by Tahir Mahmoud (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 3, Ramadan, 1441)
Using the pandemic as cover, India has thrust its claws deeper into the already wounded flesh of the Kashmiri people. With world’s attention focused on containing the spread of COVID-19, the Modi regime is using the lockdown in the internationally-recognized disputed state to further oppress its people. By blocking 4G Internet access (only the extremely slow 2G is allowed), doctors and other medical professionals are unable to access vital information to confront the pandemic. The aggressive and violent ethno-nationalist regime in India is eager to let the pandemic decimate the Kashmiri population and escape blame.
In another twist, Indian occupation forces, fearing COVID-19 infection, are mostly staying away from the streets and have, instead, recruited local goons to enforce the lockdown. At the same time, concrete barriers are being erected in every locality ostensibly to prevent people from coming out but in reality, turning each locality into a prison.
Successive regimes in India have pursued a policy of genocide against the Kashmiri people. It started with the first massacre perpetrated in October 1947 when Delhi sent its occupation forces into the state. There have been frequent protests against India’s illegal occupation, the last one starting in early 1989 that is still ongoing and has cost 95,515 lives.
On March 31, India introduced an illegal new domicile law. With this law, India is systematically paving the way for settler colonialism in Jammu & Kashmir, through forced demographic change, opening jobs to non-natives, establishing a system of domination over the indigenous populations, and obviating the people’s exercise of their right to self-determination as guaranteed by the United Nations under SCR 91(30 March 1951), 96 (10 November 1951), 98 (23 December 1952) 122 (24 January 1957) & 126 (2 December 1957).
Hitherto, non-natives were barred from settling in or acquiring property in Kashmir under article 35A of the Indian Constitution. The Modi regime unilaterally abrogated, together with article 370, the treaty-based, constitutional relationship between Delhi and the state of Jammu and Kashmir, on August 5, 2019. Article 35A had existed since 1927, preceding the emergence of India as an independent state by 20 years. Its specific purpose was to prevent dilution of the Muslim-majority by an influx of non-natives from India.
The domicile law is a clear violation of international law and human rights. The intended demographic changes can be argued to fulfil the definition of genocide under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, UN General Assembly Resolution 260, as acts committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. Genocide Watch has already placed Kashmir on Genocide Alert.
As per the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007, this proposed extension of domicile rights to Indian citizens is precisely the kind of action aimed at depriving the peoples of Jammu & Kashmir of their integrity as distinct peoples, and of their cultural values or ethnic identities. Already there have been debates about changing official and state languages.
Furthermore, the new domicile law threatens the fragile ecology, and resources of the region. India is in violation of the laws of protection of natural resources as provided under Article 1 of ICCPR and ICESCR; Charter of the United Nations, as well as General Assembly resolution on Permanent sovereignty over natural resources 1962 . Since changes were made to the status of Jammu and Kashmir, the state’s economy has been totally destroyed while India carries out its well-designed policies of economic extraction, land grab, and deforestation.
As per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all people have the right to speak on matters that affect their lives, a right the Kashmiris have been consistently denied with increased intensity since August 5, 2019. The people of Kashmir were kept under lock down to prevent them from freely expressing their opposition to the changed status of the region. Thousands were jailed, tortured, and many hundreds remain in detention.
Calls for the release of these political prisoners, held in appalling conditions in overcrowded Indian jails, have fallen on deaf ears. The prisoners include political and social activists, human rights lawyers, students and journalists, whose list was released by the Research Section of the Kashmir Media Service (KMS) on April 16.
Their transfer to jails in India is a clear violation of international law since an occupying power is prohibited from transferring people to other jurisdictions, much less holding them prisoners, under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
For decades, the brutalities and rights violations perpetrated on the people of Kashmir by state forces and institutions through the protracted conflict have included the enforcement of impunity laws, sexualized violence, torture, enforced disappearances, criminalization of local resistance for self-determination, extrajudicial executions and the burial of civilians in unknown and mass graves.
Far from adhering to the principles of international law, the Indian regime has intensified hostilities on the Line of Control (the de facto border) between India and Pakistan.
Despite calls by the UN Secretary General urging parties to cease all hostilities and focus on the pandemic, the Indian regime has chosen to engage in war games on the Line of Control (LoC). A number of civilians have been killed by Indian artillery fire including a six-year-old boy on the Indian side and a four-year-old on the Pakistani side. Going a step further, the Indian army has deployed its artillery in civilian areas, making the residents of villages close to the LoC vulnerable to retaliatory attacks. The army is essentially using the residents as human shields and possible collateral damage.
Given the pandemic, the residents on both sides of the LoC have nowhere to go. They cannot seek shelter with relatives and friends away from the area, nor can they maintain social distancing as they seek shelter in crowded bomb shelters. The increasing hostilities and the unprecedented extension of the battlefront into civilian communities should be seen as part of the continuum of India’s belligerent annexation tactics.