes to their respective sides of Kashmir. But I don't think that that kind of equivalence can be made.

CHRIS HAYES: One of the arguments you'll hear in American foreign policy circles about Pakistan's activity in Kashmir is essentially that, I'll give the broad strokes of it and have you respond to it, essentially that Pakistan is a smaller country than India. It's a poorer country, considerably, than India. They had a kind of nuclear arms race between the two of them and both achieved nuclear weapons.

At a certain point, Pakistan realized that they couldn't win that kind of shooting war with India, particularly along the line of control. The ISI, the Pakistani Intelligence Services began cultivating jihadis and terrorists to essentially wage a kind of dirty war against India that they have ... and this is documented. The ISI has cultivated and armed and trained various jihadi groups, that they have been behind numerous horrible and gruesome attacks inside India, the hotel one being sort of the most prominent, and that essentially Pakistan is sort of independent of the human rights abuses happening in the occupied Kashmir, that Pakistan has sort of essentially fomented a kind of dirty war via attacks on civilians and the funding of terrorism as their means of trying to pry Kashmir loose from India.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, I mean I think this is a narrative that's certainly exists and I for sure would not condone anything in terms of what Pakistan and the ISI has done in Kashmir. What I would say though is that it's important to understand that even when the armed rebellion began in the late 1980s, it wasn't indigenous armed uprising. It was led by young Kashmiris who felt that the constitutional means and the peaceful means, their peaceful means of protest, were not working. India rigged this primary election in 1987 when different political formations in Kashmir had decided that they would actually take part in the electoral process and that once they came to power that they would kind of declare Kashmir to be free from India. And those elections were rigged. That is what directly led to young men from Kashmir starting in Kashmir attacks against Indian state installations. They complete ...

CHRIS HAYES: So there's an armed uprising in 1980s when, basically after the political parties have sort of gone to the end of their road through political means, there's an armed uprising that starts then. You're saying that that is an indigenous armed uprising of Kashmir.

HAFSA KANJWAL: It is an indigenous, yeah. But of course they realize that they are no match for this great power, India, this military power. And India brings in over 700,000 troops in that time. So they turned to Pakistan for both military and financial support. Many of the young men cross over to Pakistan, get trained, come back. But in addition to local Kashmiri fighters, there are foreign fighters that also come in. They are remnants of the jihad against the Soviets, for example. They come into Kashmir. What ends up happening though is that the initial Kashmiri groups were pro-independence. The groups that Pakistan supported like Hizbul Mujahideen were pro-Pakistan. So there ends up being an infighting amongst the different militant groups that India is kind of able to take advantage of.

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CHRIS HAYES: Right. So this indigenous movement for armed uprising for independence and self-determination when the Pakistani's intelligence services start supporting it because they're a state trying to protect their own geopolitical interests, those folks are, you guys should be part of Pakistan.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes.

CHRIS HAYES: And so there's tensions between those.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Infighting. Yeah. There's infighting between the two different groups. In addition to that, India introduces a militia, counter insurgency militia, also a militant group called al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen. These are basically renegade militants who were either arrested or tortured and made to somehow work for India.

CHRIS HAYES: And they're Muslim as well?

HAFSA KANJWAL: And these are Muslim groups. Yes. This group was primarily responsible for a lot of the atrocities that you hear about in terms of the human rights violations by the militant groups that happened including rapes of women and other killings that they did.

CHRIS HAYES: I see. So it's not actually the official Indian army. It's a sort of paramilitary ...

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yes.

CHRIS HAYES: It's a militia that's sort of stood up by the Indian state.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah. The army of course is committing its own whole human rights violations, but then these other groups that they've sponsored and unleashed upon a population are also committing different violations.

CHRIS HAYES: What happens to that armed uprising?

HAFSA KANJWAL: India is able to put it down quite effectively and for most of the 2000s we basically thought that the armed uprising is over. It seems like Kashmiris are kind of fatigued with their resistance. Over 70,000 people were killed in this period.

CHRIS HAYES: Jesus.

