By Karen Rodman
Exactly a year ago today when India illegally and unilaterally abolished the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, thousands took to the streets in Toronto, across Canada and around the world to draw attention to the plight of the Kashmiris.
It even caught the attention of the mainstream media.
Today, while with the rest of the world is focused on our own restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic since early March, the settler colonial project in Kashmir has gone on steroids.
The Kashmiris are faced with a brutal human rights situation of double lockdown—an aggressive military lockdown, coupled with the devasting ramifications of Covid-19.
Restricted communications, not allowing the international community to see what is happening, and a rapid succession of arbitrary legal changes by India has led to a disastrous situation for the people of Kashmir, made worse under the veil of Covid-19.
August 2019 Military Lock Down
On August 5, 2019, the Kashmiri people lost their autonomous status, when the president of India arbitrarily revoked Article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution and suspended the Jammu and Kashmir constitution.
The people of Kashmir were promised a plebiscite to determine their own future in UN Security Council Resolution 47 (passed on April 21, 1948).
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution had provided special status for Jammu and Kashmir, while the people waited for the plebiscite promised by the international community.
The revocation of Article 35A which had been in place since 1927 set the stage for an Israeli style colonial settlement of the occupied area.
The day before, on August 4, 2019, internet and telephone services were cut, curfews imposed, public assembly prohibited, and thousands including minors, and almost all elected officials of Jammu and Kashmir were put under preventative detention.
A year of military lockdown
The economic, social and political impact of these actions over one year have been disastrous.
On July 23, 2020, the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir released an in depth report on the situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir over the last year. The report paints a dire picture of the human rights situation.
The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and the Association of Disappeared Persons (APDP) provided a detailed report of the first six months of 2020. This included at least 229 killings in different incidents of violence, including the extrajudicial execution of at least 32 civilians.
At least 48 cases of destruction of civilian properties were reported from January 1 to June 30, 2020 in IOK. This increase in the destruction of civilian properties under the Covid-19 lock down resulted in many families becoming homeless and without shelter.
Settler Colonialism on Steroids
Under the veil of Covid-19, the Domicile Law was introduced on March 31, 2020. This allows non-Kashmiris to acquire property and settle in the state.
It has grave implications for Kashmir’s future.
Non-Kashmiris can now settle in the state, altering its demography.
Meanwhile, the indigenous Kashmiri population has to apply for residency permits in order to carry on basic functions of life.
This is a parallel process to Israel’s granting of full citizenship in Jewish only settlements located in occupied Palestine, while requiring Palestinians in the occupied territory to have residency permits that limit their movement.
Similarly, in IOK only Indian Hindus, not Christians or Muslims, are being granted citizenship in Kashmir.
Meanwhile, the indigenous Kashmiri Muslims are being forced to produce papers to show their residency.
Many of these people do not have this proof as records were lost over the years (such as in the 2014 floods) and they have never been able to replace these.
Status of Jammu and Kashmir
Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally-recognized disputed territory. The Indian Domicile Law allows for settlement of its own population into an occupied area.
This is in direct contravention of international law. These actions are prohibited by Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states “the occupying power shall not transfer its own civilian population into territory it occupies.”
Under Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, all High Contracting Parties, which includes Canada, are required to take action to ensure respect for the Convention “in all circumstances.”
In this regard, Canada is complicit in its silence and inaction in regard to what is happening in Indian occupied Kashmir.
The Domicile Law is aimed at not just demographic change, but at classic settler-colonization robbing the land and resources from the indigenous population of Jammu and Kashmir.
This law is counter to the United Nations Security Council resolutions 47 (1948), 91(1951), 96(1951), 98(1952), 122(1957) and 126(1957) that call for a plebiscite to determine the future of the disputed territory.
Canada actually played a key role in crafting and getting resolution 47 in place, through Canada’s UN representative, Andrew McNaughton, who was the president of the UN Security Council. Over seven decades later the people of Kashmir wait for the plebiscite, and now while the world is pre-occupied with Covid-19, the facts on the ground are quickly taking away hope that this promise from the international community will be fulfilled.
