64thYear of occupation of the sovereign nation of Jammu and Kashmir

Kashmiris all over the world observed 64th anniversary of Indian invasion of Kashmir as a “Black Day on 27th October yesterday.” It was exactly 64 years ago, on October 27th, 1947, when the Indian troops invaded and occupied a sovereign nation of Jammu and Kashmir by deception. The government of India proclaimed that her forces would help to restore normalcy in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and allow the people to exercise the right of self-determination in accordance with their freely expressed will, unhindered by any threat of internal disorder or external aggression.

Deceitfully, India did the exact opposite. Those who have followed developments in Kashmir know that the ongoing struggle for freedom began in 1931 when people came out in open revolt against then autocratic and tyrannical regime; they had nearly succeeded in over-throwing the regime when India stepped in 1947 to take over the tyrant disposed regime, faced with stiff resistance from the locals against its invasion – India transformed Kashmir into a purely military camp, killing hundreds of civilians.

The first war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir broke out in 1947. In 1948 India took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations Security Council, which constituted a special commission – the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan – with the mandate to independently investigate the matter and help the contending parties reach a negotiated settlement. The most important outcome of the deliberations were two resolutions passed by the Security Council on August 13th, 1948 and January 15th, 1949 respectively, calling upon the governments of India and Pakistan to hold a free, fair and impartial plebiscite under UN auspices in order to enable the people of Kashmir to decide whether they wanted to join India or Pakistan.

This was followed by commitments on part of the Indian leadership to allow the people of Kashmir to determine their future. In a statement to the Indian parliament on February 12th, 1951, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said: “We had given our pledge to the people of Kashmir and subsequently to the United Nations. We stood by it and we stand by it today. Let the people of Kashmir decide.”

Failing to legalise its occupation, on August 9th, 1953, New Delhi arrested then prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir and popular leader Sheikh Abdullah in a coup d’?tat – the occupying forces killed more than 1,500 defenceless Kashmiri civilians to silence the massive revolt against its occupation. Since then, India has tried to gradually strengthen its grip over the occupied region by means fair and foul unmindful of its constitutional commitment about the future status of the occupied state.

1987’s rigged elections and India’s refusal to honour her commitment about the right of self-determination pushed the people of Kashmir from “passive resistance” to “militancy” against state-sponsored terrorism.

Since October 1989, Kashmir has become the most highly militarised zone in the world; more than 700,000 Indian soldiers are deployed there. In almost 22 years, the occupying Indian forces have killed more than 100,000 Kashmiris – many more scarred and wounded, to silence the people’s demand for justice, respect for human rights, freedom and the right of self-determination. They continue to carry out arbitrary detention, summary executions, custodial killings, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape, sexual exploitation, torture and fake encounters. Generations of Kashmiris have grown up under the shadow of the gun; not a single family is unaffected; property worth hundreds of millions of dollars has been destroyed and the suffering and devastation continues unabated that has inflicted loss of life and destruction on an unprecedented scale, sadly drawing no significant attention from the international community.

Moreover, Indian forces operate under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), also known as "black laws," which give authorities broad authorisation to arrest, search, and shoot without questions. Impunity has become a licence for the Indian occupation forces to wreak havoc with the lives of Kashmiris. The deliberate and unprovoked attacks and other patterns of abuse have all become too frequent to report. No perpetrator has ever been prosecuted in a real manner, despite the fact that such crimes have been extensively documented by many international human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

The detection of 2700 unmarked graves in Kashmir with bodies of defenceless Kashmiri civilians shows the real face of the so-called largest democracy of the world: “For years, Kashmiris have been lamenting their lost loved ones, their pleas ignored or dismissed as the [Indian] government and army claimed that they had gone to Pakistan to become militants,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But these graves suggest the possibility of mass murder. The authorities should immediately investigate each and every death.”