HAFSA KANJWAL: So people are obviously having to struggle with the aftermath. This is also when psychological issues and post-traumatic stress disorder begins to really become rampant in Kashmiri society. So there is a bit of a, I guess you could say a fatigue in the general population. But India kind of allowed the international community to feel that things were normal in Kashmir and Kashmiris had given their consent to Indian rule. That was certainly not the case. What ended up happening is that in 2008 a new a youth led movement, largely nonviolent, against Indian rule erupted again. It was precipitated by a decision by the Indian government to transfer some land to a shrine board, a pilgrimage board that was overseeing a Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir. Kashmiris were worried that this land transfer would basically entail that India would start to control and take over Kashmiri land and resources.

Almost a million people peacefully gathered in Srinagar tham, in the main capital of Kashmir. This is of a population of eight million people in the valley. So you can imagine how many people gathered. They were protesting and demanding that the U.N., again, implement the resolution for self-determination. A series of these protests, India responded to quite violently. They fired live ammunition into the crowds killing dozens of people at a time. So this was a movement that was led by the generation that had grown up during the militancy. These are people who would be at that time in their twenties and their thirties and all they had witnessed in Kashmir was militarization and human rights violations. They were a lot more adamant about the future of Kashmir to be determined by Kashmiris themselves.

CHRIS HAYES: We should also say that the context here, 2008 on the Indian side, is that over this period of time the Indian National Congress which is the party of Gandhi and Nehru which had this in its founding document in the Indian constitution. This vision of multi religious pluralism even if not honored in the way it acted, the state actually dealt with Kashmir, but as a sort of ideological north star for the project of modern India. That that Indian National Congress is supplanted increasingly by an essentially Hindu nationalist right-wing party called the BJP that have their antecedents in the kinds of movements that actually led to the person that assassinated Gandhi for being insufficiently Hindu nationalist. What role does the BJP's ascent play in the way that India is acting towards Kashmir?

HAFSA KANJWAL: I think at this point, I do actually want to bring up article 370 because this is where the BJP and the Hindu Nationalist groups ... it's critical. So article 370, which is what was revoked on August 5 was basically put into place by the Indian state and a client regime in Kashmir. It basically enshrined the autonomy that existed in the treaty of accession in the Indian constitution. So it basically said ...

CHRIS HAYES: So article 370 is a part of a document that says ... it's actually in the Indian constitution that grants it sort of autonomy.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah. Yes, exactly. So it says that Kashmiris have the right to have their own state flag, their own constitution even initially their own prime minister and India would still only have control over Kashmir's foreign affairs, communications and defense. So it gives Kashmir this kind of special status. Within that there's another provision that is increasingly more important today called article 35A which basically allowed the Kashmiri state to determine who the permanent residents of the state would be. Permanent residents in the state would be able to hold property, to buy and sell land. That the local state wanted to consolidate because they wanted to make sure that the Muslim majority demographic of Kashmir would be conserved, that that would remain case and that Indians couldn't just kind of come into Kashmir by land and the demographics would change from a Muslim majority to Hindu majority.

CHRIS HAYES: I see. This was a kind of obstacle to what from the view of the Muslim majority would ... a kind of settler project that could happen in Kashmir in which India would intentionally send Indian Hindu residents to Kashmir to basically change the demographic balance of the state.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, exactly. It was of course even supported by the pro India parties in Kashmir, the client regimes that they themselves had set up. They were adamant.

CHRIS HAYES: Right. This was part of the grand bargain to the extent there was one.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Right. Exactly.

CHRIS HAYES: These basic features of autonomy and control will be essentially the price of our accession to India.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, exactly. The way that the Hindu nationalist parties come into this is that from the beginning, from 1947 earlier predecessors of the BJP, something called Jana Sangh was led by someone called Syama Prasad Mukherjee. He wanted this special status to go away. For the Hindu nationalist since 1947 this idea that Kashmir has a special status is very irritating for them. So they never wanted Kashmir to have its own autonomy or constitution or Prime Minister. They were adamant that it would be fully incorporated, that was kind of their motto, into India.

