India must end its violations in Kashmir and the world must speak up
Silencing voices of freedom has been a long-standing policy instrument of oppressors across history. In Kashmir, since October 27, 1947, all possible tools of repression have been used against political leaders, journalists, human rights defenders, civil society organizations, and youth to curb freedom of expression and of association.
After the unilateral measures taken by India on August 5, 2019, to impose its version of a final solution in Kashmir, repression has been significantly intensified. Today, voices of freedom are being silenced through brutal crackdowns, the use of lethal force including pellet guns, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and inhuman treatment, enforced disappearances, staged encounters, and other forms of violence.
There are 900,000 Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir, forming the densest concentration of any force in the world. But even this massive military force has failed to quell the indigenous struggle of the Kashmiri people.
The entire Hurriyat political leadership – the genuine voice of the Kashmiris — has been detained for the past several years. Numerous Kashmiri leaders, including Syed Ali Geelani, have died in custody. The sham trial of the renowned Kashmiri political leader, Yaseen Malik, is illustrative of the callous suppression in the area.
The Indian military is particularly targeting Kashmiri youth to pre-empt and prevent indigenous resistance. Thousands of innocent young Kashmiri boys have reportedly been abducted, subjected to torture and commitments extracted from parents that their children would eschew their protest and resistance.
The international community must play a proactive role in urging India to respect the human rights of the people of Kashmir and work toward a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
The media has been effectively stifled. India has introduced the “New Media Policy 2020” which curbs the freedoms of media and outlines several measures to curtail freedom of expression and opinion, rendering newspapers into government handouts. The new policy gives the Indian administration sweeping powers to decide what is “fake”, “unethical” or “anti-national” news, and to take legal action against any concerned journalist or media organization including terminating government advertisements.
There is also a blanket ban on coverage of demonstrations and protests as well as coverage and reporting of human rights violations carried out by Indian forces. Since August 2019, more than 40 journalists in Kashmir have endured a series of oppressive measures, including police interrogations, physical assaults and the imposition of fabricated criminal cases.
There are also a number of restrictions imposed on journalists, which hamper their work, including instances of the police preventing journalists from covering local body elections by placing restrictions on their movement or preventing them from taking photographs; police stopping journalists from covering public funerals of Kashmir’s outspoken political leaders; journalists beaten up by security forces while covering fake encounters and cordon and search operations; journalists getting hit by metal pellets and journalists assaulted for allegedly informing stone throwing protesters of police movements. The fear of government reprisals has led to self-censorship among journalists. Many are hesitant to report on issues that might be deemed sensitive or critical of the government.
Human rights defenders play a pivotal role in advocating for the rights and dignity of the Kashmiris. In Kashmir, these defenders face immense challenges and are often subjected to harassment, intimidation, and threats, as they endeavour to shed light on rights abuses and injustices.
Khurram Parvez, a prominent human rights defender and coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), has faced consistent harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention. After 5 August 2019, he has been kept under prolonged illegal detentions to prevent him from reporting massive human rights violations. He’s just one story.
In this digital age, Kashmir seems like a place on some other planet, where communication with the outside world has been rendered impossible through a deliberate and systematic policy of denying access to the Internet to the Kashmiri people. According to the digital rights group “Access Now”, the Internet black-out which started on 5 August 2019 and lasted 175 days, was among the world’s longest Internet shutdowns ever implemented.
The struggle for the right to self-determination and freedom has been a long and painful one for the Kashmiri people. The OHCHR in its reports of 2018 and 2019, human rights organizations, and international media continue to highlight the plight of Kashmiris and how their voices are being silenced through repression and violence by Indian armed forces. On this Kashmir Solidarity Day, we urge the international community to stand in solidarity with the Kashmiris by advocating their right to freedom of expression. They deserve a voice.
The international community must play a proactive role in urging India to respect the human rights of the people of Kashmir and work toward a peaceful settlement of the dispute in line with the UN Security Council and aspirations of the Kashmiri people. This is vital for durable peace in South Asia. Strategic considerations must not be allowed to trump human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is time to end the eerie silence over India’s systematic human rights violations.
– Ambassador Munir Akram is permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York