The day the story of Kashmir changed forever

By Hafsa Kanjwal

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India unintentionally internationalised the Kashmir issue when it revoked the region’s special status in August.
Demonstrators protest in solidarity with the people of Kashmir outside the United Nations headquarters in New York, US, September 27, 2019 [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]
Demonstrators protest in solidarity with the people of Kashmir outside the United Nations headquarters in New York, US, September 27, 2019 [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

On October 22, the US House Subcommittee on Asia held an historic hearing on Human Rights in Asia. While the hearing covered human rights concerns in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Indian state of Assam, the bulk of the discussion was on the ongoing siege in Indian-occupied Kashmir. It was the first time so much attention had been devoted to Kashmir in the US Congress.

Ever since the Indian government revoked the region’s special status on August 5, imposed a communication blockade and precipitated fears of a settler-colonial project, the world’s most militarised zone has been internationalised in an unprecedented way.

The US hearing marks a critical shift in how the Kashmir issue has been discussed in policy circles.

Witnesses were able to highlight the immense amount of state repression in Kashmir, and not just after August 5. Amnesty International’s representative, Francisco Bencosme, spoke of the detentions, the lack of press freedoms and the worrying attacks on religious freedom in India. Members of Congress asked difficult questions about the justification for the communications blockade. As Susan Wild, a representative from Pennsylvania, stated: “To me, if there is no transparency, there is something that is being hidden.” Expert scholars on Kashmir, including Nitasha Kaul and Angana Chatterji, spoke about the rise of Hindu majoritarianism and its relationship to Nazism, as well as the prevalence of enforced disappearances, rape, extrajudicial killings and torture in Kashmir.

While admitting that US diplomats had not been allowed into Kashmir since August 5, officials from the State Department, including assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells and assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Robert Destro,  demonstrated an apologetic approach to India’s talking points, emphasising the importance of US relations with India.

Nonetheless, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did for Kashmir overnight what the movement for Kashmiri self-determination had struggled for more than seven decades to do.

Last month, for the first time in 50 years, the United Nations Security Council held a closed-door session on Kashmir. During his visit to the US, Modi was met in Houston and New York with the largest protests ever seen in the US over Kashmir.

Dozens of elected officials in the US have spoken out against the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

Modi’s actions have also reinvigorated an otherwise politically complacent Kashmiri diaspora, who are now fully aware of the existential threat their families face under the Hindu nationalist government. They have been at the forefront of urging the international community to centre Kashmiri perspectives and aspirations, and to move away from seeing the issue solely through the lens of a bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan.

Hundreds of cities around the world have held protests, vigils, marches and teach-ins. People who might have never heard of Kashmir before August 5 are now mobilised and want to take action. Progressive and interfaith coalitions are becoming aware of the links between Kashmir and other anti-fascist, anti-colonial, anti-occupation and anti-war struggles around the world.

Most importantly, however, India’s miscalculation has managed to highlight the right to Kashmiri self-determination, and the realisation that Kashmir is indeed a disputed territory awaiting a political resolution.

For years, India hid behind the rhetoric of the so-called war on terror, treating Kashmir as an “internal” law and security concern. It bragged of its status as the world’s largest democracy, while brutally repressing the pro-freedom sentiments of the Kashmiri people.

Given that the international community rarely spoke out when dozens of Kashmiris would be killed or pelleted, or when reports of torture and human rights violations were released by human rights organisations, the Indian government, perhaps, thought that this time the response to such state aggression would be no different.

Instead, US presidential contenders like Bernie Sanders are calling for the implementation of UN resolutions on Kashmir that “respect the wishes of the Kashmiri people,” and the Labour Party in the United Kingdom has also passed an emergency motion on Kashmir calling for party leader Jeremy Corbyn to seek international observers to “enter” the region and demand the right of self-determination for its people.

Despite its best efforts, the Hindu nationalist government in India has struggled to combat the international condemnation. While they have certainly been on the diplomatic offensive, they have been unable to provide coherent answers for the gagging of over eight million people, besides resorting to the age-old tropes of Pakistani interference and terrorism.

It has become difficult for even the most vociferous allies of India to justify a siege that is implemented in the interest of the region’s people. Amnesty’s Bencosme said as much during the hearing when he stated: “It’s completely unthinkable that you will detain children, political leaders and youth adults, close down all communication, put people under a curfew to bolster tourism in a region.”

