LAHORE: “We are still in a state of shock,” says a Kashmiri woman with a remote look in her eyes as we begin to talk about the situation inside Indian Occupied Kashmir. Visiting from Srinagar, she is one of the eight-million Kashmiris who are under a military siege since the Modi government unilaterally revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, ending autonomy of the Muslim-majority territory.
The bombshell dropped on August 5 last year in blatant violation of all UN Security Council Resolutions on the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Since then the region, with the deployment of thousands of additional troops, has been under complete lockdown resulting in widespread trampling of basic human rights including denial of healthcare, education and communications blackout.
“We feel terribly violated and extremely humiliated,” went on Zainab (not her real name), echoing sentiments of fellow Kashmiris who have been unjustly and illegally stripped of their special status. Her tone conveyed a deep sense of pain and betrayal as she recapped the atrocities that followed.
In the Occupied Valley torturing, maiming, blinding with pellet guns, detaining and killing of Kashmiris continues with impunity by the Indian security forces.
Zainab whom I met at a friend’s house in Islamabad last week recalled how at one stage Kashmiris were frantically rationing and preparing for war. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s powerful address at the UN General Assembly last year in September in which he emphatically advocated Kashmir’s case was widely celebrated in the Valley. It had rekindled hope for them. Kashmiris were mentally prepared for war and actually quite ready for it given the most oppressive conditions to which they were condemned.
Modi government’s war-mongering and heavy troop movement in the valley were signs that they took for an impending war. People started buying food rations etc. and gearing up for what many thought would be a decisive war. But then it dawned on them it was a great strategic deception by the Indians. That the Indian troops were actually moving towards the cities instead of Line of Control. When nothing happened they realized it was all a charade, a tactical move to buy time to consolidate Indian control in the occupied valley. That it was a war on Kashmiri Muslims. To kill their spirit of resistance and cripple them in every possible way. The disappointment on Zainab’ face was quite evident. Listening to her it was clear that Kashmiris expected more from Pakistan.
With the international community’s muted response to the revocation of Article 370, it is not surprising that Kashmiris look to war as the only hope. After 200 days of lockdown and blackout what keeps them going is their faith and that perhaps one day Pakistan will practically come to their aid.
In passing, Zainab mentioned that Kashmiris who want to visit their families in Pakistan were now facing visa delays. Apparently Pakistani visas were simpler to obtain until the condition of a notarized invite from the host in Pakistan was added to the process. For a minute she mournfully wondered if this new requirement was prompted by Islamabad’s concern that Kashmiris might start seeking refuge in Pakistan. She hoped this condition would be waived to expedite visas for Kashmiris looking for some respite in such trying times. The question is when Islamabad has a liberal visa policy regime on Kartarpur, why should it be made difficult for Kashmiris.
“Many people are now suffering from acute depression and it is written all over their faces especially the younger lot,” observes Zainab. They find themselves in a no-exit situation in the ongoing crackdown, lockdown and unprecedented communications blackout.
Shops, schools, colleges, hospitals, businesses are all closed. Tourism and handicraft industries, the mainstay of the Occupied Valley’s economy, have hit the rock bottom. Food and medicine supplies are dwindling as are hopes of Kashmiri people regarding their future. But even in such dire need and deprivation, Kashmiris have not lost their dignity and grace. “You will not see any beggars there,” Zainab notes with a sense of pride. “People share their rations with those they see in need,” she adds, underlining the spirit of accommodation that prevails in the Occupied Valley even in such adversity. Of giving by those who themselves are left with little.
Zainab says with all key Kashmiri resistance leaders in preventive detention and thousands of young Kashmiri men, teen-aged boys and students arrested, today there are more young Kashmiri widows and women to be seen outside. “They’ve been left alone with small children to fend for themselves…far more Kashmiri women are visible outside than men,” she observes.
Many of those who can afford have left the Valley, but those who cannot are beginning to despair. Some have the option of selling their land and sending children abroad but they don’t want to exercise this option as they fear non-Kashmiris will buy the land and move in. There have been reports that in a bid to change the demographics of the disputed territory, the anti-Muslim Modi government is giving special incentives to lure Hindu investors to come from outside and settle there. In several cases land has also been forcibly grabbed. According to a Reuters report a business summit is to being planned for April or May to convince investors to bring their money to the region where the Indian state plans to allocate 6,000 acres for the purpose.
“No one wants to sell their land now because they are afraid Hindus will start buying it,” Zainab notes, adding: “mountains around the valley have already been taken over by the Indian forces and non-Kashmiris.
While lip-service for the Kashmir cause continues at the political level across the board with strong support from Turkey, Malaysia and Iran, regretfully it has not translated into any relief for Kashmiris so far. Kashmiris at one level feel let down, if not abandoned as they face the worst ever reign of terror and oppression.
Last year in September at a highly charged rally in London condemning Indian atrocities in the Occupied Kashmir, there were placards captioned: ‘Courage above Fear: Kashmir is Rising’. However, after hearing Zainab’s account one wonders if that courage has now turned into a major disappointment for Kashmiri people. Will the Kashmiri suffering end anytime soon? For how long will the world’s self-proclaimed champions of human rights from the powers that be keep looking the other way. While the international media think tanks and world human rights bodies have repeatedly highlighted the plight of Kashmiris, the veto-wielding members of the UNSC have largely opted to remain silent. Clearly, economic pragmatism has prevailed over its principles and pledges of human rights!
Words alone will give no respite to Kashmiris from the incessant sufferings. Concrete measures are required to blunt Indian aggression. When surgery is required painkillers do not work.
Kashmiris have been subjected to such extreme humiliation and brutality by the Indian security forces that for them now war seems to be the only hope. The only hope if leading world powers do not step in to give them relief from the choking and shameful Indian occupation. It should be a wake-up call for the UN Security Council to honour its long pending commitment of holding an impartial plebiscite in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. The world body’s failure to do so thus far has undoubtedly paved the way for this horrific tale of misery and bloody conflict that has plagued the region for decades.