• Evan Barrett

Kashmir Post-370, A Year in Review

Updated: Aug 27



Executive Summary


Since August 2019, the Indian government (GOI) has taken increasingly drastic steps to curtail Kashmiris’ human and democratic rights. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was downgraded to a Union Territory, broken apart, and stripped of what little autonomy it still had.. India’s BJP government imposed an unelected bureaucracy to govern and institute sweeping new policies that are accelerating the region’s democratic backsliding. Over the past year, Kashmiris have endured military curfews, mass arrests, torture, communications blackouts, a full assault on the free press, and suppression of free expression. The effect has been an environment of continuous fear and intimidation, further exacerbated by the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic and increasing tension between India, Pakistan, and China that has left Kashmir caught in the middle.

Assault on the Press

The new regime intensified ongoing abuses against journalists and imposed a widely condemned “media policy” that officially sanctions media censorship. Read the latest CPJ report on the targeting of the press in Kashmir.


Communication Blockade

One year ago, India imposed “the longest communication blockade in any democracy’s history” in J&K and today continues to severely limit access to the internet and social media, with devastating effects on business, education, and the ability of doctors to provide life-saving healthcare in the midst of the pandemic.


Demographic Manipulation and Land Rights

Newly imposed policies allow Kashmiri-owned land and property to be commandeered by the military as well as open the door for non-Kashmiris to rapidly obtain “domicile status”, a first step in the BJP’s long-planned campaign to effect massive demographic change in J&K.


Economic Destruction

For over a year, the economy of J&K has spiraled due to the imposed military curfews and complete shutdown of the Internet and communications. Now with COVID-19 ripping through the region, Kashmiris are facing an even more dire economic outlook.


Education

Students of all ages have lost an entire year of schooling amid curfews, severed phone lines and throttled internet. Financial aid for poor students and special programs focused on women’s education have similarly been cut.


Suppression of Free Expression

Indian officials have intensified efforts to bend the law and use physical force to criminalize free expression online and in public, while political prisoners who were detained over the past year are required to sign gag orders as a precondition for their release.


Human Rights Violations and Militant Violence

The past year has seen massive human rights abuses at the hands of Indian forces including arrests of civilians, detentions without charge or trial, torture of civilians, and destruction of property. Militant violence has continued at pace.


Legal System Failures

The Indian legal system continues to fail ensuring human rights are observed in J&K with vital concerns either being not heard or courts refraining from imposing binding decisions on the state.


Hindu Nationalist Agenda

The Hindu nationalist RSS’s political arm, the ruling BJP, has targeted dissidents, journalists, and human rights advocates. USCIRF has recommended designating India a “country of particular concern” given the government’s abetting of violence against minority religious communities.

To move forward as a responsible US partner, India must:.

- Restore and maintain all forms of communication in Jammu and Kashmir, including full access to the Internet at 4G speeds.

- Release all journalists, dissidents, political leaders, and children imprisoned illegally or without trial under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA)

- End attacks on the free press by withdrawing the Media Policy 2020 and cease from charging, physically assaulting, and intimidating journalists.

- Halt demographic flooding by ceasing issuance of domicile certificates to non-Kashmiris and reverting to previous residency laws as this change threatens existing UN frameworks for a political settlement in Kashmir.

- Observe the democratic rights of all peoples of the historic Jammu and Kashmir by reaffirming their right of self-determination as agreed upon in UN resolutions and international accords

- Uphold religious freedom in J&K and across India by directly addressing the downward spiral of religious freedom and skyrocketing violent attacks by Hindu nationalists against Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other minority faith communities

- Honor invitations already extended to UN Special Rapporteurs by scheduling pending visits to experts dealing with torture and disappearances


Intensification of Repression Since August 5, 2019


Assault on the Press

The new regime intensified the ongoing abuses against journalists including beatings, interrogations, restricting movements, destroying equipment, deleting footage, and imprisoning without trial. It began its tenure by attacking international reporting backed by video evidence as “fabricated”. International media continue to be officially banned from the region. For the first time, the Indian government started using anti-terror laws (the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) to charge Kashmiri journalists over social media posts.

In June 2020, the Indian government escalated its suppression of the free press in J&K with the announcement of a “media policy”. The new policy represents a significant step by openly endorsing media censorship through punitive actions. It has been met with sharp condemnation from leading international press freedom watchdogs.


Members who wish to draw attention to India’s war on the press in Kashmir can share this story from The Washington Post:

Threats and censorship are the price for questioning narratives about Kashmir

Read more about the campaign against journalists on A4K’s blog.