CHRIS HAYES: So the full incorporation of Kashmir and the gutting or overturning of article 370 and 35A, these sort of provisions of autonomy that protect the autonomy Kashmir, that has been a kind of rallying cry for Hindu nationalists for decades. It's a big thing for them. It's part of their platform. It's part of what the campaign on. Even if they're like in Kerala or wherever, which you would think well what do they care one way or the other? They do.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, absolutely. It's integral to their project because for them, this entire Indian subcontinent is a Hindu Russia. That's what it needs to be. It's a Hindu space. So for this Muslim majority space to have any kind of special status is ...

CHRIS HAYES: Special privileges.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Right.

CHRIS HAYES: Which again, is a very toxic word in the context of American culture war. Like, oh, they have special rights. They have special privileges. Oh, this minority is getting something extra that they don't deserve.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, absolutely. The Indian National Congress, even up until the past two decades still maintained that article 370 was crucial because they knew that if they undid article 370 there would be huge uprisings in Kashmir and they didn't want that. Their approach ...

CHRIS HAYES: This was the price of domestic tranquility was this sort of ostensible, in writing autonomy that maybe wasn't actually even implemented at the ground level.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah. And it wasn't implemented. All of the provisions that Kashmir had been given were eroded over time. It remained very symbolic for Kashmiri. But the fact that Kashmiris at least could still buy their own land and property, that was what was important up until this stage.

CHRIS HAYES: I think that gives us good background context to understand what's happening in the region today, which we'll talk about right after this break.

Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India. He is just reelected. He's extremely popular. He is a Hindu nationalist I think it's fair to characterize him as.

HAFSA KANJWAL: It is. Absolutely.

CHRIS HAYES: A right wing populist leader who comes out of that BJP tradition, the BJP party. We should say that when he was a regional governor, essentially depending on what you read, the accounts of look the other way or encouraged atrocities against the Muslim minority in his region. There were Hindu mobs that beat, murdered and burned Muslims over a dispute over temple space. This was what he was most famous for before ascending to. So he's got a pretty bad record on these things. His rhetoric is quite bigoted. I don't know how you describe as rhetoric towards Muslims in general.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, absolutely. It's very Islamophobic. It relies on tropes that have been pivotal to this Hindu nationalist project. But it does so in this veneer of being this great leader, being this great promoter of development and economic liberalism for India. But for sure. I mean he was not allowed to enter America for almost nine years because he was on a list that said that this man is responsible for a genocide. We cannot give him a visa. It's only until he was elected Prime Minister of India that they had to kind of go away with that.

CHRIS HAYES: So he was on a no enter, no visa list for his role in ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence in the state that he governed.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, absolutely.

CHRIS HAYES: And this guy is now the head of India. He is, again I have to say, very popular. It's not ... Salman Rushdie was in here yesterday. We were talking about Donald Trump in the US, Boris Johnson in the UK and Brexit and Modi. Sort of some interesting themes there about this rise of a certain kind of right wing populism. The point that Rushdie made was that unlike Trump and Boris Johnson who are sort of hanging on by their fingernails in terms of popularity, that is not the case with Modi. He really does have majority support.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah. He does have a significant popular mandate. Absolutely. Him in his party play upon it really well where there's a lot of problems that India has. The economy is certainly one of them. The fact that there exists still to this day so much inequality in India, even despite this kind of idea that India is growing and it has so much economic growth, that hasn't necessarily trickled down to the vast majority of the population. And yet he is able to use things like this fear of Muslims, the issue of Kashmir to mobilize his base around more of these cultural ideas.

CHRIS HAYES: Is there a little bit of ... Amy Chua's first book is called "World on Fire" and it talks about a phenomenon she calls market dominant minorities, which is to say ethnic minorities in a place that have a fairly advanced market position. Is there that kind of economic populism being waged against the Muslim community in India? Are like Muslims seen as like they're doing better than us kind of thing?

HAFSA KANJWAL: No, not at all. In fact in India, Muslims are some of the poorest. They live in ghettos like Muslim only areas and cities. There's reports on the conditions of India's Muslim population and they're quite heartbreaking. Just the kinds of things that Indian Muslims have to deal with, go through, not even able to get job interviews, housing in certain areas because people know that this is a Muslim.

