Jammu and Kashmir have become an information black hole under India’s military occupation, and its people largely forgotten by the world in what resembles an open-air prison. Few give voice to this illegal occupation and annexation as the world’s attention is elsewhere and there is little political will to change the status quo.
Nowhere else in the world has an occupying power shut down the internet for such lengthy periods of time, and prohibited high-speed internet so that the people are forced to rely on 2G.
Not even in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic has India had the humanity to lift the ban on high-speed internet so that Kashmiri doctors can easily access Covid-19 treatment guidelines for their patients and conduct research.
Health-care providers complain that it takes one hour to download international recommendations for Covid-19 patients in intensive care.
The low speed and intermittent internet access imposed by India have taken a heavy toll on health services as doctors are unable to offer virtual consultations during the pandemic, and contact tracing of Covid-19 cases is hampered.
This at a time when the territory is reporting hundreds of new coronavirus cases daily, with a total of more than 22400 confirmed cases out of a population of 8 million people. This is nothing other than a violation of the human rights of Kashmiris by an occupying power during an unprecedented and deadly pandemic. It is surprising that the World Health Organization and UN have not taken up this matter in earnest.
To make matters worse, since the escalation of the pandemic in March this year, India has cut Jammu and Kashmir’s internet access 55 times. From the time India abrogated Article 370 on August 5 last year, the territory was denied internet access for a full seven months, the most traumatic communications blackout of the seven decades of occupation.
The infringements on internet access have also affected education severely, as 1.5 million students in Jammu and Kashmir have been denied the opportunity of online learning, while children in the rest of India are able to tap into virtual classrooms.
The brutality meted out against political activists and journalists has been commonplace for decades in Jammu and Kashmir, but over the past year the noose has tightened, and occupying forces are allowed to arrest anyone who they consider is publishing fake news.
That translates into anyone who does not stick to the narrative of the occupying power or exerts independence. Even photographers are being jailed under the terror law. There are now more than 7000 political prisoners in the territory who are routinely tortured and maltreated.
With 700000 military troops policing a population of 8million, there is no democratic space or civil rights to speak of. If three children are found walking on the streets together they will be harassed or even arrested as soldiers define that as a mob.
The most grave development since the illegal annexation by India took place on August 5 last year, the irreversible moves to alter the demography of the area – a tactic also used by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories, and by Morocco in occupied Western Sahara. With the introduction of the new Domicile Law in May, Indians and non-Kashmiris have been issued with “domicile certificates” entitling them to residency rights and government jobs.
The region’s top administrative official, Girish Chander Murmu, told reporters in June that the law was aimed at bringing economic prosperity. Authorities have called the new residency rights an overdue measure to foster greater economic development by opening up the region for outside investment.
But the region has become increasingly militarised, and the rules eased for Indian soldiers to acquire land in the territory in order to construct “strategic areas”. This is just as much of a land grab as what has been happening in the West Bank. Many Kashmiris view the issuing of domicile certificates as the next step in India’s settler colonial project, the objective being to ultimately make Kashmiris a minority in their own land.
Pawan Kotwal, a top Indian official, was quoted by The Tribune as saying in June that about 400000 people had been given domicile certificates in over a month. Under the 1948 UN resolutions, Kashmir was promised a plebiscite, giving its people the choice of joining either Pakistan or India. With the forced changes to the demography of the area by the occupying power, the results of a plebiscite would be drastically affected if it ever took place.
Fears are that the new law will lead to bloodshed and further destabilisation of the territory, and even of the entire region.
Genocide Watch has issued a Genocide Alert for India-administered Kashmir based on seven specified risk factors. It has called on UN member states to warn India not to commit genocide in Kashmir.
* Ebrahim is group foreign editor for Independent Media.