Communication Blockades

India imposed “the longest communication blockade in any democracy’s history” in J&K starting on August 5th, 2019. Landlines and mobile phones were inoperational for 10 weeks, and internet connections remained cut for 7 months, isolating Kashmiris from the world and each other. Military curfews prevented civilians from communicating in person as well. Internet service was restored after six months, but only at 2G levels and to a curated list of sites. Internet access continues to be throttled to 2G levels, with periodic cuts happening to the internet and mobile phones without warning.

The effects have been grave for healthcare, education, and business, especially during the ongoing COVD-19 pandemic. Doctors have been unable to access the latest international protocols and prevented from offering vital telemedicine services, students in J&K are unable to access online classes, and businesses have been inoperational.


Members who wish to encourage the Indian government to lift the internet blockade in Kashmir can share these stories from the BBC, Washington Post, and Reporters Without Borders.


Demographic Manipulation and Land Rights

On May 18th, the Indian government implemented its plan to change residency requirements to allow a wider range of non-Kashmiris to rapidly qualify for residency and job rights in J&K. These unilateral actions directly contravene multiple international accords and commitments from previous Indian administrations to maintain Kashmir’s special status and observe the right to self-determination. The move has drawn criticism from all Kashmiri political parties, including those who are pro-India, as they believe it is intended "to redesign the Union Territory's demography while the country is battling the COVID-19 pandemic." Making ethnic Kashmiris a minority in their homeland is a longstanding goal of Hindu nationalists and would preemptively nullify existing frameworks for a political settlement. Those minority populations championed by the government as beneficiaries are very small in number or already had access to the previous “permanent resident” status. Major Hindu political parties in Jammu and some Kashmiri pandit groups have objected to the change, as residents of J&K will now have to compete for local government employment with mainland Indians, local lands are now open to outside ownership, and cultural identity is now threatened.


Indian armed forces have been given new powers to commandeer lands deemed “strategic”. Laws requiring soldiers to obtain “no objection certificates” before acquiring land have been removed. Local parties warn of “a major land grab”.


Members who object to demographic manipulation in Kashmir can share this story from TIME.

Read more about the campaign of demographic manipulation from Kashmir scholars.


Economic Destruction

Among the rationales given for the revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status was economic development. Economists criticized the claim as economic indicators comparing Indian states showed J&K among the best performing. The military lockdown, subsequent curfews have, coronavirus pandemic, and ongoing throttling of internet access, has decimated all sectors of the economy. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry found in preliminary reporting that 497,000 jobs were lost in the Kashmir Valley, with a population of approximately 8 million, from August through December 2019 alone. The Kashmiri economy has suffered $5.3 billion in estimated losses, approximately half of which happened before the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Local businesses have lost control of local resources to mainland Indian companies despite environmental and safety bodies warning of the effects.


Members wishing to express concern regarding the economic devastation in J&K can share this Associated Press article.


Education

An entire school year has been lost thus far. Military curfews prevented all educational institutions from functioning with some used for housing troop deployments. In periods where restrictions were relaxed, parents were scared to send the children to school given the prevailing uncertainty and inability to communicate as most phone lines were not working. Schools have attempted to function during the COVID-19 pandemic, but internet access continues to be heavily throttled at 2g levels, making e-learning virtually impossible. Small initiatives have been undertaken by volunteers to conduct classes for children.

Education through college was free in J&K with 50% of college seats reserved for women. This has now been lost as J&K is now subject to Indian education policies. Recent controversial changes to Indian educational structures and curriculum now apply to J&K as well.


Members concerned about the right to education can share this video from the BBC:

Education suffers in Kashmir's 'endless' lockdown

Health Care

Health care was greatly affected. In different periods throughout the year, important medicines were in short supply or ran out completely. Curfew conditions prevented patients with acute and chronic conditions from reaching healthcare facilities, including dialysis and cancer patients. Deaths have been attributed to the inaccessibility of medical care for chronic patients and pregnant women. Mental health professionals attribute sharp increases in cases and severity to the events of the past year. Doctors publicly advocating for their patients were detained. Physicians were stopped and harassed at checkpoints and delayed for lengthy periods. Ambulances had to ferry healthcare providers to and from work as private cars were banned from movement in some areas. Physicians were intimidated by officials to not share information about deaths and cases with the press. Cut landlines and mobile phones prevented timely communication in hospitals and prevented ambulances from operating. Throttled internet coverage has prevented physicians from accessing coronavirus protocols and online meetings. It has also limited public education about the coronavirus. Indian officials attacked the coverage of international medical publications on Kashmir.


Members concerned about accessibility to medical care for Kashmiris can share this article from the Indian publication TheWire.


