India’s repression in Kashmir is not compatible with democracy

The Washington Post

Opinion

India’s repression in Kashmir is not compatible with democracy

By Editorial Board

Oct. 13, 2019

WHEN INDIA’S Parliament abruptly stripped the state of Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy on Aug. 5, the government of Narendra Modi claimed it was a prelude to a new era of economic development and expanded civil liberties for a region that for decades has been torn by sectarian violence. The harsh, repressive measures that were imposed were only temporary , authorities said. These included the detention without charge of thousands of Kashmiri politicians and other leading public figures, and suspension of Internet and phone services.

More than two months later, the crackdown continues. Hundreds of politicians, academics and activists are still being held, including the state’s top elected leaders. Though some restrictions on movement have been lifted and the restoration of phone landlines is to be followed by the resumption of mobile services Monday, the Internet is still inaccessible.

Meanwhile, there are persistent reports of indiscriminate detentions, beatings and torture by security forces, including of children as young as 13. The Post interviewed 19 people in 13 villages who said they had been abused in the days after Aug. 5; they recounted “beatings with rods, sticks and cables, electric shocks, and being hung upside down for long periods.”

The government denies the allegations of abuse, but it has refused to allow foreign journalists and other independent observers to travel to the region. Among those refused access was U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

India prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy, but these are not the actions of a democratic regime. Many of those detained are being held without due process. India’s courts, including the Supreme Court, have stalled on considering habeas corpus appeals and challenges to the emergency measures. Any court decision about whether the conversion of Jammu and Kashmir from a state to two federal territories was constitutional has been postponed until after the change is due to take effect, on Oct. 31.

Officials have refused to give straight answers about when the repression will end. Ajit Doval, the government’s head of national security, recently said it would depend on “how Pakistan behaves.” In other words, the freedoms of millions of Indian citizens are linked to the actions of a foreign government.

Pakistan, which claims Kashmir, has sponsored terrorism there in the past. But its elected civilian government has so far confined itself to rhetoric about the Indian crackdown, along with fruitless appeals to the United Nations. Prime Minister Imran Khan asked President Trump to intervene, and Mr. Trump expressed interest in mediating. But that was before Mr. Trump traveled to Houston last month for what amounted to a joint political rally with Mr. Modi.

India has become a close ally of the United States, but that is only more reason for Washington to press Mr. Modi to end the crackdown in Kashmir, including by releasing all political detainees. Sadly, Mr. Trump has no understanding of such imperatives — which, no doubt, is one reason the supposedly temporary measures of Aug. 5 remain in place.