While much of the world’s attention is focused on the war in Ukraine, more than 8 million Kashmiris continue to languish under the heavy boot of Indian military occupation. Unlike Ukraine, unfortunately, little or no attention is paid to the plight of the Kashmiri people.
There are several reasons for this double standard. Ukraine is in Europe; its people are white and Russia that is involved in military operations is considered an enemy of the west. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are not white. In the western racist mindset, they are not worthy of attention. Even worse, their larger ‘sin’ is that the vast majority of Kashmiris are Muslim. And that is a category of people who are up to no good, as far as the west is concerned. Kashmir’s occupier, India, is courted by the western world because of its economic growth.
Two-thirds of the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been under India’s military occupation since October 1947. Britain, the departing colonial power, had much to do with creating this problem. The people of Kashmir have categorically rejected India’s illegal occupation of their state.
That sums up the overall situation, both its historical context and its contemporary reality. People of conscience and those who believe in human rights and dignity for all people cannot ignore the Kashmiris’ plight.
The Kashmiris have endured more than seven-decades of suffering and oppression. While their suffering should be highlighted regularly to expose Indian crimes, there are certain occasions when the situation in Indian occupied Kashmir is highlighted more forcefully.
One such day is February 5. Officially called Yaum-e Yekjehti Kashmir (translated into English as Kashmir Solidary Day), it was first proposed by the leader of the Jama‘at-e Islami in Pakistan, the late Qazi Hussain Ahmed in 1990. It became an official event in 2004 when the government of Pakistan adopted it. On this day, seminars and rallies are held worldwide to draw attention to the plight of the Kashmiri people.
According to Kashmiri journalist Gowhar Geelani, Kashmir Day has been observed historically right from 1932. It was first proposed by the then Kashmir Committee. Geelani was quoting the Srinagar-based international law expert, Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who wrote in February 2017:
“In the 1930s, the day was observed to express camaraderie with the Kashmiris’ struggle against the autocratic Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh. In present day context, Kashmir Day is being celebrated to show solidarity with the struggle of Kashmiris against India.”
Showkat Hussain went on: “Basically, it [Kashmir Day] started from undivided Punjab and it has been celebrated ever since, with pauses in between. This day will continue to hold importance until the Kashmiris achieve their objective of right to self-determination.”
While the Kashmiris have continued to struggle against India’s illegal occupation, there have been periodic intensity in their struggle. The latest intensification can be traced to February 1989 when the Kashmiris realized that India would not allow free and fair elections even locally. Delhi continued to manipulate such elections leading to the eruption of anger among Kashmiris.
Since 1989, more than 96,000 Kashmiris have been murdered by the 900,000 Indian occupation troops. Rape of women and girls is also used as an instrument of oppression and terror. The Kashmir Media Service, one of the most authentic sources of news on Jammu and Kashmir, reports that by the end of December 2022, 11,256 girls and women had been raped by Indian troops since February 1989.
One of the most horrific cases of gang rapes occurred on the night of February 23, 1991. Members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), an unruly mob of Hindu fanatics in uniform, raided the twin villages of Kunan and Pushpora in the remote Kupwara district of Kashmir.
The heavily armed soldiers took all the men and boys out into the freezing cold and held them at gunpoint while they went from house to house, searching allegedly for “militants” but in actual fact, committed gang rapes. Girls as young as seven years old and women as old as 70 were raped.
One woman, in an advanced stage of pregnancy was among the gang-rape victims. Her pleas to be spared went unheeded. Four days after this traumatic experience, she gave birth to a baby with a broken arm.
Despite repeated calls by the Kashmiris and human rights organizations, both Indian and international, for an investigation into the Kunan-Pushpora crime, the matter was dismissed. No one has been held accountable much less charged with this heinous crime.
While the Kunan-Pushpura gang-rape case came to light because of the scale of the atrocity, many other cases have gone unreported and, therefore, unaccounted for. The reason is obvious: in the deeply conservative Kashmiri society, many girls and women simply do not report such cases fearing the shame it would bring to their family.
The Kashmiris are suffering because they demand the right of self-determination, a fundamental right of every human being. This has been denied them since 1947. According to the partition plan of British-ruled India, Muslim majority areas were to become part of Pakistan while Hindu majority areas would form part of India. This formula was accepted by the leaders of the two movements—the All-India Muslim League that led the Pakistan movement and Indian National Congress that represented Hindu sentiment. Yet the Indian Congress in connivance with the British, violated this agreement in the case of Kashmir.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir who were overwhelmingly Muslim, had no doubt that their state would become part of Pakistan. After all, not only the people’s sentiment but even their culture, geography, history and physical links, such as postal service, telegraph etc., were all linked with Pakistan.
Naturally, India’s illegal occupation of the state led to an uprising by the Kashmiris and a war between India and Pakistan. Since then, three wars have been fought between the two countries and ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) remains tenuous. Indian troops frequently shell border villages on the Pakistani side killing innocent Kashmiris.
There are 11 UN Security Council resolutions calling for a plebiscite (referendum) in Kashmir so that the people can freely exercise their right to self-determination. India has not only refused to hold a referendum that it had initially proclaimed publicly before the whole world, Delhi unilaterally abrogated articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution in August 2019. These had conferred special status to Kashmir and blocked settlement of non-Kashmiris in the state.
Since then, some 3.5 million non-Kashmiri Hindus have been illegally settled in Kashmir. The intent is clear: dilute the population of Kashmir so that if a referendum is held in the future, the Kashmiris would not have a clear majority. This policy of social engineering has gone hand-in-hand with the crushing of all forms of dissent in Kashmir. Journalists, academics, doctors and even school children are targeted and imprisoned or killed.
These developments make it even more imperative to highlight the plight of the Kashmiris and express solidarity with their just struggle for freedom.