By Maanvi Chawla
The Kashmir issue has been a popular topic for discussion for quite some time now. Everyone has their own opinions on the matter. Contrasting opinions cause contentious debate between many. The problem is that most of these opinions on Kashmir are based on misinformation that is being circulated by mainstream media. The government also actively propagates such misinformation. It is imperative to dispel such misinformation and create an honest picture of the current state of Kashmir.
Kashmir’s tragic story began in 1947 during India’s partition. Both India and Pakistan were trying to lure the ruler of Kashmir to join hands with them. However, Kashmir’s ruler Hari Singh, a Hindu ruler of a Muslim majority population, wanted to remain independent. Pakistan meanwhile started a proxy war on Kashmir, by using Pashtun tribesmen to cross the border, on account of Hari Sighs neutral position. Hari Singh then requested India for military assistance. India having promised assistance demanded that in exchange Hari Singh must sign an Instrument of Accession thereby aligning with India. Following which, Kashmir was integrated into the Indian Union, under Article 370, much to Pakistan’s chagrin.
The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had also then promised the Kashmiris a plebiscite in 1949, one that was never held. Nehru’s government chose to distance itself from the promise to hold a plebiscite by blaming the presence of Pakistani forces in Kashmir. However the truth of the matter was that, with deteriorating relations with Pakistan, a plebiscite which ends with the Kashmiri people deciding to leave the Indian Union and join Pakistan, would hurt India’s prestige and strategic interests. Such turn of events resulted in India abandoning its promise with regard to the plebiscite.
The Indian government seems to be repeating the same pattern with Kashmir. A pattern which is characterised by fulfilling India’s own political agenda at the expense of the Kashmiris. The fifth of August last year is a date that will be remembered in Kashmir for years to come. It was on this day that the Indian government announced the scrapping of Article 370, a provision in the Constitution that provided Kashmir its special status. Prime Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed it as a victory for Indians and especially for the Kashmiris. Ironically post the scrapping of Kashmir’s special status, the government increased its military presence in the valley which certainly received a very negative reaction from the Kashmiri people. The Modi Government also placed mainstream Kashmiri politicians under house arrest and imposed Section 144, which prohibited gatherings of more than five people, public meetings and carrying firearms. They also imposed a curfew and suspended night services. The Indian government’s actions rivalled those of a colonizer, rather than a liberator. They knew the voices of the Kashmiri people would not resonate with them, so they supressed them instead.
A forum report titled, “Jammu and Kashmir: The Impact of the Lockdowns on Human Rights”, talks in detail about the atrocities that took place in Kashmir between August 2019 and July 2020. Atrocities that are still taking place in Kashmir right now. Since all the elected representatives of Kashmir were placed under house arrest, there was no one to advocate on Kashmir’s behalf, leaving the Kashmiris at the mercy of the military. For the military, weeding out the insurgents was more important than the well-being of the Kashmiris. Human rights were overlooked on a daily basis. Homes were destroyed and civilians were killed, while the army tried to weed out the terrorists. With 135 terrorist incidents in 2019 and 80 in the first half of 2020, the increased military presence clearly didn’t accomplish what they set out to do. Any dissidents were also dealt with swiftly and harshly. The writ of habeas corpus was suspended and the right to bail and a speedy trial was waived, giving the military the power to detain someone for as long as they wanted. Many children were also detained, with the youngest being nine years old. When the case of the illegal detention of children was taken up the Supreme Court, the judges ruled that a few hours of illegal detention would actually be good for the children. In the final judgement, the Court asked the officials to provide the children with counselling. This judgement reflects that the judiciary has failed in its fundamental duty of upholding the rights of its fellow citizens.
Internet and data services were suspended for 213 days. Data services were only restored on the 17th of August this year. This was the longest internet shutdown ever imposed by a democratic country. The central government justified these actions by stating that this was done with an aim to restrict terror related communications on online platforms. However, this only severely disrupted the lives of the Kashmiris.
The education sector was also badly affected. Schools had only been functional in Kashmir for 100 days since August 2019. Then India went into lockdown due to the COVID pandemic, in March 2020, and Kashmir’s situation worsened. Schools had to use online platforms but none of them could be used effectively due to the internet and data suspension. Children were imprisoned in their homes, with no connection to the outside world and were harassed by military officials.
Kashmir’s economy also suffered. While in the rest of the country, people were able to work from home, the Kashmiris were in an internet blackout. This along with the frequent encounters between the militia and the military caused a loss of 2.4 billion dollars for the industrial sector. The tourism industry, which used to be a major source of income for the Kashmiris, lost 71% of its revenue. Many IT companies were forced to leave the state, leaving their employees without a job. The fruit industry which consists of the largest suppliers of apples in India, lost 1.35 lakh metric ton of its crops. Local businesses were also forced to shut down, not being able to survive the dual blow of COVID and militant encounters. Approximately 497,000 jobs were lost in the first six months of lockdown. The unemployment rate in Kashmir was 17.9% in July 2020.
The Kashmiri media too was ruthlessly censored. When the lockdown first began, newspapers weren’t allowed to publish for the first two months. Even after publishing had begun, the media wasn’t allowed to publish or report anything against the wishes of the government and were turned into tools of propaganda. The Kashmiris couldn’t access online publications, so their only source of information were newspaper articles which were far from reality.
PM Modi assured the Kashmiris that this was the beginning of a ‘new era’. Untill now, this ‘new era’ has only exacerbated the suffering of the Kashmiris. Kashmir has now been given the status of a Union Territory. Union Territories in India are governed directly by the President of India, which means the Kashmiris will have very little say in their own matters. Since India claims that Kashmir is an integral part of the country, it’s high time it start’s treating it like one. Military presence in Kashmir should be considerably reduced and internet services must be restored in the Valley. Political prisoners should be released and the censorship of media must be avoided by all means. There should be an enquiry into the alleged human rights violations that have taken place in Kashmir and adequate compensation must be given. Kashmir has been portrayed as the proverbial phoenix, rising from the ashes, when in reality it is India that had lit the pyre in the first place.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect the opinions of The St Andrews Economist.