CHRIS HAYES: All right. So you've got Kashmir is a sort of international tinderbox for seven decades. You've got both armies on the side of the line of control. You've got routine human rights abuses, all the things that come with occupation of 700,000 soldiers. You've got Pakistani interest in essentially using all kinds of means to attack India as well in terms of funding of different groups. You've got the rise of Hindu nationalism in India. You've got Modi now running the government. Something different happens in the history of Kashmir about two months ago. What happens?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah. On August 5, Modi's home minister Amit Shah basically declares that this article 370 is going to be off the Indian constitution now. It's going to be de-operationalized and ...

CHRIS HAYES: Oh wow. That just abrogate it.

HAFSA KANJWAL: They just abrogate it completely and there's no discussion.

CHRIS HAYES: This thing has been there for 70 years as the price of domestic tranquility that they'd been railing against. They just announce it's gone.

HAFSA KANJWAL: They announce it's gone, and in the constitution itself, the constitution stated that it could only be ... Changes could only be made to this article with the concurrence of the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly was the predecessor to the Legislative Assembly that exists in the state today. And that stopped being there in 1957. So, effectively, legally, that article can never really be abrogated because-

CHRIS HAYES: Because there's no actual Constituent Assembly.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Right. That assembly is not there. You could make the argument that the Legislative Assembly would need to abrogate it, but certainly what happens is that there was no concurrence within the Kashmiri state, even by the leaders. And before they do this, they implement a communication crackdown in the region. So mobile services, the internet, even landlines, are completely blocked. And they remain blocked to this day.

CHRIS HAYES: Wait a second. They blackout the communications for all of Kashmir?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Or all of Kashmir, in particular the valley, but yes.

CHRIS HAYES: Okay. Yeah. Before they make the announcement.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Before they make the announcement

CHRIS HAYES: So in the run up to the announcement, and you're Kashmir, and you're a plumber or a shop owner or a school teacher or anything, you're a lawyer. You go to work one day and like you sit down at your desktop computer and there's no internet.

HAFSA KANJWAL: There's no internet. But that's not unusual to Kashmir by the way. Kashmir ... India shuts down the internet and Kashmir over 50 times a year. So, but this time-

CHRIS HAYES: So at the beginning you might be like, "Okay, well this happens."

HAFSA KANJWAL: Right. But what they also do a number of things that are very troubling for the local population. The first thing that they do is that they ask all the pilgrims and the tourists to leave Kashmir. So people start to panic and they realize that something big is going to happen. And because Modi was running his electoral campaign on this idea that we're going to completely make Kashmir ours, they know that something's going to happen with article 370.

CHRIS HAYES: So the Indian state is telling pilgrims and tourists to get out.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Hindu pilgrims. Yes.

CHRIS HAYES: Hindu pilgrims to get out.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Hindu pilgrims to get out. Yeah. They are bringing in additional deployments of troops. Over now about 50,000 additional troops. They're setting up concertina wires and bunkers and other things. So people obviously know that something big is going to happen. The few days before August 5, there were long lines at grocery shops and at gas stations because people were trying to get as much fuel and supplies as they could because they didn't know how long the curfew would last.

CHRIS HAYES: So at this point, no one knows what's happening. They just know there's all these ominous signs.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: So like the pilgrims or are leaving. Troops are coming in, they're erecting concertina wire. The internet is down, there's a communications blackout, and there is no communication about what this is all about. It's just a bunch of ominous signs of something really bad about to go down.

HAFSA KANJWAL: And importantly they start arresting and detaining Kashmiri leaders and activists and civil society groups and including the pro-Indian leaders. So the pro Indian parties that had effectively allowed India to run its show in Kashmir were also the first ones to be arrested.

CHRIS HAYES: Wait, why?

HAFSA KANJWAL: The Indian government ... Because these groups still, even though they are accept India, India's control, they still maintain some loyalty to the idea of Article 370, so they were afraid that they would be able to mobilize people against this revocation.

CHRIS HAYES: I see. So even the sort of like sympathetic contingent of politicians in Kashmir, who are sympathetic to Indian control, because the idea of Article 370 and of Kashmiri autonomy is such a consensus position across the political spectrum in Kashmir, that they were seen as obstacles. And they were arrested.

