Imagine seven million people in a landlocked valley confined to their homes, their phones dead and their internet blocked. They're up against the nationalist government of a mighty power, its army, and its media. Imagine that, and you get a small sense of the crushing injustice of the situation in Kashmir—the crushing helplessness; the frightening reality that is everyday life for Kashmiris.
It is now over a month since the Indian government unilaterally revoked Kashmir's autonomy and plunged Jammu and Kashmir into complete darkness, blocking all access to the outside world. Indian Prime Minister Modi's intervention goes against India's own constitutional guarantee and promises to the people of Kashmir. It's a travesty. Come October, Jammu and Kashmir are set to come under the control of the government in New Delhi—and the people of Kashmir have had no say. They have a right to determine their future. They have an absolute right to self-determination.
Let's be clear: the Kashmiris have never submitted to Indian sovereignty. The government of India has effectively instituted a mass detention of Kashmiris by rushing in troops to join the half a million already stationed there. Some media outlets would have you believe that everything is fine. But, if everything is fine, why is Kashmir crawling with troops and subjected to one of the strictest curfews the valley has ever seen? Why have thousands of Kashmiris been detained? Sadly, this is not new to Kashmiris, who have lived under oppression for decades and who now live in fear. It should frighten all of us when one of the world's largest democracies is prepared to suppress all dissent from minorities.
Crucially, under the nationalist BJP government, the dissolution of Kashmir as a state means the rights that empowered autonomy of the Kashmiri legislature in administrative matters, including defining permanent residents who could buy property and work in the region, are gone. This poses a grave threat to Kashmiris, the only Muslim majority state in India. Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy writes:
The new territories are open for business. Already India's richest industrialist, Mukesh Ambani, of Reliance Industries, has promised several 'announcements'. What this might mean to the fragile Himalayan ecology of Ladakh and Kashmir, the land of vast glaciers, high-altitude lakes and five major rivers, barely bears consideration. '[B]eing open for business,' it must be clarified, can also include Israeli-style settlements and Tibet-style population transfers.
The settler-colonial attitude of India towards Kashmir has drawn many to comparisons with Falasteen—or Palestine, as it's known in English.
Nationalist politicians from the far right in India have been encouraging their followers to buy land and settle in Kashmir. In a despicable display of misogyny, some have been encouraging men to 'bring Kashmiri girls home'. It is Kashmiri women who have borne the brunt of this violence, including sexual violence, in the valley. It is Kashmiri women who have suffered under the repressive, colonial-style, military regime that has been imposed on the region. It is Kashmiri women who have lost their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands to militancy and violence.
Kashmir has been a flashpoint for Pakistan and India since the British drew arbitrary borders before they were finally forced out of their colonial hold over South Asia. An entire generation of young Kashmiris has grown up knowing nothing but this conflict. Amnesty International reports that there have been more than 50,000 lives lost since 1989. The UN last year pointed to decades of staggering unpunished human rights abuses. Recent reporting shows an ongoing lockdown, violence against civilians and growing unrest.
Too rarely do we hear the voices of Kashmiris. They were not allowed to determine their fate when the British drew the borders, and they have not been allowed to do so since. Self-interest and nationalistic rhetoric will never deliver justice to the people of Kashmir, who have suffered long enough. Self-determination by the Kashmiri people is the only answer.
I urge the Australian government to speak out and call on the Indian government to withdraw their troops, to end this mass lockdown and to respect the human rights of the people of Kashmir and their right to self-determination.