by Sanjana Swaroop for Twisted Tiara
My conscious will not let me be silent when so many are screaming out for help. What is worse, I sometimes wonder: the inhumanity in abuse, or the inhumanity in apathy? We, as a country, have ignored the cries in Kashmir for decades, 7 to be exact plus 37 days. A conversation about holding a referendum to consult what the people of Kashmir want for themselves has been hushed for 70 years. As if the provisions of sections 370 and 35A were merely to placate the populace at the time. This was always the plan: the occupation of Kashmir.
A State in Suspended Animation: What is happening in J&K?
The actions by the Government of India and the security forces since August, should definitely raise alarms, if the report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published on 8 July 2019, a month before the siege began, was not cause for concern already.
On the 5th of August, pre-emptively, the Government of India, blocked out communications in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and put several of the local leaders under house arrest. On the 6thof August, the motion to abrogate section 370 was proposed by our Home Minister and passed within less than 7 hours of deliberation in both houses. And so the nightmare began.
We should all be alarmed by how the special status was revoked. Violence is not peace, oppression is not statecraft and curtailing constitutional rights does not make us muscular. It sheds light on how we have hollowed out our institutions and the checks and balances are no longer in place. When a democracy stops being deliberative, we are in serious crisis.Suchitra Vijayan, Lawyer, Foreign Policy Analyst and Writer.
Communication lines and internet were cut off, curfews installed, lawful public gatherings disbanded and a state deserted. In the name of peace keeping, additional security forces have been placed in the region. By all accounts of locals, visiting family or international journalists, the people of Kashmir have essentially been jailed in their homes. With information that is pre-approved by the officials who were allowed to go to the media, the newspaper editions became bare. Any indication of dissent has been quashed and the Government of India has been assuring its concerned citizens and international brethren in its official statements, that all is well in the J&K region.
Indian government and forces deny any violations of human rights, and yet there is an air of mourning and disbelief as reports of over 3000 people from the valley being detained or disappearing circulate. Images showing the brutality enforced in the region have surfaced: protestors wounded by pellet guns, journalists harassed, lathi-charge and tear gas attacks becoming commonplace. It’s a state of suspended humanity.
The strictly enforced curfews, reports have also suggested, have interfered with people’s access to basic amenities and healthcare. Let me reiterate, people are unable to take their loved ones to the hospital in case of emergencies. In the wake of the state-wide curfews, certain functions of essential services have also been disabled . Religious freedom has also been affected. The locals of the Muslim majority state are unable to pray without armed guards and are even restricted from celebrating Muharram.
Home of Controversy: Why is this happening in J&K?
Ever wonder why Jammu and Kashmir received this special status in the first place? At the time of Independence, certain princely states were given the option of joining the Union of India. The case of J&K was unique even then: ruled by a Hindu royal, with a majority of Muslim subjects. Section 370 was a unique compromise which allowed J&K and its citizens to self-determine their own fate at a time when the situation was not as tense as it was in 1947. Since then, it has been in the interest of governments to ensure that peace never settled over the region, as that might have triggered the plebiscite, we are so afraid to conduct.
Today, J&K is the only state in India with a muslim majority population. The move by the central government has been dubbed by many as a Hindu majoritarian grab for land and power, while weakening the position of Muslims in India.
Official statements and empty reassurances that all restrictions will be eased out in phases do little to ease public discomfort. Especially with reports stating that the valley will soon start rehabilitation program for the displaced Kashmiri Pandits. Is this retribution for the events of 1990 which saw the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the region? The ruling party today, which was in opposition at the time, had termed the incident as an exercise in ethnic cleansing. But honestly, are their current actions against the Muslim populace in Kashmir any different?
It is impossible to isolate the action in J&K from the ruling party’s rhetoric of a ‘Hindu’ nation. Is the BJP majority government, which has openly propagated a Hindutva rule, ‘balancing’ the scales in the only Muslim majority state in India? With the restrictions and siege like conditions showing no sign of abating, one must conclude that the ruling government will only desist once it has fulfilled its purpose of rehabilitating the displaced Kashmiri Pandits.
But at what cost? Do the rights afforded to upper caste Hindus in this new India outweigh the rights of all other classes, castes and minorities? What’s worse is that despite their transparent majoritarian attitude, the minorities that voted them into power are still waiting for the promised ‘acche din‘.
Knocking on Closed Doors: International Interest in the Valley
There is no denying that Kashmir is of strategic importance to several nations. Sharing a border with Afghanistan, Pakistan and China, it offers certain vantages in terms of terrain. The region is politically important for 3 essential reasons: military vantage, water security, and economic security. In fact, the J&K region has built in infrastructures key to the survival of economies. China’s oil imports and Pakistan’s economic development hinge on the continuing operations of the China–Pakistan–Economic–Corridor which passes through the ‘Pakistan occupied Kashmir region’.
Their collective calls for “probing into the ethnic cleansing in the Kashmir region” do not deter from their own culpability in the situation of Muslims generally. China has been accused of detaining the minority Uighur Muslim population in detention camps; Pakistan has failed to bring its people out of the clutches of terror and terror based organisations. But does their hypocrisy negate what is happening in Jammu and Kashmir today?
The action by the Government of India, to take control over the J&K region citing it as an internal national issue, comes on the heels of renewed investments by China in Pakistan. The Government of India issued a statement urging the two countries to stop illegal activities on Indian terrain. There could be more to this political standoff than meets the eye. The Defence Minister of India, has in no uncertain terms, warned that India will not tolerate interference in ‘national issues’.
When will we wake up from this nightmare?
International reactions to the J&K issue have been limited to mild words alluding to condemnation of government actions. However, countries and international organisations seem reluctant to go after the world’s 2nd largest consumer market which happens to be a nuclear state. No economic sanctions or revoking of privileges seem to be on the horizon. The Indian Government might just get away with murder without an international pull-stop.
To all the ‘stakeholders’ of the valley, I urge you to consider that J&K is more than land of strategic and political importance. It is more than a sum of its resources or a land of infinite beauty. It is home to people. People who have been caught in your political crossfire and held in this siege like situation. These people didn’t ask to be born in Kashmir, but now must pay for it. People who bleed, just like you and me. But unlike you and me, they have been resigned to live out this hellish nightmare in the lap of ‘heaven on Earth’.