Photo by AFP
Pakistan observes national holiday to express solidarity with the Indian occupied Kashmir every year on February 5. ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ was first proposed by Jamaat-e-Islami members in 1990, and it has since been observed every year with rallies and strikes to show support for Kashmiris affected by the atrocities of the authorities in Jammu & Kashmir.
As the world entered the new year 2020, Kashmiris continue to be under siege since the abrogation of its special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on August 5, 2019, that allowed Kashmir to have its own flag, a separate constitution and the freedom to make its own laws. Six months on, the human rights violations in the valley continue and residents remain prisoners in their own homes and land. Commemorating Kashmir Day serves as a reminder for Pakistanis and those observing this occasion from afar that the struggles of Kashmiris continue, despite the rallies, slogans, camps, and expression of support.
Like any other authoritarian government, the government of India decided to restrict access to communication networks for Kashmiris in order for the abuse to not be communicated to the outside world. This not only created a sense of confusion among Kashmiris within and outside the valley as they tried to contact their families, it further violated their right to communicate freely. Network shutdowns are a prime example of how governments are increasingly controlling flow of information, specifically that information that aims to communicate state-backed abuses on its own people.
On November 12, 2019, DRM highlighted on the 100th day of the communication blockade in Kashmir, “As a result of the communication blockade, almost overnight and unprecedented, over 6 million people in the Kashmir region lost connection to the outside world, were unable to travel and/or contact family and friends.”
Human Rights Violations
The question arises, what is it that the authorities did in these six months in Kashmir that they’re trying to hide from the world? Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch highlights in a report that thousands of dissidents and critiques of the Indian authorities that were arrested have although been released but they were let go of on the condition of not criticising the government again, while the former Chief Minister of Kashmir among other political activists remain under custody.
The law enforcement agencies have gone on to arrest as many as 144 children, who have now been put in what the police calls “deradicalisation camps”. These camps have become popular since ever since the US popularised the concept of detention facilities for refugee children. And although authorities deny any mistreatment in these camps, the reality persists – children are abused and worse, they die because of the lack of essential facilities, protection and treatment. The idea of separating children as young as 10 – 12 years of age from their families during conflicts like those in Kashmir is daunting, and to also accuse them of being radicalised only reflects the intention of erasing any expectations of freedom from the lives of Kashmiris.
Currently under house arrest, Khalida Shah, the daughter of the former Kashmiri leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, tells AlJazeera, “Indian government is trying to erase the history of Kashmir […]”. Since the scrapping of special status of the region, the government of India ruled the right-wing nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has erased previously identified national events of Kashmirs like the anniversary of Khalida’s father on December 5, Martyrs Day holiday on July 13 that was a remembrance of 22 people that were killed in protests against a Hindu monarch in 1931.
Muhammad Junaid, a Kashmiri academic told AlJazeera, “They want to forcibly suppress people’s memories, especially those that hold the centre of Kashmiri identity and impose their own version.”
Khalida adds, “I want to tell India they cannot erase the legacy of my father from Kashmir as everyone remembers him here,” she said. “History can never be erased.”
Soon as the special autonomous status was discarded, Indian government deployed thousands of troops in Kashmir and imposed a curfew, disproportionately halting the lives and livelihood of the citizens of the region.
The residents of Kashmir are denied their basic human rights of healthcare, mobility, communication, studies, do business or earn for their families, protection and even live. On February 5, 2020, Senator Rehman Malik points out in his op-ed in The News that 23 Kashmiris have been killed since the curfew has been imposed, but only limited information is making the news given the constant communication blockade.
The communication returns
In a judgment on January 10, 2020, the Supreme Court of India declared indefinite internet shutdowns ‘impermissible’ and suggested review of the shutdown in Kashmir, failing to provide immediate relief to Kashmirs in the decision. Soon after, on January 25, the government allowed a version of the internet to be restored that only supports access to 2G internet and unblocked 300 websites as part of what the authorities call ‘white list’ effectively excluding mainstream social media and news websites from the list.
The selective access to the internet to its lowest speed when the world is moving towards 5G connectivity, and for that end restriction on access to fundamental human rights, reminds the world that Kashmiris will continue to be occupied and even the simplest of actions like communication that most of the world takes for granted is decided for by the authoritarian government that controls the lives of 6 million people in the region.