On August 5, the Indian state unilaterally and without consulting with the Jammu and Kashmir legislature revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s right to self -governance. It brought the region under the direct control of the New Delhi government. In doing so, the central government displayed a blatant disregard for the nation’s founding principles of democracy, secularism, and justice.
This was followed by a military blockade and an unprecedented media and communication shutdown, which has lasted more than two months. The blockade has plunged the people of Jammu and Kashmir into fear and uncertainty and initiated a humanitarian crisis in the region. Kashmiris have been denied basic civil liberties and freedom of expression, information, assembly, movement, and religion. Eid and Ashura passed as the clampdown continued, and Kashmiris, both within and outside the state, were unable to wish their family members. Even when an earthquake hit Mirpur, killing 38 and injuring hundreds, there was no media coverage of damages, injuries, and fatalities on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC), leaving Kashmiris across India unable to contact their loved ones.
Despite mounting and credible evidence of human rights abuses and a healthcare crisis from numerous international media across the platform of different sources and independent fact-finding missions, the Indian Government continues to insist that everything in Kashmir is returning to “normal“.
Military forces have detained thousands of people, among them politicians, leaders, lawyers, journalists, teachers, students and children as young as ten. Civilians, including children, are being tortured and ruthlessly beaten and subjected to electronic shocks.
In a report from BBC News, a civilian is quoted saying, “We told them we are innocent. We asked why they are doing this to us? But they did not listen to us. I told them not to beat us, just shoot us. I was asking God to take me because the torture was unbearable.”
Meanwhile, medical reports and hospital admission logs are being manipulated in order to keep casualty reports low. Doctors also report being under pressure not to issue death certificates.
On August 15, as the rest of India celebrated independence from colonial rule, Kashmir was under an indefinite lock-down imposed by the Indian Government. As India celebrated freedom won through years of protest, civil disobedience, and a commitment to self-rule, Kashmiris were being denied those very liberties.
With each passing day that this is allowed to continue, India inches closer to fascism, and far from democracy.
While thousands protest outside the United Nations in New York, here in India the police refused permission to protest. India is where the very spirit of dissent has been crushed under the weight of a nation actively and tacitly supported by the majority. The state has attempted to control the media narrative, shuttered places of protest, and stifled age-old democratic institutions. Even at the Sabarmati riverfront, touted as a monumental reclamation of public space, public assembly wasn’t allowed, and dissenting voices weren’t allowed to speak out. Public space that was put into place by the state has not been made to be utilised for the public voice to speak out.
Despite this, we assert that there are still voices in India calling for change, voices that some have tried their best to quell, but that refuses to remain silent. Among civil society leaders, there is a sense of fear, uncertainty, and helplessness. And yet, still, there is dissent.
The Indian state has decided that the value of land is greater than that of human life. We cannot let this stand. We the people stand in solidarity with Kashmiris and demand that Kashmiri voices be heard.
Now, more than ever is the time to remember those who fought for our freedom, B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, among so many others. These freedom fighters had a dream for this country, a pluralist democracy composed of states and peoples who willingly come together to preserve the ‘idea of India’. This dream of free state did not, and could not, have included shutting an entire people out of the democratic process and imprisoning them.
It is imperative today that we remember their vision of a state where justice, equality, and peace could prevail and in their memory, fight for freedom once more, from those who wish to disrupt the very idea of what this country stands for.
Thus, we urge the Indian government to lift the communication and media blockade, restoring fundamental human rights to freedom of movement, assembly, and information. We call for the release of political leaders who have been detained without trial since August 5, and demilitarisation of Kashmir with the initiation of meaningful conversation with the Kashmiri people on the future of the state.