Nonetheless, the Indian lobby and its apologists never fail to raise the bogey of Pakistan. While India’s talking points on Kashmir have always been to posit mass civil resistance as “proxies for Pakistan,” they now parrot the same narratives for those mobilising outside of Kashmir. Indian journalist Aarti Tickoo Singh, who defended India’s actions at the hearing, described the Kashmiri diaspora-led grassroots solidarity group Stand with Kashmir as “Pakistan’s ISI team.”

It is this kind of attitude, and the inability or sheer refusal to see the writing on the wall, that has marked India’s position on Kashmir. But the unravelling of this position is giving way to a new movement – one that can no longer be contained.

Ilhan Omar faces abuse after challenging Indian reporter at US Congress

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Congresswoman Ilhan Omar criticised Indian journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh for defending India’s actions in Kashmir and found herself in the midst of a Twitter hate campaign.

US Representatives, Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (R) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) look on during an Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation Subcommittee hearing on
US Representatives, Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (R) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) look on during an Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation Subcommittee hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region” on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 22, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP)

Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar received enormous hate from Indian Twitter users for challenging journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh’s defence of India’s aggressive actions in Kashmir.

Singh testified at the US House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Human Rights in South Asia on October 22 2019, describing India’s lockdown in Kashmir as a necessary measure to avoid civilian casualties and to take the state on the path of prosperity.

Singh also defended the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution by the Indian government which effectively ended Kashmir’s special status with India. India revoked Article 370 on August 5 2019, sparking much controversy and worldwide concern.

This article was the bedrock of Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947. It also safeguarded the environment and demographic balance of the disputed region by forbidding citizens of other Indian states from buying land there.

While ending Kashmir’s special status, the Indian government blocked communications in India-administered Kashmir, cutting off landlines and the internet, and imposed a curfew as well. The lockdown continued for over two months. In early October, about 50 percent of mobile communication was restored in the region but the internet ban is still in effect.

Singh said Kashmiri Muslims were more terrorised by Pakistan-sponsored militants, overlooking India’s bad human rights record in Kashmir, where cases of abuse, ranging from custodial killings to enforced disappearances and torture by Indian armed forces, can be found in almost every neighbourhood.

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar would have none of it. Omar accused Singh of using her platform as a journalist to whitewash India’s crimes in Kashmir.

“Ms Singh, a reporter’s job is to find the objective truth about what is happening and report it to the public. You have an enormous audience at The Times of India and you have an enormous responsibility to get it right. I am aware of how the narrative shaped by reporting can distort the truth. I am also very aware of how it could be limited to sharing only the official side of the story,” Omar said.

“The press is at its worst when it is a mouthpiece for a government. In your version of the story, the only problems in Kashmir are caused by what you call militants, the only people protesting to break away from India; and are all nefariously backed by Pak.”

Omar didn’t stop there: “You also make the incredible dubious claim that the Indian government’s crackdown in Kashmir is good for human rights. If it was good for human rights, Ms Singh, it wouldn’t be happening in secret. You make, what I might call, a feminist case for the occupation of Kashmir and communication shutdowns, saying it will be better for women.”

Singh responded: “My record, my professional record is that I have lashed out at every single government in India on various issues, from human rights violations committed in Kashmir to the lynchings over beef.”

She continued: “I have a record of being non-partisan throughout in my profession of the last 20 years. So for Ms Omar to say… such accusations against me, is really condemnable.”

Omar’s support of Kashmiris affected by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decisions made her a target in social media. She was falsely accused of having “married her brother” for example.

Harbir Singh@HarbirSingh_

The woman who married her brother to defraud American immigration, then fornicated with her own employee, is now the hero of Pakistan’s Jihad against India in Kashmir.

What desperate straits @NarendraModi has put the Jihadis in, now leaning on degenerates like @IlhanMN https://twitter.com/Ilhan/status/1186698702309724160 

Rep. Ilhan Omar

@Ilhan

Kashmiris have been restricted from communicating outside their country for 50+ days.

In Assam, almost 2 million people are being asked to prove their citizenship. This is how the Rohingya genocide started.

At what point do we question whether PM Modi shares our values?

Embedded video

The same user, Harbir Singh, who happens to be Aarti Tikoo Singh’s husband, also claimed that Omar was a Somalian gang member before immigrating to the US, and would not delete his tweet despite others challenging its veracity. Only later did he thank Twitter users “for pointing out that this is not @IlhanMN.”

