The situation in Kashmir is deteriorating at a rapid pace and it seems the world is silent or that they are unwilling to stand up to injustice. And even when people speak, the leaders of strategic countries deliberately choose to delay response or to ignore the cries of ordinary people because accruement of wealth is more attractive than ruining trade agreements over the confrontation of blatant human rights abuses. Our current institutions, while they idealize justice, are consistently chasing after profit and hyper-nationalism at the expense of real human life.
This past month, you might have heard that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been receiving multiple awards. For instance, Bahrain awarded Modi the “King Hamad Order of the Renaissance”, and the United Arab Emirates awarded him the “Order of Zayed”.
And while at face value these awards may seem to point to budding positive relationships between Muslim-majority nations and democracies like India (both on an ideological level and economic level), the truth is much darker. These are Muslim-majority countries in the gulf region of the Middle East, countries whose leaders claim to be advancing progress in the name of Islam and yet frequently take actions that support the very individuals who promote anti-Islamic principles in their own homelands. The truth is that the leaders of gulf countries are dictators who are more invested in trade than in the lives of human beings like those in Kashmir who are currently under persecution.
These awards were also an opportunity for Modi to placate the critics who claim that he holds anti-Muslim sentiments or that there is any contention between his Hindu-nationalist followers and the international Islamic community. Yet we should note that awards like the Order of Zayed have been conferred in the past upon individuals like Vladimir Putin of Russia (September 2007), Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saud of Saudi Arabia (December 2016), and Xi Jinping of China (July 2018). And while not every past recipient can be lumped into this bucket of authoritarian men, it says something about the type of person the United Arab Emirates had in mind when handing the award to Modi.
So what’s going on in Kashmir and why is it such a problem that Modi is receiving these awards? And why should you even care? I would encourage you to *actually* click on the links for more in-depth context and to gain a better understanding of the finer points that may not be reflected in this article.
HISTORICAL AND MODERN CONTEXT:
After the sunset of the British colonial period in South Asia, there was a huge question as to whether India should remain as one or whether it should split into one Muslim-majority nation called “Pakistan” and a Hindu-majority nation called “India”. Ultimately, Muhammad Ali Jinnah founded Pakistan and it was decided that Muslim-majority provinces would accede into Pakistan, and Hindu-majority provinces into India. Yet the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 was just the beginning of a decades-long conflict over the right to control the states of Jammu and Kashmir. For a variety of complex historical and political reasons, including the fact that the Hindu Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir signed the Accession into India, both India and Pakistan claim that the Muslim-majority area belongs to them. They even brought their grievances to the United Nations in 1948, but Resolution 47 that resulted from negotiations did nothing to relieve tensions. The conflict led to the creation of a “Line of Control” (LoC), or a Pakistan-administered Kashmir to the northwest and an Indian-administered Kashmir to the southeast*. And multiple wars.
Skip to the present, and India has reelected its Hindu Nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a second 5-year term. Under Modi’s control, the Bharatiya Janata Party (translated to “Indian People’s Party”), also won a huge majority in Parliament and is currently spearheading anti-Muslim sentiment in India, despite India’s pride in its status as a secular and democratic nation. Voters saw Modi as a figure who could put India’s economy back on track to combat stagnant wages, to fix infrastructure, and overcome severe public health issues that the country is facing.
But they also saw him as a leader who would act upon Hindutva or Hindu nationalist sentiments in both the domestic and foreign spaces**. We can see the rise of right-wing nationalism in different forms across the world, exemplified in the styles of men like Donald Trump in the US, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, and Boris Johnson in the UK. In India, that right-wing nationalism came in the form of the Hindutva movement and the election of Narendra Modi.
WHAT’S THIS GOT TO DO WITH KASHMIR AND WHATS GOING ON NOW?
On August 5, 2019, around the time of Eid (a Muslim religious holiday), the Indian Parliament revoked Article 370 of its constitution, “which gave Kashmiris exclusive hereditary rights and a separate constitution”. It allowed local Kashmiris leaders some level of sovereignty within the states of Jammu and Kahsmir. Article 370 also prevented non-Kashmiri Indians from owning homes and settling in Kashmir.
Moreover, as stated in The Guardian:
India has also abrogated article 35A, introduced in 1954. It empowers the state legislature in Srinagar, the capital, to define who is a permanent resident with the right to buy property and apply for jobs. It’s the dissolution of this article that perhaps presents a graver threat to Kashmiris, as it potentially clears a way for Indians to acquire land.
India now has the power to determine who can buy property and apply for jobs within Kashmir, where before the Kashmiris had that right. The international community recognizes that Kashmir is contested territory and that Kashmir has at least some degree of sovereignty. India’s casual entry into Kashmir is a direct attack on the limited autonomy of the Kashmiris upon their own political and economic fates. It’s also a direct contradiction to the very international norms that have in the past prevented Pakistan and India from taking over any part of Kashmir in the way that Modi has finally done.
