“Can you brief me about whatever I miss tomorrow? I need to leave now, my flight is in a few days and I want to be able to spend as much time with my mother as possible”, I asked my mentor towards the end of a meeting on a campaign we were running for Kashmir.
“I am sure you can spare a few minutes, Dawood over here hasn’t spoken to his mother in weeks and yet he is still here,” he replied. As dark as it was, we shared a laugh at that comment. But in that moment, I realized how even being able to speak to your loved ones, let alone be with them, is a privilege that not everyone enjoys.
Often known as ‘heaven on earth’ for its scenic rivers and majestic mountains, the Kashmir Valley has been made hell for those living in it. After the partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947, Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir, had shown reluctance in acceding to both newly formed states, India and Pakistan. Although the majority of Muslim Kashmiris wanted to accede to Pakistan, the Hindus, Buddhists and some ethnic Kashmiris wanted to accede to India. Having violated their Standstill Agreement with Kashmir, Pakistan tribal militias invaded Kashmir which led to the Indo-Pak war of 1947 which came to an end through a UN enforced ceasefire.
In the aftermath, Kashmir was divided into three parts, and it remains so. Pakistan governs Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, India governs Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, whereas China governs the inhabitable region of Aksai Chin. The UN mediation had proposed a plebiscite to be held in the disputed territory after demilitarization had been done by both Pakistan and India. However, over the years, despite multiple suggestions, both sides have rejected all plans to demilitarize the region. Pakistan and India fought two more wars in 1965 and 1971, including heightened tensions during the Kargil Conflict in 1999 over Kashmir.
In the 1987 State Elections, a new political party, the Muslim United Front (MUF) emerged popular. They rallied for the rule of Quran in the Assembly and against political interference from the centre. The election saw the highest turnout of 80% in the valley but MUF only won 4 out of the 43 contested seats, despite having 31% of the popular vote. The elections were considered to be widely rigged by the National Congress – counterpart of the Indian National Congress – and hence began the alienation of Kashmiris from the political sphere to weaken their autonomy.
What followed has been one of the most horrendous cases of human rights abuses by a sovereign State. In 1990, India enacted the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to curb any rebellions. This allowed the Indian Armed and Paramilitary Forces to have immunity against committing crimes such as detention without bail, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. AFSPA was condemned and demanded to be repealed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2009.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International further report incidents of sexual violence, torture and fake encounters all carried out by the State. Even the international community has acknowledged these heinous crimes being committed by the IAF, as a State Human Rights Commission reporting over 6,000 unmarked graves in Jammu and Kashmir was condemned by the British Parliament.
In July 2016, after the killing of a young Kashmiri rebel, Burhan Wani, at the hands of the Indian security forces, there were widespread demonstrations and protests in the Kashmir Valley. Over 100 civilians died and more than 600 were injured due to the use of pellet guns. The Indian government has been notorious for cracking down on the spread of information, as it would suspend telecommunication services and enforce curfews each time protests were inevitable.
On the 4th of August, a crackdown by the Indian Government in Kashmir led to political leaders being under house arrest, deployment of Indian Army troops in addition to the current 600,000, a complete media blackout and blockage of internet services, ban on public assemblies and tourists and pilgrims being forced to leave the Indian Occupied territory.
On the 5th of August, through a Presidential order the Indian Government revoked Article 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution. Article 370 and 35A were conditions for Jammu and Kashmir acceding to India, as these provisions gave certain autonomy to the state. The laws allowed Jammu and Kashmir to form their own assembly and govern their own laws, as well as decide if they wish to extend any additional powers to the federal Indian Government. Article 35A further defined who a “permanent resident” of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is and what privileges they shall enjoy.
The revocation of Article 370 takes away complete autonomy from Kashmiris to govern themselves whilst 35A deprives them of the right to grant the status of “permanent residents”, allowing all other Indians to consider it a Union Territory. All Indians now have the right to own property and permanently settle in Jammu and Kashmir; the political power of the original Kashmiris who are supposed to vote in a plebiscite for the fate of Kashmir is being diluted. They have also lost preferential treatment for employment and educational opportunities.
The international community’s silence on the issue has been thoroughly disappointing. One could argue that some have even acted as enablers, for instance Donald Trump’s participation in Modi’s Washington political rally. Similarly, Bill Gates met PM Modi during the same visit and ironically, despite being a pioneer of technology and telecommunications, did not condemn the Indian government’s communications blockade. It is now evident that people all across the political spectrum prioritise economic benefit over humanitarian crises, and hence they found it more suitable to appease to a market of 1 billion consumers than speak for the 12.5 million citizens of Kashmir.