Pratik Sinha

@free_thinker

After journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh’s congressional hearing, Columnist Harbir Singh shared an image of a woman with an automatic weapon claiming she is US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. | @Pooja_Chaudhuri https://www.altnews.in/no-this-is-not-us-congresswoman-ilhan-omar-at-a-training-camp-of-a-somali-warlord/ 

No, this is not US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar at a training camp of a Somali warlord – Alt News

Columnist Harbir Singh quote-tweeted a tweet which shared a photograph of a turbaned woman holding an automatic weapon. The original tweet claimed that the image showed US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar at…

Criticisms aimed at Omar did not stop there. Twitter user Abhijit Iyer-Mitra alluded to Omar wearing a vest that detonates, suggesting that she is a suicide bomber. In a previous tweet, Iyer-Mitra had called Omar a “jihadi”.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra

@Iyervval

Hoo boy!!! @AartiTikoo is really giving it back in a nice dignified way!!! Forced Sherman to correct the record on “foreign press not allowed in Kashmir” … waiting for Ilhan to detonate her vest anytime now https://twitter.com/iyervval/status/1186726505256144896 

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra

@Iyervval

Wow!!! Jihadi @IlhanMN just levelled a set of slanderous Pakistani talking points at @AartiTikoo & then doesn’t give her the chance to respond turning to Fai’s lil ISI muppet Angana Chatterji. Choreographed misuse of her prerogative.

Despite a campaign to smear Omar’s name for sympathising with Kashmiris suffering in India-administered Kashmir, there was still support for the congresswoman.

Irena Akbar@irenaakbar

So, I watched the video. Ilhan Omar actually did Aarti Tikoo Singh a favour by reminding her of the basics of journalism. She told her upfront that a journalist isn’t a mouthpiece of the government (in response to Tikoo’s M0di-fied account of Kashmir lockdown). I love Ilhan!

Millions of people continue to suffer in IOK

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Strict military siege enters 83rd straight day

Srinagar, October 26 (KMS): In occupied Kashmir, millions of people living in Kashmir Valley and Muslim majority areas of Jammu region continue to suffer immensely due to strict military siege imposed by India.

Normal life remains badly hit on the 83rd straight day, today, in the Kashmir Valley and parts of Jammu due to restrictions and gag on internet and cellular services barring partial restoration of postpaid connections and landline phones.

Despite the occupation authorities’ efforts to restore normalcy in occupied Kashmir, people continue to observe shutdown as a silent protest against India’s recent actions in the territory. Shops and business establishments remain closed most of the time except for few hours in the morning and evening. Although private vehicles are plying on the roads, but due to the absence of public transport, people particularly patients and doctors are facing difficulties in reaching the hospitals and moving from one place to another.

On the other hand, Newsweek, an American weekly news magazine, reported that Twitter has been accused of bowing to Indian censorship and suppressing freedom of speech in Kashmir after nearly one million tweets were removed.

Almost 100 accounts were also made inaccessible to locals in the last two years, spurring claims that Twitter is contradicting the very values it purports to uphold.

The findings were revealed in a study by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), showing that Twitter agreed to block more accounts in the region than in every other country combined.

Five killed in Kashmir’s deadliest day since losing special status

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Some observers say Delhi’s promises falling flat and unrest likely to increase

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An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard on a street in Srinagar. Shops are open only during the early mornings

Five people were killed in Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday, thought to be the deadliest day in the region since it was stripped of its autonomy this summer.

Two non-Kashmiris – an apple trader from Punjab and a migrant labourer – were killed in separate attacks by suspected militants in Shopian and Pulwama, south Kashmir. A second apple trader was in a critical condition.

Earlier on Wednesday security forces killed three alleged rebels near Bijbehara town, 28 miles south of the main city of Srinagar.

Kashmir has been under a security lockdown since 5 August when the Indian government scrapped its special status. Mobile phone services were restored for some users on Monday after a 72-day blackout but internet services remain suspended.

Indian officials argued that removing Kashmir’s special status, which granted it its own constitution and rules protecting land ownership, would bring greater development and rid the state of terrorism.

Some policy experts say the high death toll on Wednesday undermines such pledges. “The government’s claims are really falling flat,” said Khalid Shah, an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. “My sense is that the violence is only going to increase, it’s not going to decrease, and to what extent, where it leaves Kashmir, is very difficult to say.”

An insurgency has waxed and waned on the Indian-administered side for three decades, and tens of thousands of people have been killed. Critics say Delhi’s actions have undermined the political mainstream and created fertile ground for militant groups.

Kashmir’s most prominent political and business leaders as well as the president of bar association are all in detention. Officials said such detentions were to prevent unrest, but others warned of a dangerous power vacuum.

