As the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) were gearing up to observe October 27 as Kashmir Black Day, Kashmiri photojournalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo was prevented from boarding a flight to New York to receive the Pulitzer Prize for her work.
The 28-year-old Ms. Mattoo has worked on assignment for Reuters since 2018. She won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for coverage of the Covid-19 crisis in India. Two colleagues travelling with her were allowed to travel.
The immigration official handed her boarding pass back but did not respond when she asked repeatedly what the problem was, according to the Associated Press. Ms. Mattoo said she has no idea why she was prevented from traveling. “Is it about my work? Is it something else? I should be told. The problem is I don’t know what the problem is,” she said.
Two other colleagues—Adnan Abidi and Amit Dave who are not Kashmiris—traveling with her were allowed to board their flight. Together with the late Danish Siddiqui, all worked for Reuters and were also winners of the coveted prize.
“Being able to attend the award ceremony was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” she wrote on her twitter account. Ms. Mattoo had been stopped from travelling to Paris in July 2020 for a photography exhibition as a winner of the Serendipity Arles grant 2020.
Ms. Mattoo’s plight and that of other Kashmiri journalists, human rights activists and political leaders reflects the plight of the Kashmiri people since October 27, 1947. On this date 75 years ago, Indian troops landed in Srinagar, the state capital. It was the beginning of India’s long dark period of illegal occupation.
It has intensified oppression of the Kashmiri people to unprecedented levels, resulting in the murder of more than 96,000 innocent Kashmiris since 1989, according to the well-informed Kashmir Media Service (KMS). More than 11,000 Kashmiri women and girls have been raped by the 900,000-strong unruly Indian occupation troops. Kashmir is the most militarized region in the world.
While the US State Department issued a vacuous statement about “shared democratic values with India”, Amnesty International was much more forthright in its condemnation of India’s action in preventing Ms. Mattoo from traveling. It called India’s ban on Ms. Mattoo’s travel a “witch-hunt” adding that “Arbitrary travel bans have increasingly become the principal tactic of the Indian authorities to silence independent and critical voices...”
Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India’s Chair, said: “These travel bans are not backed by any court order, warrant or even a written explanation, making it difficult for the activists and journalists to challenge them in the courts.
“The Indian authorities have increased the use of travel bans against journalists and human rights defenders from the region of Jammu and Kashmir in the last three years. This incessant witch-hunt is contrary to India’s international human rights obligations.”
Since 2019, Amnesty has documented the cases of at least six Kashmiri journalists, human rights activists, academics and politicians – including Gowhar Geelani, Shah Faesal, Bilal Bashir, Zahid Rafiq, Sanna Mattoo and Aakash Hassan – who have been barred from travelling outside India without lawful justification.
Shortly before Jammu and Kashmir was dismantled into union territories, in October 2019 (after the state’s special status was abrogated), India placed more than 450 people on a temporary “No Fly List” without any judicial order. These included journalists, lawyers, politicians, human rights activists and businessmen.
Historically, Kashmir has never been part of India. It is much closer to Central Asian culture. Thus, the people of Kashmir have little in common with the people of India in terms of culture, religion, history or even culinary tastes.
In order to understand the gravity of India’s illegal act of occupation, a brief background history is necessary.
The Kashmiris’ struggle for their rights predates the emergence of Pakistan and India on the world map in August 1947. The Kashmiris had staged uprisings against Dogra rule in 1927 and 1931 that were ruthlessly suppressed with military force resulting in many casualties.
In 1947, when the British, exhausted by the Second World War, finally prepared to leave India, the principle of partition had to be agreed upon. There were two large but distinct communities—Hindus and Muslims.
Since co-existence was impossible because Hindu chauvinists were not prepared to accept the fundamental rights of the 30% Muslim minority (the plight of Muslims in India today bears testimony to this fact), partition was the only option.
Muslim majority areas would constitute Pakistan while Hindu majority areas would become part of India.
There were also some 500 princely states that enjoyed relative autonomy under British colonial rule. The princely states were asked to join either Pakistan or India based on their demographic composition and geographical contiguity.
The situation of most states was straight forward but three states were problematic. Jammu and Kashmir was one of them. The ruler (called maharaja) Hari Singh was Hindu while the state’s population was overwhelmingly Muslim.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir was and is geographically, culturally and linguistically much closer to and contiguous to Pakistan than India. The Kashmiris naturally assumed Jammu and Kashmir would become part of Pakistan.
When the maharaja, Hari Singh, prevaricated, the people rose up in revolt. He fled the capital city Srinagar, and in an act of supreme treachery, is believed to have sought India’s military help. It was made conditional on the maharaja signing an instrument of accession, albeit temporarily, to India.
India claims there was an instrument of accession but it has never produced it in public offering the lame excuse that it has been misplaced! Besides, the maharaja had already lost authority since he had fled Srinagar in the face of people’s uprising.
Based on this fraudulent claim, Indian troops landed in Srinagar amid pledges by its rulers, including the new governor general Lord Mountbatten, and Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, that once law and order were restored, a plebiscite (referendum) would be held to determine the wishes of the people.
The people had already spoken through their uprising that had resulted in the ruler fleeing the state capital, his seat of power.
Indian occupation troops carried out a massacre of Muslims in Jammu where between 200,000 (according to Horace Alexander’s account in the British magazine, The Spectator, January 16, 1948) to 500,000 Muslims (as reported by the British author Ian Stephen) were killed.
More than 350,000 other Kashmiris were forced to flee Jammu in panic, arriving in Pakistan. This was the first ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Muslims.
From a 62% majority in Jammu, Muslims were reduced to a minority of 31%.
Indian army genocide, aided and abetted by the Hindu terrorist outfit, the RSS, and backed by Congress party goons, led to war between India and Pakistan.
As Pakistani forces backed by the people of Kashmir and tribesmen from Pakistan, made headway in pushing the Indian occupation forces out, India took the matter to the UN Security Council.
After detailed discussions and consultations, both India and Pakistan agreed that a referendum would be held in Jammu & Kashmir.
While India took the matter to the Security Council, it was clear its intentions were dishonest. It merely wanted to buy time.
Instead of honoring its pledges to the people of Kashmir and the world community, today India claims Kashmir is its “integral” part. The world does not accept this Indian claim.
On August 5, 2019, India, now ruled by Narendra Modi and its polity controlled by Hindutva fascists, unilaterally abrogated articles 370 and 35A of India’s constitution.
Under article 370, Jammu and Kashmir had enjoyed some measure of autonomy pending final resolution of the state’s future. And article 35A prohibited non-Kashmiris from acquiring property or land in the state.
On March 31, 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Modi regime introduced a new Domicile law. It abrogated the law in place since 1927 when the Kashmiris had rebelled against outside settlers in the state.
The Domicile Law is aimed at demographic change, and at taking the land and resources from the indigenous population of Jammu & Kashmir.
It violates UNSC resolutions 47 (1948), 91(1951), 96(1951), 98(1952), 122(1957), and 126(1957) that call for a plebiscite to determine the future of the disputed territory.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states “the occupying power shall not transfer its own civilian population into territory it occupies;” and under Article 1, all High Contracting Parties are required to take action to ensure respect for the Convention “in all circumstances”.
The overall situation has dangerously worsened as India continues to deny fundamental rights of expression, communication, and information to the people of Kashmir. Thousands languish in prison, many of them in India, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
The Kashmiris reject India’s occupation. They demand a plebiscite to determine their own future. Freedom-loving people worldwide must extend them all help to realize their fundamental right.