Currently, much of the world is focused on the Russian war with Ukraine, and occasionally notices the unprecedented civil unrest roiling the apartheid state of Israel. Talk of suffering in Ukraine and the threat to the only ‘democracy’ (which Israel is not and never has been) in the Middle East seems to emanate from the airwaves of most of the major, corporate-owned and operated media outlets that determine what is and isn’t ‘news’.
Overlooked is the unfolding, ongoing horror being experienced by the people of Kashmir.
In August of 2019, India changed its constitution, revoked the limited autonomy it had granted Kashmir, declared the country an ‘integral’ part of India, and began a savage repression that continues to this day. This is not to imply that India treated Kashmir and Kashmiris with any sense of justice prior to that date; no, the repression that intensified then was just an extension of the suffering under which the Kashmiris had long lived.
As the government of India continues its violations of human rights and international law on a daily basis, among its efforts is the complete suppression of the work of journalists and human rights activists.
A few examples will suffice.
Ifran Mehraj, a Srinagar-based journalist who has worked in a research capacity for the Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), was summoned for questioning and then arrested by India’s so-called counter-terrorism task force, The National Investigation Agency (NIA). His was a voice that India could not allow to be heard: he as written for such publications as Al Jazeera, The Indian Express, TRT World, Himal Southasian, among others. Criticism of India’s brutal oppression of the Kashmiri people must not be allowed to see the light of day.
One of his ‘crimes’, apparently, at least according to an NIA press release following his arrest, is that he is an associate of Khurram Parvez, the JKCCS Program Coordinator who has been incarcerated by India since November, 2021. It is unimportant to the Indian government that Khurram Parvez is an internationally-known human rights defenders, who has been honored several times with international awards for his work. It seems, sadly, that this is also unimportant to most of the Western press.
JKCCS itself is a target of the NIA, which has stated the following: “JKCCS was funding terror activities in the valley and had also been in the propagation of a secessionist agenda in the Valley under the garb of protection of human rights”.
The ‘terror activities’ mentioned seem to fall under this broad umbrella, also written by the NIA: “…these NGOs, Trusts and Societies and their members, by words and written means, publish anti-national and incriminating material to bring into hatred, contempt and disaffection towards the Government of India.”
These statements are worth looking at in some depth.
The JKCSS is accused of ‘the propagation of a secessionist agenda in the Valley’. International law, most specifically United Nations Resolution 47, states “…that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite….” Demanding adherence to international law cannot be seen as forwarding a ‘successionist agenda’. Kashmir is not part of India, so it cannot ‘secede’ from it.
The NIA also mentioned that the JKCCS was doing its ‘nefarious’ deeds under the ‘garb of protection of human rights’. Let us look at a statement from the Kashmir Scholars Consultative Action Network:
“The already dire humanitarian and human rights situation in IAK (Indian-Administered Kashmir) has substantially deteriorated since August 5, 2019 when Indian authorities illegally dismantled guarantees protecting the territorial and cultural integrity of IAK and its people’s rights to their land, educational access and local employment. Indian authorities have imposed a barrage of new, violative laws and policies on IAK predicated on earlier illegalitiescondemned by the UN Security Council. By delivering on the decades-old declared policy goals of militant, ethnonationalist Hindu supremacists, the Indian government has achieved the disintegration of IAK; the economic and social disempowerment of its Muslim population; and the near-total domination of Muslims of IAK via expropriation of land, destruction of common and private property, various forms of illegal and invasive surveillance, extraction of resources, ecological destruction, and the rapid expansion of forced and illegal demographic change in favor of non-local Hindus. (Indian authorities’ repression has targeted the majority Kashmiri Muslim population which has most vocally stood for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of IAK.”
It would seem that the ‘garb of protection of human rights’ is, in fact, a dedicated effort to support the human rights of the Kashmiri people that are being violated in the most unspeakable ways by the Indian government.
The NIA’s statement that various NGOs are attempting to disgrace the government of India is simply a lie; the government itself, by its brutal violations of human rights and international law, is bringing ‘hatred, contempt and disaffection towards the government of India’. Its effort to prevent NGOs and journalists from exposing these crimes does not remove the responsibility for them from the Indian government.
Ifran Mehraj, mentioned above, is just the latest in a long line of journalists who have been jailed or killed for exposing India’s crimes. Fahad Shah, the editor of The Kashmir Walla, recently completed one year of his jail sentence, for the ‘crime’ of reporting on a deadly Indian police raid in Jammu and Kashmir.
Another Kashmiri journalist, Aasif Sultan, has now been incarcerated for over four years. He has been charged with a variety of crimes, ranging from harbouring militants, to murder, all of which he denies and for which there is scant evidence. However, in July of 2018, he wrote an article for the Kashmir Narrator, of which he is the editor, discussing the assassination of Burhan Wani, a Kashmiri rebel commander who was killed in 2016 by Indian forces, when he was only 22. This story, highly critical of Indian actions, is the actual reason Aasif Sultan is in prison.
Journalism student Sajad Gul, a trainee reporter for The Kashmir Walla, has now been incarcerated for over two years. His ‘crime’ was posting a video of a woman protesting the killing of a Kashmiri activist.
These and many other activists and journalist have been detained under the infamous Public Safey Act. This act initially allowed for detention for up to two years without any charges being made, let alone a trial. This was eventually changed, with the length of detention without charge or trial being reduced to one year, but in most cases, when a prisoner is released after one year, he or she is immediately arrested on a different spurious charge as soon as leaving the police station.
India is trying to suppress the voices of those fighting the oppression of the people of Kashmir. The efforts of the journalists, human-rights activists and others who stand for peace, justice and international law must not be in vain. These brave individuals must have international support as they oppose crimes against humanity which are being perpetrated by India on a daily basis. As their voices are silenced, we must raise ours on their behalf.
Robert Fantina’s latest book is Propaganda, Lies and False Flags: How the U.S. Justifies its Wars.