Commentary  100 Days Too Long

The Indian Occupation of Kashmir Should be the Focus of Global Attention on India

Readers looking to better understand the history of the region, and the beginning of this annexation should read the article ‘Kashmir on Lockdown as India Strips Away Independence’ published in August by the Daily

November 12 marks 100 days since the Indian government overturned Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, dissolving the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and breaking the region into two Union Territories. The special status of Kashmir was included in the constitution by India’s early leadership as a way of offering “a certain degree of autonomy to its only Muslim-majority state” — one it had incorporated without the consent of its people, who would have preferred independence or accession to Pakistan.” Two thirds of this state have been occupied by India for decades, against the wishes of its inhabitants. Kashmiri separatists have been demanding “azadi” (freedom) for decades. With the abrogation of these articles, it is unlikely that the separatist movement will be able to solidify enough support to achieve their goals of self-determination. Reports on the living conditions inside the areas in the past 100 days have all returned the same verdict: the siege has resulted in massive human rights violations.

These violations are the result of military occupation, and heightened police repression. Majid Maqbool, who is a journalist in the now Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, describes the way in which the occupation is visible:

“[C]ensored press, more bunkers, longer military convoys, soldiers atop military vehicles, standing guard on either side of the road with batons and guns in their hands, bringing civilian traffic to an abrupt halt; coils of concertina wires and road blockades occupying virtually all main roads and crossings.”

The intent behind this annexation is apparent: Narendra Modi’s government is aiming to further his party’s Hindu nationalist ideology. Clearly, the current administration could not allow a Muslim majority state to exist with any degree of autonomy, and because the dissolution of article 35A specifically allows non-Kashmiris to buy land, it is feared that the 100-day old occupation is only the beginning of an attempt at launching a settler-colonial project. 

Reports from the area describe cases of torture, arrests and, preventative detentions. It is important to speak about these occurrences, not to sensationalize what is taking place, but rather to understand the reality of a situation that the Indian government is doing its best to sweep under the rug. Modi and his colleagues are being abetted in positively portraying their crimes by news outlets within the country, as well as by organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which awarded Modi with the Global Goalkeepers award in September of this year, one month into the occupation. He received this award because of the supposed success of the ‘Swachh Bharat” or “Clean India” campaign, an effort to make India open-defecation free. His government claimed to have built 100 million new toilets in India over the past five years, but these numbers are not backed by independent research groups says Sabah Hamid, who resigned from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation over Modi’s award. She is among others who are questioning the thinking behind this award, given the severity of the human rights violations perpetrated in the past 100 days in Kashmir, and across the country in the years that Modi has been in power. 

The campaign addresses only the symptoms of the problem, instead of the root cause: “institutional discrimination against the scheduled castes” writes Vidya Subrahmanium from Indian news outlet The Wire. One day after Modi received the award in New York, two young Dalit men were killed for defecating in the open in Madhya Pradesh.

Modi has transformed Gandhi’s iconic wire framed glasses into the symbol of the Swacch Bharat, and said “Getting the award in the year of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary is personally significant for me. When 130 crore people take a pledge, any challenge can be overcome.” in his speech in New York. While Modi’s claims that Gandhi advocated for the cleaning up of India are not unfounded,  his legacy is perhaps better represented in the non-violent resistance to colonial rule that is being demonstrated by the Kashmiri people. 

A fact-finding mission conducted in early October by sociologist Nandini Sundar and lawyer Nitya Ramakrishnan reported that while schools are technically open, parents are afraid to send their children because of the presence of armed forces. They also found that children as young as 6 years old “are being picked up and kept for a day to several days, or asked to report morning to evening for several days. Most often there is no record of their detention.” 

This degree of repression has led people to ask if this is really Gandhi’s India. From Sundar and Ramakrishnan’s report: 

“As one man whose brother had been arrested merely for speaking to the media told us, ‘Go back to India and cover every statue of Gandhi so that he doesn’t have to face this shame.’ For Gandhi, the only relevant factor for constituting nationhood was the will of the people.”

Another group, consisting of “concerned citizens from different professional backgrounds” travelled to Kashmir between September 25-30 and Jammu between October 6 and 7. They noted that while the Indian government is trying to present the idea that “their clampdown on civil liberties in Kashmir with an increased military presence, summary arrests of all mainstream and separatist leaders and the communication blockade” have allowed the annexation to occur peacefully, the reality is that the inhabitants of this occupied state are protesting through largely non-violent means. The strength and will required to resist a body as powerful as the Indian government is what we should be celebrating globally. 

We must not allow our attention to be placed on the supposed successes of the Modi government. We must stand in solidarity with Kashmir, and recognize Modi as the leader of an authoritarian state governed by hateful ideas and violence, not a Global Goalkeeper.