Suppression of Free Expression

Torture victims are threatened not to speak to media upon their release. Protests continue to be suppressed, with protestors being fired upon and jailed. Those offered bail are forced to sign bonds agreeing not to participate in political activity. Clergy throughout Kashmir were summoned to appear before law enforcement and told not to address the prevailing political situation. Some were jailed for sermons delivered. Doctors have been told not to speak to journalists regarding incoming patients, deaths, or the handling of the pandemic. Some have been detained and beaten. Social media was banned for a period, and is now being monitored by newly formed Cyber Crimes units. Civilians have been arrested for social media posts. Journalists have been charged under anti-terror laws for posting on Facebook. Others have been summoned and interrogated for criticizing judicial decisions on twitter, including a former US State Department fellow. Twitter and Facebook have censored and removed Kashmiri accounts at the behest of the Indian government. Art continues to be “monitored”.


Members concerned with freedom of expression can share this Freedom House report.


Human Rights Violations and Militant Violence

The past year has seen massive human rights abuses at the hands of Indian forces including arrests of civilians, detentions without charge or trial, torture of civilians, and destruction of property. Victims include clergy, businessmen, politicians, journalists, farmers, and children. The killing of civilians by armed forces continues to go unprosecuted. The ruling BJP government claimed an end to militancy would result from the government’s revocation of J&K’s autonomy. The government has launched massive “cordon and search operations” (casos) but militant encounters have continued at similar levels as before. Reports of human rights abuses by Indian forces have been reported during casos including beatings of civilians, use of human shields, looting valuables, destroying homes, and destroying food sources. Militants continue to fight Indian armed forces and have begun targeting local officials. The estimated number of militants has remained a few hundred as India has increased its estimated 800,000 strong military presence.


Members wishing to express concern about ongoing human rights abuses can share the latest Human Rights Watch report, this BBC video on child victims, or this BBC report.


Legal System Failures

The Indian legal system has long-failed Kashmiris. The government, armed forces, and police enjoy legal impunity. The Supreme Court continues to delay hearing cases filed challenging the validity of the abrogation of Article 370 despite the major constitutional implications it has for India. Meanwhile, the unelected bureaucracy imposed on the population is making sweeping changes that will have long-term effects. The Supreme Court also continues to allow the throttling of internet access despite finding the internet to be “a human right”. Instead of forcing the government to allow unfettered internet access to Kashmiris, the court has simply asked the government to form a committee to review its decision. Unsurprisingly, the government has found nothing wrong with its own actions and internet access continues to be heavily throttled in Kashmir. The judiciary has not forced the state to release any detainees imprisoned or under house arrest despite being held without charge or trial. Those released have only been freed at the government’s whim. Habeas corpus procedures are being violated and the judiciary has done nothing to challenge the government. Broad laws, heavily criticized by human rights groups, are severely abused. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) allow for detention without charge or trial. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) continues to effectively immunize armed forces and police from prosecution despite documented human rights abuses. Invoking a permanent state of emergency in Kashmir has afforded the Indian government, armed forces, and law enforcement judicially sanctioned impunity for decades. The failure of the Supreme Court to secure basic human rights for Kashmiris is leading Indians to increasingly lose confidence in judicial processes.


Members concerned about the Indian judiciary’s failures on Kashmir can share this article from The Economist.


Hindu Nationalist Agenda

The Hindu nationalist RSS’s political arm, the ruling BJP, has targeted dissidents, journalists, and human rights advocates. USCIRF has recommended designating India a “country of particular concern” given the government’s abetting of violence against minority religious communities. The RSS were principal actors in the Jammu Massacre that effectively changed the demography of Jammu to a Hindu majority. They have advocated for the settlement of Hindus in Kashmir since the early 1950s. Having secured direct, unfettered political control over J&K in August 2019, locals expressed concern about the intentions of the government. Making assurances that no changes would be made to change demography, local employment rights, or land rights, the unelected bureaucracy administering Kashmir later introduced policies doing just that. Citing economic development and women’s land rights as reasons for its 2019 revocation of J&K’s autonomous status, economic conditions have worsened dramatically and claims of championing women’s rights were based on the false claims that J&K’s now-defunct constitution limited land ownership rules for women. Political and bureaucratic representation is dominated by Hindus and Jammuites, with Kashmiris being conspicuously absent. The only local party allowed to function unfettered, Apni Party, is seen as closely aligned with the BJP. Other political parties, both pro-freedom and pro-India, remain jailed, have their movements restricted, or are not being permitted to pursue political activities. Local holidays have been eliminated from the calendar and government departments have been renamed in the Hindi language.


Read more about USCIRF’s designation of India as a CPC on A4K’s blog.


Americans for Kashmir also held a congressional briefing with experts discussing the changes in Kashmir over the past year. See our briefing highlights on our Facebook page or see below.


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