Since Parliament has revoked these articles, India has sent over 35,000 troops to the contested region. Tourists were evacuated. Communication lines and the internet have been completely cut off. And since then, over 400 local leaders have been placed under house arrest, and over 4000 activists and Kashmiri citizens have been arrested. Curfews have been implemented. People whose families live in Kashmir have barely been able to communicate with their loved ones. Some prisoners have been sent to Indian jails because the prisons in Kashmir have become overpopulated. Families are being torn apart, and this is being done deliberately through home invasions. This was not a coincidence. All of this was a planned political and military operation. This is a deliberate takeover.
What’s worse is that Indian national news outlets have been either under-representing the horrendous tragedy of the situation. The Economic Times, The Hindu, and India Today are reporting that the overall situation in Kashmir is either “peaceful” or “calm”. But the stories of Kashmiris themselves are vastly different. College students like Amirah who moved to New Delhi from Kashmir say that they cannot speak with their families. Amirah says: “I think one of the worst parts of living through this blackout has been the way nationalist news channels in India have covered the situation in Kashmir by trying to portray it as normal. It’s propaganda”.
In response to these drastic measures by Indian forces, Kashmiris have continued to protest. Hundreds have been injured and, to date, one 16-year-old Kashmiri teenager, Asrar Ahmed Khan, has also been killed. According to the New York Times:
A 16-year-old Kashmiri boy has died after security officers hit him in the face with buckshot, several witnesses said — the first officially confirmed death linked to protests since the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s autonomy a month ago.
The teenager, Asrar Ahmed Khan, had just finished playing cricket in a narrow, brick-walled lane on the evening of Aug. 6 when security forces opened fire on a crowd, several neighbors said. Asrar was knocked to the ground and rushed to the hospital, where he remained in critical condition until his death on Tuesday.
So, to those who claim that the Kashmiris are really happy to be fully integrated into India: Were they asked if they would be happy before forces entered the contested region? Before the article of the constitution was revoked? The answer is no. In fact, as Mirza Waheed writes at The Guardian, “all of this happened without any consultation with Kashmiris, without any discussion among India’s own parliamentarians, and, most crucially, without any sound legal foundation”. This is all part of the Hindutva movement, one that is putting the lives of Muslims in Kashmir and in India at risk. It’s all about political power over a highly contested and rich land. It’s about access and glory. And it’s not right.
And let me just reiterate that the Muslim-majority countries who are emboldening Modi should be ashamed of themselves and, frankly, so should America. While Modi is touring the globe playing footsies with authoritarians like Vladimir Putin and pulling families apart, many of us are silent. Even if we know about the injustices in places like Sudan, Burma, Yemen, and others, we do very little to make change. We’re afraid to confront our own biases and to recognize that an injustice in one place like the United States should be labeled as an injustice in others. Our ears perk up when we hear about how a leader can grow an economy, but turn a blind eye when it’s done through nefarious means. Actually, no. We don’t just turn a blind eye. We reward the nefarious. We give it a podium, a spotlight, we applaud it, and give it a positive pseudonym so that we don’t have to confront it.
And to those who believe that this is a pro-Pakistan stance: Right now, this is about being pro-Kashmiri, and pro-justice. This is about protecting the bodies and the sovereignty of people who have been denied peace for decades. And people who believe that we have the right to criticize President Donald Trump should apply the same logic when looking at leaders of other countries. Pakistan has no real power to do anything in Kashmir, specifically because Pakistan has not set itself to have strong alliances with other powers who could come to Pakistan’s aid if necessary. Newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan seems to be a fresh face within the sea of government corruption, but he himself is powerless in the situation. All he can practically do is warn foreign nations about the situation, in the hopes to avoid an all-out nuclear warfare with India. He spoke with the countries that awarded Modi, and he’s spoken with the United States.
Khan expressed his fears in an op-ed he wrote for the New York Times:
If the world does nothing to stop the Indian assault on Kashmir and its people, there will be consequences for the whole world as two nuclear-armed states get ever closer to a direct military confrontation. India’s defense minister has issued a not-so-veiled nuclear threat to Pakistan by saying that the future of India’s “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons will “depend on circumstances.” Similar statements have been made by Indian leaders periodically. Pakistan has long viewed India’s “no first use” claims with skepticism.
We are talking about war and occupation in an unstable region which will have effects that will be felt globally, economically, and otherwise. It’s incumbent upon us to be educated on this issue and to speak out.
* China currently holds control over a portion of Kashmir as well, known as Aksai Chin.
** Note that Hindutva does not call for discrimination against only Muslims, but also for the Christian, Sikh, and other minorities within the country. For the purposes of this article, I focus on islamophobia because it relates more directly with the situation in Kashmir.
FOR MORE ON THE OCCUPATION OF KASHMIR, LISTEN TO THE GOTMFV SHOW PODCAST FEATURING AN INTERVIEW WITH ARJUN SETHI:
[Cropped CC Modi-Putin image credit: Stolbovsky | Wikimedia Commons]