Kashmiri women shout during a protest after the Indian government withdrew special constitutional status for Kashmir on Aug. 11, 2019.Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

HAFSA KANJWAL: They were arrested, as well. Yeah. And they remain arrested to this day.

CHRIS HAYES: It's at this point I think that I started seeing accounts of Americans with family in Kashmir tweeting, "I can't talk to my uncle. We've been cut off from our family in Kashmir. We don't know where they are. We can't get in touch with them."

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah. I mean this happened to me as well. I was in touch with my uncles. When I heard that things were about to happen, I remember just sending a couple of WhatsApp messages, like "Is everything okay?" And the last message I got from one of my uncles was "Pray for us," and it was just dot, dot, dot. And that's the last I've been able to hear from him.

So everyone was in a state of panic because this is something that impacts everyone, right? So these human rights violations and forced disappearances. It might target a particular demographic in Kashmir society, but everyone, whether they're rich, poor, urban, rural is impacted by this communication clampdown. So it's very frightening, especially when you then started to hear of the journalists. So initially the Indian government doesn't allow ... to this day, the Indian government does not allow foreign journalists to enter Kashmir.

So whatever reports that we're hearing out of Kashmir are from Kashmiri journalists themselves, who basically almost on a regular basis are taking flights from Srinagar to Delhi. In the initial days, all they would do is write up their stories and take pictures and put it on a pen drive and then pass it to someone who was traveling to Delhi.

CHRIS HAYES: Wow.

HAFSA KANJWAL: And then that person would give it to a journalist to publish that story. The other journals that are on the ground right now, through these different international media, are Indians who have been given some level of flexibility in moving around. But there's also a complete media clampdown. Kashmiri Papers themselves have not published anything but just cancellations on their front pages, cancellations of weddings, people who have died. But there's no actual news that they are reporting on.

CHRIS HAYES: That's what the Kashmiri newspapers are?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, that's what the Kashmiri newspapers are. It's just become kind of ... I mean the Kashmiri newspapers were always controlled by the government in different ways, so it's not like they had full freedoms to report on things that were actually happening there, but now they just are either a space for government ads or just wedding cancellations and death announcements.

CHRIS HAYES: There's an announcement from the home minister about abrogating 370 that happens after this stuff starts to happen. At a certain point it becomes official policy, right? Where India announces what it's doing.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Well, the funny thing about all of this is that, as India was taking these steps before August 5, it let the international community know that it had received notice that it was about to be a terrorist attack on Kashmir. And that's why it was taking these steps. So it blatantly lied. I mean, this is just like a direct lie.

CHRIS HAYES: So when this starts happening, it starts getting out, India says, "No, no, don't worry, we are protecting the people of Kashmir from an imminent terrorist attack."

HAFSA KANJWAL: Exactly.

CHRIS HAYES: "That's why we're doing all these crazy things, right?"

HAFSA KANJWAL: "That's why we're doing all these crazy things." But no, in fact, we are actually just completely annexing them and starting the third stage of this occupation, which is what people fear: a settler-colonial project. So I think what India did not realize ... This is what's critical, is that the reaction in the international community was actually be quite strong. The Kashmiri diaspora had not necessarily been very mobilized, but again, because this impacted them directly, because their family members were impacted, they became very mobilized. And they started to reach out to their congressman or their MPs in the U.K.

The news media also was quite shocked that this would happen, and there is already kind of a general interest in India and Modi and what he's been doing to the minorities there. So I think this was a part of the story that the international news media, like the New York Times and the Washington Post also reported upon. India claimed that everything that was reported by the BBC, the Washington Post, the New York Times was fake news. That they were exaggerating the reports of torture and the detentions and everything else that had been going on on the ground.

CHRIS HAYES: You know, here's a story about this. We did a piece on the show about Kashmir, and it was the wildest thing. Right after the show, in the Twitter mentions of the show, is a Twitter handle with zero followers following five people ... anonymous egg ... about how we got it all wrong, and this was Pakistani propaganda. And it was like, "Oh this is a bot. Clearly, this is not a viewer of the show." There's some sort of automated system that was scrolling through and found the show or whatever, but it was just so wild that like, "What the hell is this. This is some sort of systematic pushback."

