Kashmir Dispatch February 2022

WKA News Round-Up – February

February has been an unprecedented month in which the world has been brought ever closer to the brink of madness and destruction. Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has grabbed the world’s attention. We, at the World Kashmir Awareness Forum, send our prayers to the brave Ukrainians fighting against an unjust invasion – Kashmiris know all too well what it is like to be invaded, occupied, and suffer from the horrors of war. It has happened too many times in our history.

These are the top stories in Kashmir for February.

Hate Speech reaches epidemic proportions

Once relegated to extremist’s fringe –  hate speech against Muslims in India is reaching terrifying new levels and into the mainstream. Chief Priest at Dasna Devi Temple and Hindu firebrand, Yati Narsinghanand, organized an event that sparked national outrage when a group of monks called for the overt ethnic cleansing of Muslims.

They called for the deaths of two million people in a targeted campaign of violence, not unlike that which has been inflicted upon the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.

Police were called to deliver a message to temper their speech – but even this seems to have been a mere formality as the police can be seen laughing and joking with Mr. Narsinghanand.

This incident is one of many recent in which political and law enforcement leaders normalized hate speech. The silence goes all the way to the top as Prime Minister Modi and his party remain silent, if not tacitly endorse such rhetoric.

Other such incendiary rhetoric has served to repress and marginalize Muslim women as colleges in Karnataka and Madhya have forbidden women from wearing the hijab.

Reaction to state universities’ prohibition of the hijab has been met with stone-pelting and police attacking with batons.

Nobel Peace Laurette Malala Yousafzai urged political leaders to stop objectifying Muslim women “Refusing to let girls go to school in their hijabs is horrifying. Objectification of women persists — for wearing less or more. Indian leaders must stop the marginalization of Muslim women,” Malala tweeted.

The altercations resulted in protests and demonstrations that caused the schools to be closed for three days.

As the heated rhetoric continues to flourish in right-wing spaces there is increasing alarm that a singular event such as a terror attack by Al-Qaeda or the Islamic state could set off a wave of violence that would be difficult to stop.

Gregory Stanton, the founder of Genocide Watch, told a U.S. congressional briefing that the demonizing and discriminatory processes that proceed genocide are well underway in India.

Mr. Stanton is not the only one who is alarmed at the rise and acceptance of hate speech within India. Noam Chomsky, a world-renowned scholar, and activist said Islamophobia has taken its most“ lethal form in India” and has turned some 250 million Indian Muslims into a persecuted minority.

Mr. Chomsky’s comments came as part of a webinar organized by the Indian American Muslim Council. In his remarks, he noted that Kashmir “brutally occupied territory and its military control in some ways is similar to occupied Palestine.”

India purchased Pegasus Spyware

The Modi administration has long denied its purchase of the Pegasus Spyware program as part of a weapons deal with Israel in 2017.

However, it was revealed as part of a New York Times report that the software purchase was one of the centerpieces of a roughly $2 billion deal.

India has used the malware against opponents, rights activists, and journalists in India. It estimated that more than 1,000 numbers in India – were of special interest to the Israeli-based NSO group.

The bombshell report has caused opposition parties to accuse the government of treason.
“The Modi government bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians, and the public. Government functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, and judiciary were all targeted by these phone tappings. This is treason,” Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

You can read more about this bombshell report by clicking here.

Kashmiri men still detained after cheering Pakistani win

The families of three men who were arrested for publicly cheering the Pakistani cricket team over India in October are petitioning for their release.

Arsheed Yousuf, Inayat Altaf, and Showkat Ahmad Ganai – all in their early 20s – were arrested on sedition charges in the northern city of Agra for sending WhatsApp messages “against the country” days after Pakistan thrashed India in the T20 World Cup cricket match in the United Arab Emirates.

All of the families are struggling with extreme poverty and have so far not been able to post bail for their sons.

This draconian display of police overreach was made possible by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. He has a long history of anti-Muslim bigotry and has warned that the sedition law would be applied to people who celebrated India’s loss.

Formally the men have been charged with “cyber terrorism, sedition, promoting enmity between different groups, and making statements likely to cause alarm to the public.”

The three men have had difficulty finding a lawyer to represent their case and have been accosted in court with heckles and jeers. You can read more about this ongoing case and the struggles of each of the men’s families here.

KFC sparks outrage after Kashmir post

A Twitter storm erupted after American brand Kentucky Fried Chicken tweeted a message that ‘Kashmir belongs to the Kashmiris’. Pizza Hut caused similar outrage after it had posted “We stand with you” on Kashmir solidarity day.

Pizza Hut and KFC were not alone as Hyundai and Kia also posted similar messages and received similar outrage.

Solidarity with Kashmir did not last long as many of the posts were later removed or were forced to issue awkward retractions in the face of backlash in India. You can see a sampling of the tweets and retractions by clicking here.

Final thoughts

We wrote earlier about the world being on edge – and it does feel as if we are on the brink. The widespread acceptance of anti-Muslim portents to darker days ahead. It is tempting to think that this is nothing new, that things cannot fundamentally get worse.

And yet, this month we have seen what happens when words turn into actions. The Ukrainian crisis – was long on overheated rhetoric by Russian President Vladimir Putin and yet, few people—even heads of states, though he was serious.

He was deadly serious.

At the time of this writing, it seems as if his grand design is to be rebuffed as the Western world cheers on a Russian defeat.

And yet, autocrats are never chastened. They adapt their strategies and try and try again. Another, far more disturbing possibility is this – while the world watches Ukraine, they are not watching other global hotspots which may allow other autocrats to strike at their perceived enemies with impunity because the West’s attention cannot be everywhere at once.

We can only hope that the second scenario does not come to fruition – but we can only ask for vigilance and solidarity in the face of such hatred and pray that the forces of evil are vanquished in the face of justice.