Kashmir has become the new Settler-Colonial Project

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In this Sept. 27, 2019, photo, a Kashmiri woman protestor Jawahira Banoo carries her 3-year-old daughter Rutba and stands for a photograph outside a closed shop with a spray-painted graffiti after a protest on the outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. Banoo says she does not miss an opportunity to come out to the streets to protest. The men are at a higher risk of being detained, she says. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

India’s great son of the soil Mahatma Gandhi had issued a prescient warning to his compatriots to guard against the rise of a “regime of brute power” in India that would mirror “English rule without the Englishmen.” Today many are remembering that warning with the brute force that is being exacted on the people of Kashmir, whose fate and UN-protected right to self-determination is largely being ignored by the rest of the world. 

India has always been heralded as the largest democracy in the world, the country which once spearheaded the Non-Aligned Movement and championed the fight against the apartheid state. Today the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP has implemented a series of laws that entrench Hindu supremacism, moving the country away from efforts to safeguard tolerance, plurality and inclusivity. Today the BJP draws on British colonial laws to crush dissenters who argue for rights and justice for tribal people, religious minorities, Dalits, women, and Kashmiris.

It had long been the intention of the BJP to revoke Article 370 of India’s constitution which was adopted in 1954, to guarantee Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and a certain degree of autonomy. Article 370 allowed Jammu and Kashmir their own constitution, separate flag, and freedom to make laws, while foreign affairs, defence, and communications were the preserve of the central government. Article 35A of India’s constitution permitted the local legislature of Kashmir to make its own rules on permanent residency, ownership of property, and rights. It could bar Indians outside the state from purchasing property and settling there. This ensured that the majority Muslim state could guard against any attempts at altering the demography of the area.  

According to the Indian Constitution, Article 370 could only be modified with the agreement of the state government, which is one of the reasons why constitutional experts have called the formal revocation of Article 370 by the Government of India on August 5th illegal, unconstitutional, and unilateral. President Narendra Modi has defended the revocation by arguing that it was part of the BJP’s 2019 election manifesto, and that the region’s special status has not benefited its people. Modi claims that Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy had led to corruption and militancy, and that integrating Kashmir would lead to development and investment.  

It is no secret that Kashmir is rich in natural resources including minerals such as iron ore, gold, copper, chromium, zinc, and precious stones, to name but a few. Opening up the area to investment by Indian capitalists is something that the leadership of the BJP has been eyeing for decades. 

The problem with the Indian government taking such a unilateral decision is that it goes against a number of UN Security Council resolutions which have reiterated the right of Kashmiris to self-determination. The most important of the Kashmir resolutions is UN Security Council 47 of 1948, which calls for the resolution of the dispute of Kashmir’s accession to either India or Pakistan through affecting the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite. The resolution was passed by the UN Security Council under chapter VI of  the UN Charter. Over a number of years that UN Security Council has issued a total of 17 resolutions on Kashmir, reaffirming the right of Kashmiris to self-determination, and for a free and fair referendum. Kashmir is the longest outstanding dispute of the UN Security council. 

In June last year the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released its first ever report on the situation of human rights in Kashmir, and urged India and Pakistan to “fully respect the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir as protected under international law.” The very act of revoking Article 370 of the constitution means that India has unilaterally taken away the right of Kashmiris to self-determination – to democratically decide on their own future – which is considered an internationally recognised right under international law. 

The international community has done little more than urge restraint, call for dialogue, with some countries like South Africa calling on India to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. But in practical terms there have been no consequences for India’s move to basically annex Jammu and Kashmir, with economic ties and escalating trade and investment with one of the largest emerging economies in the world trumping concerns over human rights abuses and the violation of international law.

What we are witnessing is another modern-day colonial project in Kashmir, and the Kashmiris are being further colonised in the name of development. While Indian military forces have always been stationed in Kashmir, the troops are now being considered by local Kashmiris as a fully fledged occupying force.  

It has been widely written about that Modi has been inspired by Israel’s settlement project in the occupied territories, particularly Israel’s forced demographic changes on the ground whereby it settles Israelis on Palestinian land as part of “social engineering.” Similar attempts at “creating facts on the ground” is likely to be the strategy of the Modi government in Kashmir. According to a report by Al Jazeera, a senior BJP leader has already hinted that the government is planning to form exclusive Hindu settlements in the Kashmir region. 

Relations between the Israeli and Indian governments have been consolidated since the BJP came to power, and India has become the largest importer of Israeli weapons. In 2014 the Indian Home Minister visited Israel and was so impressed by the electronic fence with Gaza that a similar fence is being deployed along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. It has also been reported that Israeli military delegations have visited Kashmir to train Indian troops. 

The continued militarisation of Kashmir is deeply concerning, particularly considering the region was already considered one of the most militarised in the world. It is estimated that almost 1 million Indian troops are stationed there, and in the first few days of August prior to the revocation of Article 370, tens of thousands of additional troops were deployed. Prior to the announcement to cancel Jammu and Kashmir’s special status being made, mobile phone networks, landlines and the internet was cut, thousands of activists and civil society members detained, and regional political leaders placed under house arrest. Schools and colleges were also shut, and tourists and Hindu pilgrims told to leave the area. 

Ever since Kashmir has remained under siege and lockdown, with a curfew still imposed and the internet still suspended over three months later. Most local businesses remain closed with an estimated cost to the economy of US$1.4 billion. Local Kashmiris say they are living in a state of “Orwellian dystopia” where their phone calls and movements are constantly surveilled by intelligence agents and security forces, perpetuating a climate of fear which has gripped the area. As Pakistani President Imran Khan said in his address to the UN General Assembly in September, his fear is that once the curfew is lifted in Kashmir there will be a bloodbath. 

Where there have been protests it is alleged that Indian security forces have shot civilians. In recent years, numerous reports from human rights organisations have documented protesters having been blinded by the pellet guns used by the security forces, which have also caused serious injuries, many to children. It has been reported that over 10,000 civilians have been forcibly disappeared, and in places of incarceration there has been widespread rape, torture, and extra-judicial killings. Last year the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a damning report on human rights abuses in Kashmir by Indian security forces, and the  High Commissioner demanded access to Kashmir in order for an independent inquiry to be conducted, but the demands were ignored.

In the midst of such mayhem, arch capitalists such as Ruper Murdoch call Modi India’s best leader with the best policies since independence. Here we come back to Gandhi’s warning about the potential of rule by brute force – the continuation of English rule without the Englishmen.

Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group.