“According to the Srinagar-based Association of Parents of Displaced Persons (APDP), at least 8,000 people have disappeared since the insurgency began… Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have repeatedly called for an independent investigation into allegations of unlawful killings and enforced disappearances by Indian security forces…

“’The government has long been well aware that widespread killings and disappearances have occurred in Kashmir, but it has looked the other way,’ Ganguly said. ’The discovery of these unidentified bodies will make it impossible to continue the long cover-up of the facts or to deny justice to the families of victims.’

“Human Rights Watch also urged the immediate repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act [AFSPA], a draconian law that grants the military widespread powers to arrest people without warrant and to shoot to kill. This law has enabled security forces to engage in crimes such as enforced disappearances, Human Rights Watch said. It protects military personnel responsible for serious crimes from prosecution, creating a pervasive culture of impunity.”

“Amnesty International also calls upon the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to ensure the safety of the 62 witnesses who have given statements to the police team and ensure that they, along with relatives of the disappeared persons, local human rights defenders and members of the police investigation team are not pressured, intimidated or subject to any reprisals… India is a signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances,”

Naseer Ganai wrote for India Today from Srinagar on October 21, 2011: Human rights panel ask Jammu and Kashmir govt. to reopen army mass rape case: “They [locals] said the army cordoned off the village, the men were taken to a field for an overnight interrogation and the women were gang-raped in their homes without any consideration for their age and marital status. The age of the victims ranged from 13 to 70.

“’The offenders have been neither taken to a civilian court nor a court martial was initiated. Instead, the case was closed. The investigation was stopped and the files were shelved. This has benefited the offenders,’ the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) member Javid Kawoosa said. ‘We feel sorry for the victims that the government has ever taken the trouble to approach them and offer help. Right from February 1991, successive governments have been negligent, insensitive and indifferent towards the victims as if nothing happened at Kunan Poshpora…

“The SHRC mentioned the statement of the then Kupwara district magistrate, who visited the village on March 7: In his final report, he said the soldiers behaved like wild beasts. ‘In the morning, when the menfolk were released, they were shocked to see that the army personnel had gang-raped their daughters, wives and sisters. They forcibly took no objection certificates from the locals. I feel ashamed to put it in black and white what kind of atrocities and their magnitude was brought to my notice on the spot,’ the magistrate’s report reads. Though medical reports and testimonials confirmed the gang-rape, the investigation was closed as untraced.’

“However, the SHRC quoted reports from the then director general of police and health officials of the Kralpora hospital. These also say that the chastity of women was ravished.”

India must understand violence is not and cannot be answer to popular demands for justice, freedom and the right of self-determination. A plebiscite under the United Nations supervision is the only answer to resolve the issue.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a solemn promise to the people of Kashmir – assuring them zero tolerance to human rights violations; ever since, the promise has been observed in breach. In a letter (June 3, 2011) Human Rights Watch has reminded him of his promises: “India has made significant pledges outlining its human rights record and voluntary commitments. In meeting those pledges and commitments, Human Rights Watch asks your [Indian] government to implement the following changes in India’s laws and policies to better protect and promote human rights: Repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which has led to widespread violations and suffering in Jammu and Kashmir… Soldiers found responsible for serious human rights violations remain unaccountable because of immunity provided under this law. India should also encourage the government of Jammu and Kashmir to repeal the Public Safety Act, which has been used to hold hundreds of people in arbitrary detention…”

The people of Kashmir are yearning for peace, justice and freedom. They want a just and dignified peace that guarantees total freedom from foreign occupation and alien domination. Their struggle to achieve the right of self-determination will not extinguish until India and Pakistan accept its exercise by the people of Kashmir.

The perception that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan is totally unfounded. Kashmir is not a territorial or bilateral issue. It is about the future of 15 million people with their own history of independence; their own language and culture. This has been an explicit explanation for the failure to resolve the Kashmir issue through on-again and off-again bilateral dialogue for the past 64 years. The people of Kashmir are tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome; moreover, they have lost complete faith in the bilateral process of India and Pakistan and their ability to resolve the issue.