HAFSA KANJWAL: No, I mean, we-

CHRIS HAYES: It was definitely not a viewer. This was like, had all the hallmarks of a bot being like "You're buying Pakistani propaganda about Kashmir. You have it all wrong."

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the Indian government we know for a fact actually employs these bots. They actually have also put into motion a number of Kashmiri bots, like young girls wearing hijabs for example, that seem to have Kashmiri sounding names that are like letting people know on Twitter or Facebook that "I'm Kashmiri, and I support this move." Other governments, Syria, et cetera, have done this as well. So this is all part of this authoritarian nexus of controlling and managing information.

CHRIS HAYES: There's been a curfew as well, is that right?

HAFSA KANJWAL: There have been cur- So in some areas, the curfew is enforced by the army, especially in areas where they believe that there's going to be significant civilian protest. But we have actually seen images and videos of protests, and the Indian government even denied that those existed.

So what's really interesting is that some of the recent videos, Kashmiris are actually putting up like papers that say "We're protesting, and this is the date," like the date that they're protesting because India was saying that these international news agencies were using footage from earlier protests before August 5. It's become an information war on multiple levels, but right now the curfew ... or people themselves are not taking part. I mean they don't want things to go back to normal.

So it's civilian-enforced curfew in many ways. So there are times in the morning, early evenings where shops are open so that people can get their basic necessities. But during the day, everything remains closed, including businesses and schools. India opened up schools or announced that it would open up schools, but parents obviously did not want their children to go to school because, one, you have an additional deployment of so many troops, and so many of the young kids are being picked up.

International papers are reporting that almost 4,000 people have been picked up. So people are obviously worried about their children being picked up by the army and detained. But, in addition to that, also there's no communication. So you're not going to let your kid go to school if you have absolutely no way of getting in touch with them.

CHRIS HAYES: Right. Because you can't ... You literally can't even call the school.

HAFSA KANJWAL: You can't call them or anyone. Yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: So the communications blackout remains.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Right. Yeah. The communication blackout remains. Yeah. They say that the landlines work, but to call the landline from here, you have to call almost 50 to 60 times, and then maybe a call will get through. My mom's in Kashmir right now, and I'm still not able to call her.

CHRIS HAYES: Your mom's in Kashmir?

HAFSA KANJWAL: My mom's in Kashmir, yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: Did she go there to visit?

HAFSA KANJWAL: She went to visit my grandmother who was ill and actually recently passed away.

CHRIS HAYES: I'm really sorry to hear that.

HAFSA KANJWAL: And I didn't hear about it until almost a day later because of this communication clampdown.

CHRIS HAYES: So she went in the midst of all this?

HAFSA KANJWAL: She went in the midst of all this because my grandmother's very ill and she needed a caretaker. And the nurse that comes doesn't, was not able to go because of the troubles that were happening. So my mom went into all of this, knowing what's happening, but because someone needed to take care of my grandmother. And she was there for about two weeks. And then two days ago, we got the call from a family member who had went from Kashmir and heard in Delhi, and then they called my dad. And they let us know that this had happened. And for about 12 hours or so, I wasn't even able to call my mom to talk to her, give her my condolences. I was trying to call her. It wouldn't go through.

My dad finally managed to get through, and he put both his one phone that was on the line with her and the one phone that was on the line with me next to each other. And that's how we spoke to each other, over these two phones.

CHRIS HAYES: And she's still there.

HAFSA KANJWAL: She's still there. Yes. She'll kind of be there until the funeral and all those things.

CHRIS HAYES: Oh, my word.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: I'm so sorry.

HAFSA KANJWAL: It's devastating. These are the stories that you don't hear about. You hear like 4,000 people detained, 13,000 kids tortured. These are just numbers that float around, but it is really difficult when it becomes your own families and people that you know and love that become impacted by something like this.

