On a road in Srinagar’s Indian-colonized Kashmir, Fayaz Ahmad Zargar manoeuvres through roadblocks and wires laid by Indian troops to restrict civilian movement. Despite the newly tightened siege that the area is reeling from, Zargar took a chance to reach SHMS Hospital for his wife, who is suffering from cancer.
“My wife is running out of medicine. I have been trying to get out of my house to reach the hospital. And every time I am sent back by the [occupation] forces. They are not even ready to listen,” Zargar said.
“My son was supposed to come home for Eid. He was supposed to get medicine for my wife. Now we don’t even know his whereabouts.”
Zargar’s situation is not unique; many families among the 13 million population find themselves in a similar predicament.
Kashmir, a highly contested area between India and Pakistan and the most militarised region in the world, has been under curfew so many times that people have found unique ways to deal with it.
This time, however, Kashmir is witnessing an exceptional and far more grave situation. Nearly two weeks ago, Articles 370 and 35A were revoked through a special ‘presidential order’ by the Narendra Modi regime in India.
Many human rights activists have compared this to 'annexation', likening India's presence in Kashmir to a 'settler colonial' project that confirms India's status as an occupier.
In a nutshell, the passing of the articles not only completely obliterates any autonomy and statehood that Kashmir has had since 1947, but also incorporates it into India and opens its borders to land being owned by anybody - a move most Kashmiris are vehemently opposed to.
In the already heavily militarised zone, the Delhi regime airlifted additional 43,000 troops to the valley. It was followed by a complete communication and information blackout: calls on mobiles phones and landlines remain suspended; mobile and broadband internet services are down and local cable TV services are off the air.
No news travels from one neighbourhood to another. This is Indian-occupied Kashmir: where 700,000 Indian soldiers (one for every 10 civilians) and a maze of army camps and torture chambers would make Abu Ghraib look like picnic, are bringing secularism and democracy to the people.
Since 1989, when the struggle for self-determination became militant, 95,000 people have been killed, 10,000 have disappeared, and at least 100,000 have been tortured.
Since the imposition of this latest Indian act of illegality, most top Kashmiri politicians have also been taken into custody. Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Kashmir, managed to get out a message shortly before she was arrested on August 5 night. “Fifth of August is the blackest day of Indian democracy when its Parliament, like thieves, snatched away everything from the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” she said.
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, commonly referred to as the BJP, may be difficult to stop. Modi, the most domineering leader India has produced in decades, just won a resounding election victory in May, in part on the promise of revoking Article 370. He exploited a wave of a nationalist fervour as part of his re-election campaign, that helped him significantly.
Wiping away Kashmir’s special status has been a dream of many BJP supporters who have spoken of a Greater Hindustan, a Hindu-dominated land that scoops up Pakistan, Bangladesh and other parts of South Asia.
The few world leaders sent out weak condemnations of India’s actions but their empty words are as resounding as the suffering being inflicted upon the people of occupied Kashmir. With communication in and out of the region sparse and lack of willingness to take action and act by most in a position to do so, the helplessness and utter unfairness being inflicted upon the people in occupied Kashmir is heart breaking.
For a beautiful landscape with a troubled, yet rich and awe-inspiring history, it is a catastrophe. As we anxiously follow snippets of news coming out of the region, such as the BBC footage from last Friday of protestors being dispersed with tear gas and live ammunition by Indian forces (a fact denied by the Indian army and government), we rely on prayers and raising awareness about a people being brutally oppressed in the name of religion, land and economic benefit. It is an abomination that basic human rights are still denied to so many in the 21st century.
Dr Aayesha J. Soni is a medical doctor and member of the Media Review Network (MRN). She was named one of the Mail and Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans of 2017 and one of News24's Future 100 Young Mandelas in 2018.