The Kashmir Valley has been in tumult since July 8, when security forces killed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Since then, clashes between protesters and security personnel has resulted in more than 100 deaths and thousands of injuries. With life in the Valley at a near-standstill for close to four months, several prominent journalists, writers and activists, including Teesta Setalvad, Binayak Sen, Anand Patwardhan, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Harsh Mander and Vrinda Grover, have endorsed a statement that urges citizens and human rights organisations to “unequivocally condemn the siege of Kashmir”. Text:
We, the undersigned, are dismayed over the ongoing crisis in Kashmir. We have watched in horror and shock the repetitive cycle of state aggression leading to violence, deteriorating state of civil liberties, violation of fundamental rights and ever-escalating loss of human life and dignity in Kashmir. In the last 115 days, we have lost over 100 lives in Kashmir. More than 15,000 civilians have been injured, out of which 4,500 persons have suffered grievous injuries due to pellet-guns, 4,664 have been injured by bullets. Over 8,000 people have been arrested out of which 434 people have been detained under the Public Safety Act (toll as on October 30).
The immediate response of the Indian state to the recent uprising in Kashmir was the imposition of curfew, which is continuing till date. A media gag where newspaper offices have been raided, copies confiscated and editors threatened with dire consequences accompanied it. Journalists reporting the situation have been attacked, intimidated and threatened with violence by those supposedly responsible for protecting them. Most recently, the government banned the publication of Kashmir Reader, a daily newspaper published from Srinagar.
Pursuant to this, a complete communication blockade was imposed and internet services were cut down. Even voices outside Kashmir that spoke of the ongoing failure of state were targeted on social media, their posts deleted and accounts blocked. The means of communication and information flow from and into Kashmir are severely disrupted. Accompanying the communication blockade is an economic blockade in which the supply of food, medicines and other basic necessities are also affected, standing crops being burnt and orchards damaged.
It is unconscionable on the part of the Indian state to exacerbate the situation by choking the lifeline of people in Kashmir. There are reports of vandalism and violence during raids by the police and security forces. As the pillars of a modern democracy are wrecked with the media gag, the abuse of the impunity accorded to the law enforcement agencies is bound to escalate. There have been instances of harassment, abuse and baseless arrests of Kashmiris working and studying, not only in Kashmir but also in different parts of India, for having voiced their political views.
A blockade on the channels of non-violent protest by the arrests of human rights defenders, legal activists and even volunteers supplying aid in hospitals on baseless grounds has aided the creation of spaces for violent protests. The wanton use of force along with the lack of accountability has contributed immensely to the crisis prevailing in Kashmir.
Intense militarisation of the Valley has left deep scars on the social, economic and psychological well being of every life in Kashmir. Laws such as Public Safety Act, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, Disturbed Areas Act etc., are draconian and are not conducive to contributing to a solution. Irrespective of what the situation is, whether we agree with what the Kashmiris are demanding or not, there is no law in India which allows the Indian armed forces to use their position to ransack people’s houses, decimate their food grains, crops and livestock.
It is disturbing to witness the Indian media pumping up jingoistic fervor in the minds of people in India. The propagation and glorification of state aggression and war-mongering by the government, media and almost every political party has led to a lethal form of pro-state fanaticism. The success of the state machinery in realising this propaganda also highlights the failure of the Indian civil society.
We therefore call on all readers and human rights organisations to unequivocally condemn the siege of Kashmir.
The situation in India is increasingly becoming claustrophobic, making it difficult to have any political discussion on Kashmir. Voicing any opinion divergent from the popular “pro-state” narrative is now a cause for slapping charges of sedition. In such an environment even a peaceful non-violent discussion to understand the nature of problems that Kashmir faces becomes impossible. Without such understanding any solution proposed would only be a repetition of the cycles seen over the last 70 years, which have not led to any tangible solutions. We urge the government to allow an open discussion so as to facilitate the understanding of the legitimate demands and concerns that the people of Kashmir have been raising over the course of last 70 years.
We believe that national integration at the cost of life and dignity of our own citizens would not amount to integration but colonialism. The political crisis in Kashmir cannot be resolved by being oblivious to the problem at the heart of the conflict, which is the demand for freedom. Any attempt to resolve the issue is bound to fail unless the state accepts the Kashmir conflict as a ‘political issue’ and not merely one pertaining to territory. The government must acknowledge Kashmiris as primary stakeholders in the dispute and consult them rather than considering it as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan.
Whatever the stand of the government of India on the demand of Kashmiri people for independence, it is imperative to create an environment of understanding and openness and initiate a purposeful and sincere dialogue with all the stakeholders for an amicable settlement.
We therefore urge the government to:
1. Immediately lift the curfew and stop violence against civilians in Kashmir.
2. Open channels for political dialogue in consultation with all stakeholders and explore every possible solution including – complete autonomy or pre-1953 position and even plebiscite.
3. Stop the crackdown on media and lift the ban on Kashmir Reader.
4. Immediately drop all charges against activists, human rights defenders and civilians booked under the Public Safety Act and release them.
5. Grant unfettered access to United Nations Human Rights Commission to investigate allegations of Human Rights violations.
6. Work forcefully to demilitarise both sides of the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. Further, to demilitarise all of Kashmir and immediately revoke impunity laws such as the AFSPA, Public Safety Act and Disturbed Areas Act etc.
7. Create credible mechanisms for accountability and justice, (such as an international criminal tribunal), for human rights abuses in Kashmir over the past three decades, including extra-judicial killings, torture, sexual and gendered violence, enforced disappearances and unknown and mass graves.