The past year has been difficult for Kashmir, an Indian administered region of dispute that has recently lost its semi-autonomous status. Since then, human rights violations and forceful measures have riddled the valley, and the global pandemic has only made matters worse. In a similar trend to the last 73 years, the world has remained silent on the dispute and no comprehensive steps have been taken to address the brutal measures employed against Kashmiris. Amidst the various happenings around the world, let’s pause to see what exactly the valley has gone through since last year.
Kashmir is a princely state that became disputed territory between India and Pakistan after their independence from the British in 1947. Princely states were native-ruled parts of the British Raj in India, as opposed to provinces that were governed by the colonial government. Upon the end of colonial rule, princely states were given a choice to either join India or the newly-formed Pakistan. The Maharaja, or ruler, of Kashmir, Hari Singh, remained somewhat indecisive on the question of independence and eventually signed a friendly travel treaty with Pakistan before backing out.
India claims the Maharaja had chosen to accede to India by signing the Instrument of Accession, however Pakistan does not accept this document. Many wars, disputes and border skirmishes later, the issue remains unresolved with much of India and Pakistan’s military and foreign policy centered around the Kashmir issue.
The UN and Kashmir
In January 1948, the UN formed its Commission for India and Pakistan tasked to help the two countries resolve their problems. Two resolutions later, in 1950, a cease-fire led to the creation of the Line of Control, the appointment of a Special Commissioner, and eventually the formation of the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). The aim of UNMOGIP was to supervise the ceasefire and report any activities to the Secretary General.
Until 2019, India maintained a special constitutional status of semi-autonomy for its side of Kashmir, while Pakistan maintained its own side, called Azad Kashmir. However, since August 2019, India stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, with the aim to integrate the region into its mainstream national policies. What has followed is a series of extreme human rights violations that have fallen on deaf ears at the UN and on the international community in general.
Apart from minimal action by the UN, the area remains not just disputed but in turmoil. Outside of the UN, the international community is so accustomed to viewing the conflict as an India-Pakistan issue and largely forgets the vast Kashmiri population. The focus has remained on the costs of India and Pakistan going to war with each other, instead of the costs for Kashmir itself. It is time to call for a focus on the region of Kashmirand and to work towards a real solution.
Human Rights Violations
Disputed territories with high military presence and extreme government force are a hotbed for human rights violations. Even before COVID-19 lockdowns, Kashmir was shut down after India’s abrogation of Article 370. This means that daily crackdowns on civilians, excessive use of force and a complete telecommunications shutdown was enforced in the area by India. Those able to share their stories from inside the state have equated the new conditions to a siege by the Indian government.
Even before the 2019 revocation of special status, a UN report was released detailing the many violations of human rights in both Indian and Pakistani administered parts of Kashmir. The report highlights the well-known pellet gun firing tactic used in the Indian-administered region, which involves a 12-gauge pump gun that fires small metal pellets indiscriminately and risks the lives of those in close radius. According to information from Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where most pellet shotgun injuries are treated, 1,253 people have been blinded by the metal pellets from mid-2016 to the end of 2018. Bear in mind that Indian-administered Kashmir is also one of the most militarized places on Earth, with 500,000 troops deployed. There is roughly one soldier for every 30 civilians, according to the 2020 Armed Conflict Survey, creating a tense living environment for residents.
Meanwhile, in the Pakistan-administered area, journalists and activists who express their opinions or engage in advocacy face regular threats according to the UN report. In November 2018, 19 activists of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front were charged with “treason” for organising a rally in the Kotli area of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
COVID-19 and Kashmir
While the world was in lockdown when COVID-19 took rise, Kashmir was faced with COVID-19 as an additional calamity to their existing lockdown. The Indian-administered region’s first COVID-19 case was detected in March, with 701 cases out of 12 million people reported as of May, 2020.
The restrictions imposed after the virus hit have been largely accepted and people are choosing to stay at home. However, while the rest of the world is transitioning to work online, Kashmiris in the Indian-administered region don’t have the freedom to do so due to the internet restrictions. This is similarly a challenge for public health officials as the internet has been a key source of information and a tool to spread awareness regarding COVID-19. Therefore, the ongoing brutality in the area adds to the turmoils of the pandemic.
However, the pandemic provides a perfect opportunity for militarized governments to use excessive force and the Indian-administered region has been called out for continuing such force through turbulent times. Arbitrary arrests, undue restrictions on public activities and probing of journalists in the past few months have been justified as to control the spread of the virus. For example, Ifat Gazia akins the Indian government’s policies and force to a kind of settler colonialism – as Kashmir is kept open for citizenship and tourism by other Indians even amidst nationwide lockdowns.
Events over the last 73 years, especially in recent times, point to the need for serious consideration by the international community to assist Kashmir, whose future is still in great danger. The normalization of the Kashmir issue as something irresolvable and simply a geopolitical issue dehumanizes the millions whose past, present and future it defines.