Last weekend a spokesman for al-Qaida in Indian Subcontinent described Indian-administered Kashmir as “the worst prison” and called for attacks against the Indian government and army.

In Anchar, a neighbourhood of Srinagar where residents have fought back against security forces, graffiti on the wall reads “Welcome Taliban”.

In an attempt to win over Kashmiris, the Indian government placed a front-page advert in one of the region’s most popular newspapers, Greater Kashmir, urging people to resume normal life. “Closed shops, no public transport? Who benefits? Are we going to succumb to militants? Think!”, the advert said.

In Srinagar, government offices are operating but shops are open only during early morning hours and children are not attending schools. Residents told the Guardian that the refusal to open businesses was an act of defiance. Some reported that residents were complying with a shutdown because they were afraid of being targeted by militants.

Arshad, who lives in south Kashmir, where sympathies for militants are widespread, said he would welcome “any external support” that came for Kashmir’s separatist struggle.

“We cannot fight this war on our own, we need external support whosoever it be,” he said. “So far Pakistan has pleaded our case and supported us, but even if South Sudan or China offer us help I will be the first to raise their flag here,” he said.

Arshad, who has a postgraduate degree and who agreed to be identified by his first name only, said Delhi had restricted all scope for all political activities in the region, which would push militants to the centre stage.

“I think militants will now have a dual role of carrying out the armed struggle as well as taking over the role of political leadership and I feel they are already doing that,” he said.

India’s crackdown in Kashmir has paralyzed and silenced entire communities

By Rana Ayub

Global Opinions contributing writer

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ZMBJLRHM5MI6TIZJON4PX6Q3MM.jpg

There was an eerie silence on the drive toward the Shopian district in southern Kashmir, as stray dogs and cattle walked past on a recent overcast afternoon. But the silence was suddenly shattered as a convoy of heavily armed vehicles passed by shielding top officials of the paramilitary forces.

When these trucks show up around these parts, children and young men disappear.

As we arrived in Shopian on Oct. 17, a local resident of this fertile apple-growing region led us to the house of Firdaus Jaan, whose two grandsons, Junaid, 13, and Ahmed, 22, were picked up by the paramilitary forces on Oct. 14, joining the thousands of young men and minors who have been arbitrarily detained amid a brutal crackdown in Kashmir since the Indian government revoked the special autonomous status of the region on Aug. 5.

Jaan, 92, tried to protect her grandson Junaid, who cried as 20 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men dragged him out of the house. She would not let go of him until an officer hit her with a stick. Jaan said the paramilitary forces entered the village by the hundreds and rounded up young men and children. Soon they began beating them, along with older residents, asking about the whereabouts of militants who had burned a migrant laborer’s apple truck.

Jaan’s neighbor Mohammed Yusuf Butt, who has acres of apple orchards, was despondent, suicidal. That same night his son, Shikir Ahmed Butt, went to the police station to inquire about the apple truck that had been burned. The Shopian police detained him and told his father that they would be slapping the draconian Public Safety Act against his 30-year-old son. The act allows for detention for up to two years without trial or due process. “They have taken my only son, my apples are rotting in the farms, and then they accuse us of shielding militants,” Mohammed told me. “First they took away our rights, now they accuse us of shielding militants.”

Thirty minors were picked up in Shopian on Oct. 14, according to residents interviewed.

Gulshan, 50, kept approaching the Shopian police station, where her husband was begging for the release of their two sons, Raees Ahmed, 11, and Liyaquat Ahmed, 14. They both attend a school in Srinagar but had come home to help the family with the apple harvest. “We are scared to send our children into the orchard, the CRPF is camping there, they see our children and detain them,” Gulshan said. She doesn’t know whom to fear more: the militants or the military forces.

When I arrived at the Shopian police station to verify the claims of the family, Nazeer Ahmed, the second in command, told me he had no idea about the arrests; his phone had not been working for four days, he said. His colleagues exchanged smiles. There’s a verse painted on a station wall, by the Urdu poet Allama Iqbal: “Thy abode is not on the dome of a royal palace; You are an eagle and should live on the rocks of mountains.”

Under constant surveillance and facing brutal repression and arbitrary detention, Kashmiris seem to be in constant mourning.

In the streets in downtown Srinagar, some families sat quietly mourning the absence of their children. Mudassir Majeed, a 19-year-old studying business administration, arrived home on Aug. 4 to help his father, a sheep trader. The next morning, as he was helping his father herd the sheep from the truck, paramilitary forces dragged him into a van. When his father reached the police station, he was told his son had been sent to jail in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and they cited the Public Safety Act. “I dread when my son comes out, they will label him a terrorist,” Mudassir’s father told me.

