By: Rubab Nawaz
The word ‘Kashmir,’ once reminding of beauty and joy, has now become synonymous with pain and misery. The valley is the brutal manifestation of exercising unbridled power. India, while claiming to be the largest democracy in the world, is engaged in the worst kind of human rights violations in the region having a population of over 13 million people. It is also taking unilateral actions in the internationally disputed area violating the UN Resolutions and International Humanitarian Law. While portraying an authoritarian behavior marked by disrespect for people’s rights and international norms, India is going against its own claims of being a democratic state.
India is adamantly celebrating yet another Republic Day this year on January 26 disregarding what it means to be a republic and its responsibilities. Indian-Occupied Kashmir is denied any say in its governance structure and decision-making. Moreover, asymmetric actions have been taken by the Indian government since 1948 to suppress the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Therefore, the people of Kashmir recognize the Indian Republic Day as their Black day. The garb of contested concepts like terrorism is exploited by India to delegitimize the movement for the right of self-determination by the people of the region that started before its occupation in the region. It allows India to carry out illegal crackdowns, arrests, detentions, killings, property seizures, and job dismissals against the Muslim Kashmiris. Every year when January 26 comes closer, such brutal actions are intensified in the region that is forced to isolation from the world through communication blockades.
Kashmir is the most militarized zone in the world. After the illegal withdrawal of autonomy of Indian Occupied Kashmir, the number of army personnel grew to more than nine lacs in the region. The region has turned into a living jail as people cannot move freely. Further to make matters worse, Public Safety Act (PSA) has empowered armed forces to persecute Kashmiri Muslims on their will. Since 2019, Muslim political leaders who were inclined towards self-determination have been detained illegally. Some like Altaf Ahmed Shah have died because of the absence of hygienic and medical facilities in the jails. They are even denied the right to lawyers. Similarly, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act enables the Indian army to arrest Kashmiris on mere suspicion and even the right to kill. This law is repetitively applied by the forces to kill young Muslims in fake encounters. The Indian government gave the argument that Kashmir’s autonomy was being withdrawn to bring equality to India’s all states and unions. However, the reality is that Kashmir is continuously being discriminated against by the Indian authorities through the weaponization of law.
The brutality that Kashmiris are witnessing is not limited to military suppression, but it is multidimensional in nature. According to The Lancet, due to curfews in Kashmir, it has been difficult for people suffering from heart disease, diabetes, and pregnant women to reach the hospitals in emergency situations. A glaring and most quoted example is that of the COVID-19 pandemic when the region was ignored by the Indian government and health facilities in the region were miserable. There were less than 100 ventilators and only 85 ICU beds. In general circumstances as well, there is one doctor for more than 3500 people going against WHO’s directions that suggest one doctor for 1000 people. In the economic sector, Kashmiri Muslims are denied high-paying and authoritative jobs after the change in domicile law that, now, allows immigrants to have the same politico-economic rights as locals. They and Kashmiri non-Muslims are preferred for important posts.
Moreover, many employed Muslims are dismissed from the job by accusing them of being pro-separatists. Combined with this increasing economic insecurity is the fear of homelessness as the Indian government is confiscating the lands of local Kashmiri Muslims and even destroying their homes. Article 33 and 34 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits state actors from such acts of pillaging and India is blatantly violating these actions. Its actions are highly contrary to what it hails and what democratic governments are all about: consensus-based policies, civil rights, and public welfare. While these political and civil rights are denied to Kashmiri people, Indian authorities are also trampling the basic human rights of Kashmiri people. The demographic change, denial of basic facilities like shelter, and health, use of indiscriminate force, use of banned pallet guns, torture, rape, etc. are frequent by Indian authorities in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. All these actions go against International Humanitarian Law.
The independent non-profit body, Genocide Watch, warned of genocide in Indian-occupied Kashmir by the Indian government as all the above-mentioned actions violate the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1951. India, under the Modi government, has specifically taken on ultra-Hindu nationalist agenda. While ensuring hellish conditions in Kashmir, the Indian government is showing both active and passive support for anti-Muslim sentiments and actions across the country. While continuing with the democratic process of elections, India has created a façade of democracy for the world and is making life unbearable for minorities. Its global politico-economic clout also gives it a space in escaping accountability for its violation of International law, norms, and UN resolutions.
In all the mentioned context, it is pertinent for major powers and the international community to resolve this decades-old issue for the ease of the people of the region; otherwise, uncertain and sudden international developments would keep this ticking bomb intact and the misery of the people to be continued.
The writer Rubab Nawaz, is a Research officer at YFK- International Kashmir Lobby Group.