CHRIS HAYES: What should people who are listening to this, who maybe have not heard a lot about the situation or don't know about it ... I guess the question is what can be done here? Does international pressure matter to Modi on this?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Unfortunately, I don't think international pressure matters to Modi, just like it doesn't necessarily matter to some of these other Modi-like rulers that we're dealing with in the international arena, but I do think that it is scaring India right now that there has been significant pushback. There will be a hearing on October 22 in a congressional subcommittee hearing on human rights and part of it will be a discussion on what's happening in Kashmir, and there is an attempt to put forth a resolution. The US and India have really strong ties. Really strong trade deals and defense deals and-

CHRIS HAYES: The president just did a rally in Houston amidst this.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Exactly, yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: While this is happening, amidst a communications blackout and utterly illiberal crackdown on a part of the country, essentially an occupation, Modi comes to the U.S., and he gets a hero's welcome, and our president and him do a joint rally in Houston.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Right. They do a joint rally in Houston and the Gates Foundation ... I don't know if you followed that controversy.

CHRIS HAYES: I did.

HAFSA KANJWAL: The Gates Foundation also awards Modi for building toilets in India in the midst of all of these concerns that have been happening. Not just in Kashmir but also in Assam and other places in India. I think it's important to continue to build up that international pressure. For too long, India has been able to commit human rights violations in Kashmir without significant pushback, because so many countries have strong economic ties with India, and they see India as this obvious space for investment and a huge market.

But I think that narrative of Indian soft power needs to kind of slowly erode. India is seen around the world as a place of Bollywood and yoga, and nobody can imagine the kinds of violations that the Indian government does. So I think it's important, first, for people to shift their own understanding of India as a state and then, hopefully, that will have some significant impact in policy, as well.

CHRIS HAYES: I feel the need to say that India obviously is a country of a billion people with a huge diversity of political opinion, political views, political parties, people, various issues. And that is not ... Modi has a lot of political mandate and powerful, but it's by no means a hegemonic views within India.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Yeah, there is, for sure that's the case. But I think what's really scary is that Modi is attempting to create this kind of consensus.

CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, that's the project.

HAFSA KANJWAL: So the limited amount of resistance that would have ... There are people who are obviously very much against what the Indian government is doing in Kashmir. There's people who've been writing or signing these petitions, but the Indian state under this government is extremely authoritarian. Any level of dissent, their response is, "Oh you're just Pakistani sponsored terrorists." Like even their own citizens who are pushing back are being told to go back to Pakistan. So there's this kind of really scary populism that's taking root.

It happens in social media, but it also happens to the extent that anyone who is pushing back right now feels that there's going to be some level of risk in that and some kind of consequences as well.

CHRIS HAYES: When is your mom set to get back to you?

HAFSA KANJWAL: Hopefully in two weeks.

CHRIS HAYES: Okay. Well, please keep us posted on that.

Hafsa Kanjwal is assistant professor of South Asian history at Lafayette College. She has a PhD from Ann Arbor on the social history of modern Kashmir. That was incredibly, incredibly, incredibly informative. Thank you very much.

HAFSA KANJWAL: Thank you.

CHRIS HAYES: Once again, my great thanks to Hafsa Kanjwal. She's an assistant professor at Lafayette College. Again, I learned so, so much from that conversation. This is one of those podcasts that I will listen to back to myself probably multiple times just because it's so useful to have that information at my fingertips.

So great thanks to her. We still are doing our live WITHpod tour this fall, so I'm recording this on Friday. You're going to hear this on Tuesday, which is the day after our Monday live show, which I'm sure went great. And our next date is in Chicago on November 12th. It's possible that's already sold out by the time you hear this. The venue wasn't enormous.

We're like choosing between 1,600 seat venues and 300 seat venues, and the answer is something between the two, but we can't think of a number between 300 and 1,600. I wish there were a number between those two. So the Chicago venue is going to sell out very quickly. It's possible there are still tickets by the time you hear this.

If so, you can go to Ticketmaster and search Chris Hayes for tickets there. They are available for sale. It's going to be amazing, and we have Nicole Hannah Jones, and Ibram X. Kendi. We're going to be talking about slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, racism and anti-racism in the Trump era. Going to be an awesome conversation. Go check that out.

"Why Is This Happening?" Is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the "All In" team and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here by going to NBCnews.com/why-is-this-happening.