Communication blackout puts Kashmir at risk and obscures what is happening to outside world
Internet and telephone services remain blocked from August 5, 2019.
The internet blackout in Kashmir which started in August and lasted 175 days, was among the world's longest internet shutdowns implemented, according to digital rights group Access Now.
Only 2G and minimal 4G was beginning to be restored as Covid-19 hit.
Since early March, essentially only 2G has been available with sometimes no internet or telephone service at all.
This has made accessing required information for health professionals related to Covid-19 very problematic, and indeed dangerous.
David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Expression, in a statement against shutdown of communication during the pandemic said, “Internet access is critical at a time of crisis.”
He emphasized that “Human health depends not only on readily accessible health care. It also depends on access to accurate information about the nature of the threats and the means to protect oneself, one’s family, and one's community.”
Repeatedly healthcare workers in Kashmir have emphasized the importance of robust, steady internet services to ensure measures for public health, but the Indian government has maintained communication blockages.
COVID-19 has seen the world shift to online for work, education and resources but in Kashmir, the communication blockade acts as an obstacle for the day-to-day functioning.
It also has meant students are unable to do online studies during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Beyond the humanitarian needs, and the basic human rights denied through the communication blockages it means it is difficult to get messages out to the rest of the world.
The Indian government has continued to insist that this is a bi-national issue, and has blocked human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Human Rights, and others from monitoring situations on the ground.
Even the International Committee of the Red Cross has not been able to engage its core humanitarian and prisoner liaison services.
Particularly disturbing under lockdown, the Kashmiri youth are easy prey for Indian troops to pick up.
A delegation of five Indian female lawyers and academics visited Kashmir from September 17-21, 2019.
The Delhi High Court Advocate, Poonam Kaushik revealed at a press conference in Delhi on September 26, 2019 that Kashmiri families had told them more than 13,000 youth had been picked up by the Indian army in the first six weeks of the military lockdown.
The Public Safety Act allows the Indian army to arrest and detain people for up to two years without charge. Amnesty International has dubbed the Public Safety Act imposed since 1978 as the “tyranny of a lawless law.”
In March 2020, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs admitted that 7,357 persons had been arrested in Jammu & Kashmir since August 5, 2019.
Independent sources say the number of detainees is much higher.
Reportedly, many of those still detained are minors, according to a report by Amnesty International.
Other human rights organizations have also called on governments, including the Indian government, to release detainees because of the pandemic.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on governments to “examine ways to release those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders.”
Similar calls have been made by the International Federation for Human Rights. In a press release on April 6, 2020, it called on India to release arbitrarily detained Kashmiris.
Last year Genocide Watch issued a ‘Genocide Alert’ for Indian occupied Kashmir.
It said “Genocide Watch’s Ten Stages of the genocidal process are also far advanced”, the group called “upon the United Nations and its members to warn India not to commit genocide in Kashmir.”
The Kashmiris desperately need the world’s attention and help.
In Canada, a petition is making its way to the Canadian parliament in this regard. Sponsored by Hamilton Mountain NDP member of parliament Scott Duvall, the petition calls for Canada to condemn the government of India’s Domicile Law, and its settlement-colonization underway in Jammu and Kashmir.
The petition also requests that Canada call on India to immediately restore 4G internet access, and given COVID-19, requests with urgency that India ends preemptive imprisonment and to free all political prisoners.
The petition also insists upon compliance with international legal obligations as part of Canada’s ongoing relationship with India, especially in trade, defense, and counter-terrorism; and that Canada proactively work with the UN towards implementation of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. To that end, Friends of Kashmir Canada, Canadians for Peace and Justice in Kashmir, Canadian Council for Justice and Peace, and Just Peace Advocates have requested a meeting with Canada’s new UN ambassador Bob Rae.
This article first appeared in The Canada Files on July 27, 2020