Amidst a power struggle between military forces, the state, and the local leaders, it is Kashmiri citizens suffering the most. It’s been two years since Article 370 was abrogated and Kashmir still remains brutally under siege.
It faces an immense amount of military presence – in an area with already 70,000 military personnel in place, there were 35,000 more deployed back in 2019 by the Indian government. When asked, spokespersons from the administration replied that “some liberties have to be sacrificed to protect lives.” This kind of logic is what is terrifying about the situation in Kashmir: the justification of outright military occupation of which we receive news daily of torture and massive human rights violations in the name of “protection.” This language is what avoids calling the situation in Kashmir what it is: a siege by a superior military force.
In the state itself, the sense of an extremist Hindutva ideology is growing. Last year, for example, you had the government celebrating their anniversary and chanting, “Ek Bharat, Ek Atma,” (One India, One Soul). This goes to show the insistence of the government to wash over people’s identities and attachment to their geography with this ideology of making everyone into “one
soul.” This is not an effort to unite as much as it is an effort to wipe out what defines people, namely, their individual, subjective cultures.
One would expect a government like the BJP to show some leniency on religious figures – au contraire, despite their own classification as the religious right-wing, the BJP has been systematically removing pilgrims from the Kashmir region, equating them to tourists who they see as foreign threats. This is a part of their attempt to completely eradicate the “Other.” But
along with that, it’s an attempt to control information: nothing gets in, nothing goes out, especially if you kick out all the tourists and/or pilgrims who could convey information to the outside world. More surprising is the fact that local leaders usually end up assisting the BJP in this effort, either consciously or unconsciously.
Let’s say we do accept the claim India repeats over and over again: that it truly is concerned about the human rights situation in India. They like to assert that “Kashmir humara hai!” (Kashmiri is ours!) but how much effort has been put in from India to elevate the situation of the Kashmiri’s? Instead, as one would hope, of helping the Kashmiri people with things like education, or the provision of natural resources, the BJP government has shown utter disregard for their promises to another nation – a promise, I should mention, that is on paper, and signed as well as sealed. Apparently, the definition of concern for human rights includes the performance of actions that fall into the realm of censorship and unlawful imprisonment; media has been prevented from saying the word “occupation” and instead only use the inaccurate term “lockdown,” and countless civilians, activists, leaders, and businessmen have been put behind bars or under house arrest. This is about 8 million people being denied a voice and apart from this, they are being denied their very rights to freedom, such as the freedom of movement.
The Reign of Terror
From August 1, there came an order from the police which was “denying security clearance for passport and other government services to those involved in subversive activities…” It is through the passport that people indicate they belong to the region and denying it to people effectively takes away their right to belong as well as their proof of it. Then, the phrase “subversive activities” happens to be ambiguous enough (on purpose) to almost mean anything, and this ambiguity is taken full advantage of in order to arrest innocents at will.
For example, a young villager reported being picked up by the authorities. They suspected he had attended a protest march, and even when he denied all charges and they had no proof to indict him, they kept pressuring him to reveal the name of a stone pelter. In his own words, “…they continued beating and electrocuting me…” even after he told them he knew no such person.
In any occupied region, stone pelters can be a problem – but not a terrorist, and especially not a threat to a fully equipped, well-trained platoon of army personnel. Yet, in Kashmir, they are treated as terrorists – or worse, sub-humans. Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) the army can treat civilian areas as if they were war zones.
Major Leetul Gogoi in 2017 took Farooq Dar, and under the claim of protecting people at a poll booth from stone pelters, tied Dar to a jeep and paraded him in the streets. Dar was not even a stone pelter – his profession was that of a shawl weaver. As a result of this self-proclaimed “protection” Gogoi received special commendation for engaging in a “counterinsurgency effort.” Repeatedly we see the same thing: a claim of protection to cloud over gross human rights violations.
Another example is that of Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat, who, when asked about this episode, said that “proxy war is a dirty war. . . you fight a dirty war with innovations.” Innovations is a scapegoat word to cover up the brutality which the army is inflicting upon the Kashmiri people.
India’s obsession with total control
Kashmiri’s are terrified – but there is an element of fear that exists within the Indian soldiers as well; they are always afraid they might not harbor enough kills to be able to show off to their colleagues as an indication of their prowess. The youth is particularly targeted – since they are the most rebellious part of the people, but also because by targeting the youth one can wipe out an entire people altogether. War crimes continue to date: mass rapes, third-degree torture . . . and forced disappearances as well as the appearance of unmarked graves of alleged militants whose identities are never revealed. It is rare if ever, that one hears the on-ground situation in Kashmir. Any journalist that attempts to do so is either not given permission to enter, or, if they make it inside, is quickly extradited – or is accused of various crimes. Asif Sultan, for example, was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and for three years has been fighting the charge.
People assert that Kashmiri’s are violent – but, living under siege, under a constant lockdown, with no access to the outside world, and daily harassment warrants irritation. If the streets are full of graffiti saying, “Go back, Indian dogs” and there is the pelting of stones, it is because the Kashmiris are tired of being treated as strangers in their own lands and homes. After having been duped by their own leaders who’ve joined hands covertly with the Modi government, it is the people who now feel the compulsion to resist. After all, no one else is standing up for them.