Nusrat Jahan, a doctor at the largest government hospital in Srinagar, tells me the population is suffering from borderline depression. “I have choked in the bathroom when cancer patients scream in pain and there is no morphine available to administer,” he said. “I have treated pellet injuries on 10-year-olds, and it feels as if I was operating on my own son. Our anger is spilling over. Ask the psychiatric ward. Patients are asking for drugs that can kill them in their sleep.”

On Oct. 19, I visited houses in Khanyar and Rainawari in Srinagar. The areas are known for their protests, and every household told me of a detained child. Mubasshir Peer, a chemist who lives in Rainawari, told me that more than 300 children were picked up on the night of Oct. 18, a few weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke at the United Nations.

“Does your prime minister care for us?” he said. “He spoke about creating toilets while we are bleeding. Kashmiris celebrated when [Pakistani Prime Minister] Imran Khan spoke about us because at least he pretended he cared for us.”

I was also able to interview Mohammad Shafi, one of the most senior members of the National Conference, a political party whose leaders have been under house arrest since Aug. 5. “Even if there is a day when the democratic process is ushered in Kashmir, what will any of our parties promise the people of Kashmir?” he asked. “That New Delhi will take decisions on their behalf while they lock Kashmiris down like lambs. Look at this government, it arrested an 80-year-old academic yesterday who just sat on the street with a placard.”

He was referring to the arrest of 18 female academics and activists, including the wife of the former chief justice, Hawa Bashir, who sat on a silent protest in Srinagar to ask for the return of civil liberties. The women, including an 82-year-old academic with a pacemaker, were taken to jail and then released a day later on the condition that they would neither protest nor speak of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

It all reinforces the distressing silence in Jammu and Kashmir. When I asked people why they weren’t going to work, their response was fear. A government employee told me Kashmiris are keeping their children indoors.

“We fear that they will take our children away,” he said. “I can tell you this is the apocalypse Kashmir feared. We are all lifeless here.”

His 18-year-old nephew, Saquib Nazeer, has been lying in a hospital with 174 pellet wounds, including four in his heart, he told me. He is on life support.

Kashmiris are avoiding Indian TV. The news reports showing “normalcy” fill them with rage. I watched as a journalist from the channel India Today talked about a new era of peace in Kashmir. (The same journalist was called out on Twitter a week ago for anchoring a 30-minute program praising a genocidal speech by a member of the paramilitary force). Kashmiri radio just plays songs — the announcers have been off the air since Aug. 5. Newspapers don’t publish editorials — only the official version of the story makes it to print.

As I wrote this, “Boycott all Muslims” was trending in Indian Twitter. Most tweets are amplified by followers of Modi and his ministers. Some ask for a genocide against Muslims, others ask for the blood of Kashmiris.

I think about the words of Nusrat Jahan, the doctor. Soon all Kashmiris could be either in jails or mental asylums.

The world’s apathy — and the apathy of many Indians — is only perpetuating a climate of fear, silence and repression the region hasn’t witnessed in decades.

But it’s time to take notice. On Tuesday, participants at a U.S. congressional hearing about human rights in South Asia singled out India’s actions in Kashmir. Francisco Bencosme, Asia Pacific advocacy manager at Amnesty International, said his organization had documented “a clear pattern of authorities using administrative detention on politicians, activists and anyone likely to hold a dissenting opinion before and after Aug. 5” in Jammu and Kashmir.

More of us need to speak up. The world must hear the deafening silence from Kashmir. Looking the other way for strategic relations is not an option. Kashmir and her children are waiting for justice.

How Israel Uses Bollywood to Whitewash the Occupation — Astute News

Between Tuesday and Thursday this week, Bollywood actors are travelling to Israel for the Indo Fest TLV, a “cultural showcase” touted as the biggest event in the history of India-Israel cultural relations. The festival – featuring Anil Kapoor, Amisha Patel and at least eight other stars of Indian cinema – promises to be a cultural extravaganza designed to […]

via How Israel Uses Bollywood to Whitewash the Occupation — Astute News

Kashmir under lockdown: Anger over ‘unacceptable burdens’

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Protesters chant pro-Pakistan slogans and demand an end to what they describe as Indian occupation of their territory.

On Friday, there were protests on the Indian side of the line of control that divides the disputed Kashmir region.

People say restrictions are placing unacceptable burdens on their lives. And many are concerned about what India is planning next.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Vall explains.

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