Barrister Syeda Misbah Kazmi
Chair of Hope Inclusion Charity in
UK and Chief Executive of Hope Inclusion Law Associate
Islamabad & UK
In August 2019, the Indian government revoked article 370 of its constitution, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of the special status it had held since 1954. This status gave the Indian-occupied Kashmir (IOK) a degree of autonomy, where its people could live under their own flag and constitution, as well as the freedom to propose certain laws. It also ensured that only Kashmiri’s themselves would be able to own land. After this shocking revocation on the 5th of August – which has been described as the “blackest day” in the history of the region – the Indian government sent in a surplus of troops into the valley and imposed a curfew to tackle any possible pushback. Clearly, this was a move designed to prevent the palpable build-up of resentment in the Kashmiri citizens that India has continuously oppressed.
As of August 2020, the siege of Kashmir has lasted over a year. In that time, the once-picturesque valley has been transformed into a prison for Kashmiri citizens. Finding themselves now placed under a savage curfew with unimaginable living conditions, these citizens are exposed to unparalleled brutality by the Indian security forces. The confinement of the whole population to their houses and the perpetuation of extra-judicial killing during the so-called ‘search-and-cordon’ operations have created a severe humanitarian crisis. Despite this, however, the rest of the world has remained silent on this topic, just as they have for more than 70 years.
Prime-minister Modi made it clear during his election campaign that he intended to do away with article 370 and force Kashmir into becoming a part of the Indian union. No leader before Modi had ever attempted to change this special character of Kashmir as it had always been a recognition of the fact that the region is disputed territory. It had always been understood that until a final resolution was passed, this special status would remain unchallenged. It is clear that this act of ‘land-grabbing’ was deliberately enacted upon to portray Kashmir not as disputed territory but, instead, as a concrete part of India, and as a matter for India alone to solve. This was a nefarious move that will allow non-Kashmiris to purchase land and settle in, weakening the status of local Kashmiris. India, once seen as a respectable member of the international community, has exposed itself as disingenuous, having ignored UN resolutions and, instead, taken brash actions by revoking the rights of the Kashmiri people. Since India is a Hindu-majority land, with a Hindu nationalist government and Kashmir has always been dominated by a mostly Muslim population, this could also endanger religious relations. Already, there is speculation and fear over possibilities of religious genocide, or even Nuclear conflict.
Though we currently live in an era of mass-communication and connectivity, the majority of the world remains ignorant to the plight of the Kashmiri’s, who lived for over a year without basic rights. The valley has been deprived of Internet facilities, rendering the citizens effectively cut off and without communication with the rest of the world. The Supreme Court of India declared that internet access is a fundamental right and that the digital lockdown of the Kashmiri valley is unlawful. They directed the Modi administration to explain the reasons for putting Kashmir into digital lockdown, or, failing this, to restore all services. The Indian government responded by providing the Kashmiris with a 2G Internet service but did not explicitly lift the ban. This is clearly a violation of fundamental rights to freedom and expression (as ruled by the Supreme Court), as the administration continues to control all modes of communication in the valley. They have also rendered the Kashmiri citizens unable to use social networking sites. Additionally, the 2G speed is frustratingly slow and, on the face of it, hardly an improvement from the full lockdown. These are violations of rights that, ordinarily, are guaranteed, but the administration has removed them from the Kashmiri’s without any legal or moral justification.
The Kashmiri population has been drowning under a wave of systematic torture, which the Indian government is utilising under the guise of ‘state policy’ to control and subdue the Kashmiri population in a colonial, imperialistic way. This renewed persecution is the most under-reported human rights violation upon the Kashmiri people in decades. Brutal torture techniques are being used upon innocent Kashmiris, including illegal cluster-bombs, electrocution and rape and more. The numerous unidentified graves and unjustified detention of innocent civilians haunts the air of the blood-drenched valley. There is only one word for what the Indian government is carrying out in Kashmir, and this word is genocide. In January 2020, The New York Times reported that India is planning to establish concentration camps for Muslims in Kashmir. The Indian Army General advised the government on these concentration camps, which he proposed the Kashmiri youth should be shipped off to. Since concentration camps set up around the world are always met with widespread condemnation, the General recommended that these should be euphemistically named “De-Radicalisation Centres”. This is clearly a reprehensible method to force the younger generation of Kashmiri citizens to lose their identity and autonomy, by keeping them in camps and subjecting them to humiliation physical and mental torture.
International Law recognises systematic rape and sexual violence as a war crime, and yet, though Kashmiri women are subjected to rape every day, the rest of the world remains silent. The right to education is being denied to young people, but again, this gross violation of human rights has also failed to shake the rest of the world into action. Kashmiris are no longer allowed to work or conduct their businesses, meaning they are unable to meet their most basic needs. They have also been denied health facilities, leaving them weak in front of the dominating Indian army.
A five-member team of eminent female journalists and activists from India travelled to Kashmir and found that there is a curfew in the valley, where no one is allowed to leave their houses after 6PM and all lights must be switched off by 8PM. Any deviation from this these enforced rules would result in the detention of male family members by Indian forces. One incident recounted by this team involved a schoolgirl who lit a lamp past 8PM to study for an exam that she hoped she would be able to take soon. It did not take long for long for the Indian army to barge into the house with snarling dogs, seizing the men in the house, leaving the rest of the family traumatised.
For me, the events of the past year are not surprising at all, because the Indian government has been oppressing the Kashmiris since 1947. But what is surprising is the criminal silence of the international community who are not willing to speak up for the rights of the Kashmiri people. In a world where the rights of animals are so fervently protected, the Kashmiri people have found their screams for help falling upon deaf ears.
The most influential organisation and authority in the world right now is the UN, and it should have played a pivotal role in resolving the Kashmiri crisis. Unfortunately, the UN played down the issue of Kashmir in its annual policy statement at the Human Rights Council in 2016, despite having passed dozens of resolutions for peaceful solutions to grant the Kashmiri citizens the right to their self-determination. Meanwhile, the extra-judicial killing of Burhan Wani by Indian forces propelled the region into a new crisis that India could not handle. The UN has been ignoring the plight of Kashmir for a long time, either because of how influential India has become, or possibly for the reason that the majority of the victims are Muslims, and their rights are therefore not considered worthy of protection. India has thrown the UN’s resolutions aside without fear of repercussion, and so far, no action has been taken against them.
What is the solution to this issue and what should our role be as responsible human beings? To me, it is clear that the solution to the Kashmir crisis ultimately lies in granting Kashmiri citizens their right to self-determinism and, in accordance with UN resolutions, ensuring they have the right to decide their future. There is no doubt that empowering the people of Kashmir and allowing them to be heard is a noble cause, and in staying silent, we are complicit in the crimes and savage violations occurring in the valley. Whilst there is a complete media blackout for Kashmiri citizens, we need to highlight their struggles more than ever before.
The Kashmiris are being denied basic human rights and no one is standing up for them, leaving me to conclude that Kashmir is an Orphan Land.