On Aug. 5. 2019, the Indian government scrapped Article 370, a constitutional provision that granted the Muslim-majority Indian territories of Jammu and Kashmir the right to make their own laws.
Shortly after Article 370 was abrogated, the Indian government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party issued a communications blackout on the region, shutting down Kashmir’s access to the internet — as well as mobile, landline and broadband services.
Safwaan Mir, a Wayne State graduate and the president of Michigan’s chapter of Stand With Kashmir, said the blackout has made it extremely difficult for him to communicate with family in the region.
“There's only like a small window, maybe like a three or four day period, where land lines are open and you can call them,” Mir said. “But otherwise, the internet is still shut off, so you know, things like WhatsApp and that kind of stuff isn’t working.”
Shutting off communications services is not new in Kashmir, Mir said. The Indian government has enforced curfews and blackouts in the past whenever tensions in the region have escalated.
The blackout eased as of Jan. 15, but residents still have limited internet access, according to the BBC.
Mir said he believes the blackout is being used as a way to prevent the world from seeing human rights abuses by the Indian military against Kashmiri citizens.
“They implemented the shutdown so no one can see what’s happening,” Mir said. “My mom actually just came back (November) and she was telling us [my family] about how bad things are on the ground. The blackout is concerning, but what’s more concerning is the violence.”
Kashmir is one of the most militarized zones in the world, according to Frederic Pearson, a professor of political science and director of the peace and conflict studies program at WSU. The region is split up into territories claimed and controlled by India, Pakistan, and China.
Tensions in Kashmir can be traced back to 1947, when the partition of British India divided the subcontinent into the Muslim-majority nation of Pakistan and Hindu-majority nation of India.
“When the partition took place, the rule was made by the British, that the Maharaja who had been appointed by the British to rule these various provinces in India would decide which way to go, either India or Pakistan, and the Maharaja in Kashmir was Hindu and in the end decided to adhere to India, even though Kashmir and Jammu have majority Muslim populations,” Pearson said. “From the very beginning the decision was very explosive and unpopular.”
Human rights abuses have been an on-going issue in the region, with Indian security forces bearing the brunt of the accusations, Pearson said.
“We don't know the scale of the violence now, but it seems to be reaching levels that are beyond previous high points, like 1989 and the 90s,” Mir said. “(Since 1989) you’ve had reports of over 70,000 plus killings of civilians. It became considered probably one of the worst rape wars in the world. On top of that, there have been thousands of kidnappings and arrests, even now I’ve heard talk about kids as young as nine years old being taken from their families.”
A 2006 report by Doctor Without Borders — a report that did a quantitative assessment on the psychological and general health of Kashmir’s populations — found that in the period between 1989 and 2005, 12% of Kashmiri interviewees reported being victims of sexual violence; 82% of reported witnessing round-ups or raids in villages; and 44% reported directly experiencing physical and psychological mistreatment at the hands of the Indian security forces.
“One of the things that is important to understand is that there are around 700,000 soldiers in the area and they are given legal immunity by the Indian government,” Mir said. “I think there is a potential for mass ethnic cleansing.”
In Sept. 1990, Kashmir was designated a “disturbed” area under the Indian Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The act empowered Indian security personnel use of “force” for “maintaining public order” and granted officers special legal protections from prosecution. However, in July 2016, India’s supreme court issued a judgement ending total legal immunity for armed forces under the AFSPA, according to The Hindu.
The Role of Hindu Nationalism in Kashmir
The recent escalation of tension in the region has coincided with the rise to power of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India — led by Prime Minister Navendra Modi.
“Frankly, I don't know exactly why Modi is raising this potentially explosive issue right now except that his nationalist party takes very assertive positions about India being a Hindu nation,” Pearson said.
Modi and the BJP hardline-Hindu nationalist party have a history of instigating violence against India’s Muslim populations, Mir said.
“This is a man and a party who has a history of targeted violence against Muslims,” Mir said. “I think specifically the party are targeting Muslims because they think they need to get rid of them in order to end all claims for independence or basically take control of the area and satisfy their agenda.”
Modi was the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat during an outbreak of religious riots in 2002. During the riots 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed, according to report made to India’s parliament by then Junior Home Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal. Scholars like Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago, said the BJP led state government was complicit in the violence.
"There is, by now, a broad consensus that the Gujarat violence was a form of ethnic cleansing, that in many ways it was premeditated, and that it was carried out with the complicity of the state government and officers of the law,” Nussbaum wrote in her 2009 book “The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future.”
In 2005, Modi became the first person to be banned from entering the United States under the International Religious Freedom Act. In 2012, a special investigation team set up by the Indian Supreme Court found no evidence Modi played any direct role in the violence and the U.S. reallowed his entry in 2014 after he was elected Prime Minister, according to the Guardian.
Pearson said that while international pressures may help to de-escalate violence whether India will restore the region’s special status remains unclear.
“The United Nations has not been very successful about Kashmir, but there's always the chance that a U.N. envoy or something might be able to help ease tensions,” Pearson said.
Mir said he doesn’t see a de-escalation of violence happening in Kashmir while the BJP still holds power over the Indian legislature.
“The hope is that maybe after Modi — if Modi's party is taken out of power and a more kind of leftist group comes in — they will quickly work to try and change what happened. But that's not a guarantee either,” Mir said. “But nobody I know thinks that while Modi is in power, the kind of violence against Kashmiri Muslims is going to stop.”
Mir became president of Michigan Stands with Kashmir in the summer of 2019. He said he wanted to join the effort to help educate people in Michigan about what was going on in the region and work with activists to pressure U.S. politicians in condoning India’s role in the violence.
“There’s recently been a resolution in the House that we’ve been working hard to get politicians to sign on to,” Mir said. “We’re doing all kinds of lobbying and reaching out to senators. We are organizing protests around the country. The hope is that we can get more people aware of what’s going on in Kashmir.”
Rajaa Shoukfeh is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Sean Taormina is the features editor of The South End. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graphic by Guneet Ghotra. She is the graphic designer for The South End. She can be reached at email@example.com.