As if Narendra Modi’s illegal and unilateral revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) autonomous status and subsequent lockdown were not bad enough, Kashmiris have been hit by the coronavirus as well. With over one million infected cases, India is the third most infected country in the world. Its ill effects are being felt particularly hard in J&K because of lack of medical and internet facilities.
India’s fascist prime minister has continued with other illegal acts. The innocuously sounding Domicile Law, introduced on March 31, 2020, would allow non-Kashmiris to acquire property and settle in the state. It has grave implications for Kashmir’s future. With settler colonialists flooding the state, its demography would soon be altered permanently rendering its people a minority in their own state.
This is contrary to Article 35A of the Indian constitution (enacted in 1927, a full 20 years prior to India emerging as an independent state) that prohibits non-Kashmiris from acquiring immovable property in Kashmir. The purpose was clear: settlement of non-Kashmiris would dilute the state’s Muslim majority, hence the long-established prohibition.
Under the new “Domicile law”, anyone who has resided in J&K for 15 years or studied in the state for 7 years or appeared in class 10th/12th exams can apply for Kashmir domicile. Also, children of central government employees who have served in J&K for 10 years (even if they have never resided there) and all migrants that are registered with the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner in J&K can also acquire domicile.
This is designed to change the demography of J&K and is straight out of Zionist Israel’s playbook in Occupied Palestine. Indian diplomats have openly talked about implementing the Israeli model in Kashmir.
The state has been under virtual lockdown since August 2019 and almost all forms of communications including the Internet and phone lines are cut. While communications have been eased somewhat, the pandemic has worsened the Kashmiris’ already grim situation.
The revocation of J&K’s autonomous status was preceded by other acts of acrobatics to provide a dubious veneer of legality. In June 2018, the state was put under governor rule after the 25 BJP assembly members withdrew from the coalition government in Kashmir headed by Mehbooba Mufti.
This was a prelude to presidential rule imposed from Delhi since it required a six-month period of governor rule. As part of its creeping annexation, this legal fraud had to be fulfilled. In December 2018, J&K was duly placed under president’s rule. And finally, its autonomous status was ‘abolished’ on August 5, 2019. That the Kashmiris as well as much of the rest the world have not accepted this illegal move has not constrained the Hindu fascist regime in India.
In the immediate aftermath of Modi’s illegal move, thousands of Kashmiri youth were kidnapped from their homes, often in the middle of the night. This was part of a deliberate policy to crush any protests from erupting despite a 24/7 curfew. Indian troops had orders to shoot to kill. Many Kashmiri youth simply disappeared without a trace. Amnesty International has described this as the “tyranny of a lawless law.”
The Modi regime also arrested or put under house arrest all political leaders including those that had for decades collaborated with India. Many political prisoners, among them 76-year-old Mian Abdul Qayyum, President of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, are languishing in prisons outside Kashmir. Some have been locked up in the notorious Tihar Jail in Delhi. Others, like Shabbir Ahmed Shah and Yasin Malik are also languishing in Tihar jail. Like all other Indian actions in Kashmir, the transfer of prisoners—whether political or others—is prohibited by International law. An occupying power has no right or authority to transfer detainees to a jurisdiction outside their own territory.
In March 2020, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs admitted that 7,357 persons had been arrested in Jammu & Kashmir since August 5, 2019. Independent sources say the number of detainees is much higher. A delegation of five Indian female lawyers and academics, among them Delhi High Court Advocate, Poonam Kaushik revealed at a press conference in Delhi on September 26, 2019 that Kashmiri families had told them more than 13,000 youth had been picked up by the Indian army. She narrated other harrowing tales of Indian army mistreatment of civilians in Kashmir. The delegation had visited Kashmir from September 17-21, 2019.
While the majority have since been released, hundreds remain locked up under sections 107 and 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and the Public Security Act (PSA), a notoriously controversial law which allows the administrative detention of any individual for up to two years without charge or trial. Reportedly, many of those still detained are minors, according to a report by Amnesty International.
Other human rights organizations have also called on governments, including the Indian government, to release detainees because of the pandemic. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on governments to “examine ways to release those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders.”
Similar calls have been made by the International Federation for Human Rights. In a press release on April 6, 2020, it called on India to release arbitrarily detained Kashmiris. Its press release said: “Inmates and prison staff, who live in confined spaces and in close proximity with others, remain extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. While the rest of the country is instructed to respect social isolation and hygiene rules, basic measures like hand washing - let alone physical distancing - are just not possible for prisoners.
“Under international law, India has an obligation to ensure the physical and mental health and well-being of inmates. However, with an occupancy rate of over 117%, precarious hygienic conditions and inadequate health services, the overcrowded Indian prisons constitute the perfect environment for the spread of coronavirus.”
To appreciate the nature of the crisis in Kashmir, one must understand the now-abrogated articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution. Article 370 relates to J&K’s autonomous status pending its final resolution through an internationally-supervised referendum in the state. There are at least 11 Security Council resolutions affirming this. Article 35A prohibited non-Kashmiris from acquiring non-movable property in the state. These articles were agreed between the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and India.
There are wider legal, political and military implications of Modi’s dangerously provocative acts but first let us consider what the Kashmiris are going through. The entire state of J&K has become a vast concentration camp, much like the besieged Gaza Strip. Hundreds of thousands of heavily armed Indian occupation troops patrol the streets enforcing draconian laws. Barbed wires and metal gates barricade deserted streets manned by heavily armed soldiers.
With J&K cut off from the rest of the world, last year Genocide Watch issued a ‘Genocide Alert’ for Indian occupied Kashmir. Stating that “Genocide Watch’s Ten Stages of the genocidal process are also far advanced”, the group called “upon the United Nations and its members to warn India not to commit genocide in Kashmir.”
The media and international attention given to the alarming situation in J&K last year has now been superseded by other immediate crises. The Kashmiris’ plight is largely forgotten. Given the choice between facing genocide or resisting their oppressors, it is not difficult to figure out what the Kashmiris would choose.