Kashmir Dispatch January 2022

WKA News Round-Up – January

January saw the assault against journalism escalate as the violent rhetoric against Muslims spread throughout India. The World Kashmir Awareness Forum brings you the biggest stories you may have missed this past month.

‘Auction’ of India’s Muslim women shows technology’s power to harass

New Year’s Day brought a horrifying discovery for Muslim women throughout India. A new app called Bulli Bai – a derogatory Hindi slur against Muslim women – allowed its users to bid on the women on the site in a fake auction. Many prominent Muslim women, including many outspoken critics of the Indian government, such as Rehbar and Fatima Zohra Khan were among those targeted.

The app was brought down, and four men have been arrested for its development and use of targeted online harassment, but the damage may be irreparable and legal action against the culprits may never be enforced

Apps such as these show a dangerous new evolution in technology – the creation of deep fakes. Deep fakes are usually created by artificial intelligence algorithms that allow a victim’s face to be photoshopped onto another person’s body, often in pornographic contexts. This is done in addition to targeted online harassment, doxing, and identity theft.

While the app has been taken down, the images that were created might exist on the internet for years to come, possibly forever. Ismat Ara, a journalist who was also targeted from the app said succinctly, “If the culprits get away with it, then there is no stopping this. Then it is not just Muslim women, but every woman in the country who can be targeted.”

You can learn more about the potential harm deep fakes pose by reading more here.

Proposed election maps disenfranchise the Muslim majority in Jammu

Proposals to redraw the electoral districts in Jammu and Kashmir seem to be drawn with a deliberate aim to disenfranchise the Muslim majority in both regions of Jammu and Kashmir.
While the assembly has not formally met since 2018 (a year before India revoked Article 370), fears are rising that the Indian government intends to stack it with members favorable to their interests. Home minister Amit Shah made the announcement yesterday that the delimitation act is now in the implementation phase.

Before the assembly was dissolved, the Kashmir valley was allotted 46 seats and 37 were allotted to Jammu. Under the new delimitation, Kashmir gains only one seat while Jammu gains six.

Most of the Hindu population resides in Jammu and if the proposed maps are adopted it will create an imbalance in which Muslims become a political minority in their own country. This adds to the demographic shift created in the genocidal massacre of a quarter million and the external displacement of half a million Muslims in 1947. With the delimitation act, a single assembly seat in the Kashmir valley will have an average population of 146,000. However, a constituency in Jammu could be carved out from an area with an average of 125,000 residents.

You can learn more about this scheme by reading here.

India charges Muzzammil Ayyub Thakur under UAPA

In a brazen attempt to silence its critics living abroad. Police have formally booked the World Kashmir Freedom Movement (WKFM) president on politically motivated charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Mr. Thakur, who was meeting with British officials, believes that if India succeeds it will set a dangerous precedent potentially ending the freedom of speech that Kashmiris living abroad enjoy as citizens of their respective countries.

According to the official booking, “On 06/01/2022, Police Station Kothibagh reliably learned that Muzzammil Ayyub Thakur through his social media account and other platforms is indulging in the activities which are prejudicial to the sovereignty, integrity, and unity of India besides, he is creating fear and alarm among the general masses and inciting them to commit offenses which are likely to disturb the public order.”

A similar charge has been brought against another well known freedom activist, Dr. Asif Dar, a Kashmiri anesthesiologist working in the Middle East, for provoking sentiments of freedom among Kashmiri youth.

To read more about this flagrant abuse of power, click here to read more.

Kashmir Press Club taken over in a military-style coup

Rogue journalists, backed by police and paramilitary personnel, forcibly took control of the Kashmir Press Club. The office personnel were also held against their will. This rogue action earned universal condemnation from ten media bodies including:

Journalist Federation of Kashmir (JFK), Kashmir Working Journalists Association (KWJA), Kashmir Press Photographer Association (KPPA), Kashmir Press Club (KPC), Jammu and Kashmir Journalist Association (JAKJA), Kashmir Video Journalist Association (KVJA), Kashmir Working Journalists Association, Kashmir National Television Journalist Association (KNTJA), and Kashmir Journalist Association (KJA).

“This move, in which a group of journalists self-appointed itself as an “interim body,” is uncivil, illegal, unconstitutional and without any precedence. It has been taken at a time when the process of registration is still pending before the authorities,” the statement said.

You can read more about this story by clicking here.

Journalist Sajad Gul arrested 

Journalists remain among the most harassed people in occupied Kashmir. Not a month goes by that we don’t see another journalist arrested for the supposed crimes of reporting on India’s flagrantly illegal activities.

On January 8th,  Sajad Gul was arrested in his home. Police claim that he had posted “objectionable material” on Twitter. The arrest was universally condemned by leading media bodies.

Gul, according to the Kashmir Journalists Association, has been facing “intimidation by the police for nearly the past year”.

While a court later granted Mr. Gul bond, it was subsequently learned that he was arrested for posting a video of family members raising slogans after the killing of their kin, a militant, in a military operation in Srinagar.

Police claimed that he was trying to disrupt the “peace and tranquility” of the region, saying that he is “involved in tweeting fake news” to provoke people against the government. You can follow the latest developments of this story by clicking here.

Final thoughts – a depressing new normal

Rules? What are the rules? Do they even matter anymore? The rule of law is supposed to be the bedrock on which a free and democratic society is based. Perhaps that is a theory that is now only taught in civics class as it has become clear that the law is something to weaponize against the state’s opponents and a concept that doesn’t exist for the people wielding power.

Each month brings new stories about how the ruling Indian authorities refuse to follow the rules they make for everyone else. When journalists are routinely harassed and arrested for trying to report the news and being treated as enemies of the state. When the state can charge foreign nationals with undermining public safety just for speaking out, and when women are harassed with the tools of technology to try to force them into silence – then one must conclude that there is no longer any rule of law, and that the government is rotten to the core and is toxifying the culture.

What can be done? It is often a catch-22. Resist and you are branded a terrorist. Speak out and you’re branded a potential terrorist and a threat to the state. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

There are no easy answers. We at WKA strive to live our values – to speak up for the rule of law, for the freedom of the press, and for the freedom of speech.

We will continue to call out crimes when we see them. Uncover corruption and political intrigue where it exists. We ask our readers to continue to share these stories and send us the breaking news when you see it.

We will not be silenced.