Kashmir has been disputed between India, China, Pakistan, and some Kashmiris who call for an independent state since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. During partition, the rulers of Kashmir joined India, on the condition that Kashmir retain its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws. Foreign affairs, defense and communications remained under Indian control. These rights were formalized in Article 370 of the Indian constitution.
In recent decades, as disputes over control of the region continued, India has eroded these autonomies and instituted a brutal military occupation. With 100,000 civilian deaths, 10,000 missing, and civic, political and economic life critically suppressed, Kashmir is enduring a long and bloody crisis. On August 5, 2019, India revoked Article 370 thereby removing Kashmir’s long-held constitutional autonomy and placing the region under unprecedented lockdown. Overnight, restrictions were placed on phone calls, internet speeds and all forms of telecommunication. Conditions have further deteriorated due to the lockdown imposed by the Modi government, paralyzing the state’s economy, education, healthcare system and social existence.
A report released by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry in December 2019 demonstrated that the lockdown had cost Kashmir’s economy more than $2.4 billion — and many local leaders were unable to speak out, facing layoffs, economic loss, and uncertainty.
The communications blockade has slowly been lifted; however, full functional capability has not yet returned. Harsh restrictions still remain and life in Kashmir is essentially at a standstill – made all the more intense by the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic.
UN-appointed independent human rights experts and Human Rights Watch, among others, have called for urgent action in the region amid concerns of ongoing abuses against civilians.
As the region remains under lockdown, the most substantial byproduct is the escalating isolation of Kashmiris. With little international oversight and minimal ways to contact the outside world, Kashmiri citizens are trapped.
India’s high-handedness in Kashmir amid a global pandemic has further exacerbated a tense situation in the restive valley. The latest causality of harsh policies has been people, mostly students, locked up in quarantine centres across Kashmir.
In March, when Kashmiri students studying outside India started landing back in Kashmir because of Covid-19 shutdowns, many of them tried to avoid admission to compulsory quarantine facilities for a 15-day stay. The thought of being held under the strict watch of state officials had students bordering on panic, and led parents and guardians, waiting outside the airport building, to stage a chain of protests against the ruling.