At midnight on August 5th, India cut off all communication lines to, from, and within Kashmir. While the world’s attention had been on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, India moved brazenly towards annexing Kashmir completely. By revoking Article 370, which gave Kashmir the right to its constitution, and the freedom to make laws, India forcibly subjugated the Muslim-majority state. In addition to the blackout in telecommunications, the internet, television, and radio, India tightened its military grip over the restive state by deploying tens of thousands of additional troops and imposing a strict curfew. Schools closed, businesses shut, and even pilgrims and tourists were ordered to leave the area. Reportedly nearly 4,000 people have been arrested, including many of Kashmir’s political and civil leaders. Reports of human rights abuses have also been rampant.
Kashmiris have long-lived ‘under siege.’ Three countries, India, Pakistan and China claim sovereignty over Kashmir, with India controlling the most extensive area, Jammu and Kashmir. India and Pakistan have taken up arms twice over this long-contested region. Kashmir is known to be one of the most militarized zones in the world with a dismal human rights track record. In June this year, Amnesty International condemned the Indian authorities for their extensive use of the Public Safety Act to detain Kashmiris without trial.
India’s most recent actions leave Kashmiris with a near-zero ability for self-determination. Furthermore, the repeal of Article 35A, a part of Article 370 which gave the people of Kashmir some special privileges, including the right to own property, and to hold local government jobs, is viewed by Kashmiris as a full-on assault to their very being. Reactions in India, however, cannot be more different. Memes on social media that make light of the situation in Kashmir such as one of Indians armed with guns going to Kashmir to buy land reveal how little room there is in India to accommodate minorities.
India has been unapologetic about its aggressive actions, arguing the need to integrate Kashmir to protect the region from rising terrorism and to bring economic development. Kashmiris are likely to retaliate by escalating the armed insurgency they have been waging for the past 30 years. Calls for separatism may veer into extremism. Remarkably, the international community has reacted mutely. The White House notes that this is strictly a domestic matter, while a human rights spokesman for the United Nations merely expressed concern. So why does the world seem to care more about what’s happening in Hong Kong than in Kashmir?
India’s actions in Kashmir should not be seen merely as a domestic matter. It could have dire consequences on geopolitics in a region that is already running on a short fuse. As the world commemorates the ideals of peace on September 21st, the International Day of Peace, we should remind ourselves of what underpins these ideals: the respect for the rule of law and the right to freedom. We are undoubtedly not upholding these ideals when we advocate them in one part of the world but remain silent in another.
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