On a road in Srinagar’s Indian-controlled Kashmir, Fayaz Ahmad Zargar manoeuvres through roadblocks and wires laid by the Indian armed forces to restrict civilian movement. Despite the newly implemented siege that the area is reeling from, Zargar has taken his chances to reach SHMS Hospital for his wife, who is suffering from cancer. “My wife is running out of medicine. I have been trying to get out of my house to reach the hospital. And every time I am being sent back by the forces. They are not even ready to listen,” Zargar said. “My son was supposed to come home for Eid. He was supposed to get medicine for my wife. Now we don’t even know his whereabouts”. This situation is not a unique one in Kashmir, and many families of the 13 million strong population find themselves in a similar predicament.
Kashmir, a highly contested area between India and Pakistan and the most militarised place on earth, has been under curfew so many times that people have found unique ways to deal with it. This time, however, Kashmir is witnessing an exceptional situation. Almost two weeks ago, Articles 370 and 35a were revoked through a special ‘presidential order’ of India’s Narendra Modi. Many human rights activists have compared this act to an ‘annexation’, likening India’s presence in Kashmir to a ‘settler colonial’ project that confirms India’s status as an occupier in the disputed region. In a nutshell, the passing of the articles not only completely obliterates any autonomy and statehood that Kashmir has had since 1947, but also definitively incorporates it into the state of India and opens its borders to land being owned by anybody- a move most Kashmiris are vehemently against.
In the already densely militarised zone, the central government airlifted an additional 43,000 armed forces to the valley. It was followed by a complete communication and information blackout: calls on mobiles phones and landlines remain suspended; mobile and broadband internet services are down and local cable TV services are off the air. No news travels from one neighbourhood to another. This is Indian- occupied Kashmir: where half a million Indian soldiers (one to every four civilians) and a maze of army camps and torture chambers that would put Abu Ghraib in the shade are bringing secularism and democracy to the people. Since 1990, when the struggle for self-determination became militant, 68,000 people have died, 10,000 have disappeared, and at least 100,000 have been tortured.
Since the implementation of this newest Indian act of illegality, several top Kashmiri politicians have been taken into custody too. Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Kashmir, managed to get out a message shortly before she was arrested on Monday night. “The Fifth of August is the blackest day of Indian democracy when its Parliament, like thieves, snatched away everything from the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” she said.
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, commonly referred to as the B.J.P., may be difficult to stop. Modi, the most domineering leader India has produced in decades, just won a resounding election victory in May, in part on the promise of revoking Article 370. He exploited a wave of a nationalist fervour as part of his re-election campaign, that helped significantly. Wiping away Kashmir’s special status has been a dream of many B.J.P. supporters who have spoken of a Greater Hindustan, a Hindu-dominated land that scoops up Pakistan, Bangladesh and other parts of South Asia.
As some world leaders send out weak condemnations of India’s actions, their empty words are as resounding as the suffering being inflicted upon the occupied people of Kashmir. With communication in and out of the region sparse and a lack of willingness to take action and act by most in the positions to do so, the helplessness and utter unfairness being inflicted upon the occupied people of Kashmir is heart breaking. A beautiful landscape with a troubled, yet rich and awe-inspiring history, it is a catastrophe. As we anxiously follow snippets of news coming out of the region, such as the BBC footage from last week Friday of protestors being dispersed with tear gas and live ammunition by Indian forces (a fact denied by the Indian army and government), we rely on prayers and raising conscious awareness of a people being brutally oppressed in the name of religion, land and economic benefit. It is an abomination that basic human rights are still denied to so many in the 21st century.
Dr Aayesha J Soni is a medical doctor and member of the Media Review Network (MRN). She was also named as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans of 2017 and one of News24’s Future 100 Young Mandela’s in 2018.