The unprecedented sacrifices and suffering experienced by the people against this volte-face in terms of death and destruction, life and property, torture and persecution, rape and repression over the years, particularly during the past 22 years, is much too great to go unrewarded. The Kashmiri freedom movement is now entering its twenty-third year with firm and unwavering courage and determination in the face of unspeakable suffering and injustices to achieve the right of self-determination. The ground reality is very encouraging as the people are determined to achieve freedom, therefore, the struggle is in full momentum and the demand for a UN supervised plebiscite is at an all-time high.

The right of self-determination is the cornerstone of the United Nations system that underpins the contemporary international order. Its unquestioned acceptance has been established by core international instruments including the Charter of the United Nations, the two Covenants on Civil and Political and Economic, Social and Cultural rights and the declaration adopted by General Assembly resolution 1514.

International human rights fora continue to reaffirm the validity and significance of the right of peoples to self-determination in situations of foreign occupation and alien domination. Contemporary international developments further testify the importance of this right, and its centrality to the international system.

Effective exercise of a people’s right of self-determination is an essential pre-requisite for the genuine exercise of other human rights and freedoms. Only when self-determination has been achieved can a people take the measures necessary to ensure human dignity, the full enjoyment of all rights including the political, economic, social and cultural progress without any form of discrimination.

The right of self-determination is thus the raison d’etre of the contemporary international order and an absolute must for the progressive realisation of all fundamental human rights. The right must be exercised freely without covert influence, coercion or repression. It cannot be exercised under conditions of foreign occupation and it is non-lapsable.

It is high time India realised the fact that control over a region alone does not mean sovereignty over a chunk of land. It is the people who make up a nation and if they are perpetually alienated, any territorial supremacy achieved through brute force alone can never guarantee long-term peace.

The conflict in Kashmir is a “political” and “human” tragedy – the United Nations, the international community, including India and Pakistan, have overlooked this critically important human dimension of the issue. The Kashmiris’ demand is simple and in accordance with international law: implementation of the United Nations resolutions for a plebiscite to determine the future status of the disputed region in a peaceful and democratic way. Whatever the outcome, it will be impartial and binding for all the three parties – the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan.

For New Delhi to help resolve the Kashmir issue through peaceful negotiations, following actions are necessary and urgent:

1. India must cease all military and paramilitary actions against civilians in Kashmir.

2. India must end torture, custodial killings and extra-judicial executions of prisoners immediately.

3. India must withdraw its military and paramilitary forces from all the urban areas immediately.

4. India must release all the prisoners immediately arrested or captured in connection with the resistance movement and false cases instituted against them under the so-called emergency laws must be withdrawn.

5. India must annul the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, the National Security Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, with respect to Kashmir, immediately.

6. India must bring to justice all those killers and murderers who have committed horrendous crimes against innocents in Kashmir during the past 20 years. Or transfer all such cases to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for impartial justice.

7. India must continue to help the displaced Kashmiri Hindu families to resettle in their homes in Kashmir and provide them all necessary assistance.

8. India must allow International human rights monitors and the world media to visit Kashmir for their investigative work.

9. Last but not least, the world community must help India and Pakistan to transform the Kashmir issue from being a bone of contention to a bridge of understanding for lasting peace and prosperity of South Asia’s billion plus people. A peaceful solution of the Kashmir issue will help to bring stability in the South Asian region, including in Afghanistan and eliminate a potential threat of another major war. This would help lay the foundation for a new era of coexistence between India and Pakistan.

Informed and conscientious Canadians can play a vital role in the education process by interacting with parliamentarians and the media. In addition, concerned Canadians can write to the UN Secretary General, NGOs, and call or write to the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to voice their concern about systematic human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The cause for which the people of Kashmir are struggling is a just one, and deserves support from all those who cherish peace and justice.

Author is Executive Director Kashmiri-Canadian Council