Kashmir crisis update, October 30, 2019
October 30, marks eighty five days of the siege and communications clampdown in Kashmir. In another day, the state of Jammu and Kashmir will be officially bifurcated and turned into a Union territory of India.
In the Valley, public transportation remains suspended, internet blocked, schools, colleges and universities nonfunctional, and only postpaid mobile phones and some land lines are working. Accounts of detentions in faraway lands, torture and harassment as well as forced labour continue to pour in. There is reported increase in mental health illness as a result of the curfew, confirming reports of the fact finding missions to date.
On Oct. 25, Asif Sultan, an imprisoned Kashmiri journalist was honoured in absentia with the International Press freedom award. The Committee to Protect Journalists says India uses opaque legal process to suppress Kashmiri Journalism and commentary on twitter.
Several institutions including the J&K Human Rights commission, State Information commission (which implements the right-to-information laws), Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights, and Commission for Persons with Disabilities, are some of the key institutions being shut down as of October, 31.
The Jammu and Kashmir Chamber of Commerce estimates losses to the tune of over 1.6 billion US dollars. The economy has suffered tremendously especially because of lack of internet connectivity, making basic transactions an impossibility. Given the economic downturn, even those in Jammu who favoured the abrogation of Article 370, especially transporters and other business people, are regretful of their initial euphoria, and report being silenced by the government. Minorities in Jammu region, especially students from Muslim minority communities are feeling unsafe and targeted by supporters of the ruling BJP.
The Association of the Parents of the Disappeared People published an important report on blinding by metal shot guns used on protesters and ordinary people.
For the first time we also have a report from the tireless human rights activist, lawyer, and convener of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, Mr. Parvaiz Imroz. He reports that the level of fear and suffocation by the army is unprecedented. All the government institutions have been paralyzed, including the courts. Imroz also states that the Judiciary is not following its own laws, especially in habeas corpus petitions, making the judicial institutions irrelevant. Besides the formally recorded detentions, Mr. Imroz estimates indiscriminate detention of between 20,000 to 30,000 youth.
The army seizes identity cards of ordinary citizens, and families of detainees, as ransom. To recover their identity cards, they are required to appear at army camps where they risk detention, torture, extortion, and/or bonded labour. Informal ways of collective punishment are being used to inflict fear and to prevent any expression of protest. Most young people do not even stay in their homes for fear of being detained. Jails such as Agra central prison refuse to provide details of detainees even under the Right to Information procedures.
While all political parties opted out, BJP held Block Development elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
On October 29, in a bid to create a false sense of “normalcy” in the Valley where nothing is normal, a group of right wing European Parliament (EP) members were brought on a private tour to Kashmir. EP member, Chris Davies, called it a “PR stunt for the Modi government.” The purpose of the trip, as well as the sponsor of the trip, have been called into question by other members of EP, Indian politicians, and civil society. Kashmir Scholars wrote to the European Union members expressing their concern over this false promotional visit. Even though the students have been out of school for three months, and their syllabi incomplete, on Oct 29, the students of Grade 10 were required by the government to appear in their Board examinations, once again presenting a sense of false normalcy to the visiting EP team.
The spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement of concern stating that the UN body remains, “extremely concerned that the population of Indian-Administered Kashmir continues to be deprived of a wide range of human rights” and urging “the Indian authorities to unlock the situation and fully restore the rights that are currently being denied.” OHCHR also expressed concern over the delay in considering habeas corpus petitions pending in the Supreme Court, freedom of movement and media restrictions. They also noted that “most serious underlying issues which remain to be addressed, including impunity for past violations by Indian security forces” that were outlined in the two previous reports by the UN Human Rights Office in July 2019 and June 2018.
Six US law makers wrote to the Indian Ambassador seeking free access to Kashmir for foreign media. “We believe true transparency can only be achieved when journalists and members of Congress are allowed free access to the region. We encourage India to open Jammu and Kashmir to both domestic and foreign journalists, and other international visitors, in the interest of open media and increased communication,” the lawmakers said in the letter.
On October, 22, the first ever Congressional Hearing on Kashmir was held in the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee. Representatives of the US government testified at the hearing and also submitted written statements. Arti tikoo Singh and Mr. Ravi Batra, testified on behalf of India. Professors Nitasha Kaul and Angana Chatterji, both of whom have conducted extensive research in Kashmir and written extensively about the Kashmir conflict, were called in as experts witnesses, along with Francisco Bencosme of Amnesty International. All witness statements can be accessed here
On 27th October, vigils for Kashmir were held all around the world to mark the day when Indian army first landed in Kashmir.
National Women’s Studies Association takes a strong stand on Kashmir