Looking Back at Three Years of Illegal Annexation of Indian Occupied Kashmir

Photo credits: Daily Sabah
Struggle and strife have been a part of life in Kashmir since the partition of India and Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir. Four wars have been fought between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed powers. Yet, the annexation that began three years ago on August 5, 2019, is something wholly different – it is an attempt to fully subjugate the region and turn it from a Muslim-majority state into a Hindu one. It is an attempt by India to deconstruct an entire culture that has existed for centuries. For three years, the most basic freedoms, such as freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom from arbitrary detention have been stripped away from the Kashmiri people. Worse, the war crimes committed by India are conducted in plain sight, and the world doesn’t seem to care. Today we will look back at the struggle, the history of the current conflict, and what the prospects for the future are.

A Hindutva government rises

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – came to power in 2014 on promises of modernization and eliminating corruption, but his party is unquestionably a Hindu-nationalist party. Like all nationalists, they have strong ideas of who is and who isn’t a citizen of a country, and Muslims are meant to be second-class citizens- if even as citizens at all. During his first election, he vowed to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy, and while his comments on the campaign trail promised to include “all stakeholders,” it was clear that was very much a lie. In the 2018 elections, the BJP won over two-thirds of the seats in the Indian Parliament. They felt emboldened, as Harsh V. Pant, a professor of international relations at King’s College London said “This is a government that feels they have got this massive mandate…they believe their agenda is a mainstream agenda.”

Article 370 falls

On August 5, 2019, the Indian Parliament voted to end the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, and India hardened its occupation of the region. A communications blackout was instituted and cellular, telephone, and internet connections were disconnected from the rest of the world. The blackout was necessary to hide from the world the crackdown on daily life in Kashmir. Public gatherings of more than three people were banned. No phone, internet, or the freedom to assemble meant that businesses became impossible, but the bills were still due. In 2019 alone, the Kashmiri economy lost an estimated $2.4 billion. Families could not connect with their loved ones and during the blackout, most found themselves trapped inside their homes and isolated from the world. While this was ongoing, India arrested journalists, politicians, and anyone they thought could be a threat. Public demonstrations were banned, and those who engaged in them were detained without bail.

2020: The misery deepens

The blackout lasted 213 days – the world’s longest for a supposed democracy. Lifting in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to spread around the world. Additional restrictions were imposed or justified because of the pandemic. The severe economic contraction from the blackout cost the Kashmir economy a further $5.9 billion – especially in the fields of tourism and handicraft business. Even though the health risks of the virus are real, India used it as justification to further perpetuate its dismantling of the Kashmiri people. Critical health infrastructure deteriorated as hospitals did not receive enough supplies to treat patients with everyday concerns, let alone treat people who suffered from COVID-19. The crisis came to a head in 2021, as the Covid -19 Delta variant (the Indian variant) ravaged India. A critical oxygen shortage caused widespread deaths throughout the country. Despite it all, the government further handicapped the resources meant for Kashmir and placed additional restrictions upon medical professionals regarding who they could talk to and which NGOs they could work with. Vaccines were in short supply, and India let COVID run rampant through the prison system. While COVID continued unabated, the crackdown on Kashmiri life continued unabated. Indefinite detentions became common practice as young men, human rights leaders, journalists, politicians, and civic leaders became some of the most targeted. Those that were released reported abuse and torture at the hands of the Indian occupation. The mental health crisis increased exponentially, Muslim homes were wantonly bulldozed, and restrictions were placed upon Islamic religious practices. Against this backdrop, hate speech against Muslims exploded and genocide became a real possibility. While in New Delhi, the Modi government stacked the Kashmir administration with Hindu loyalists and sought to disenfranchise Muslims.

The international community fails to respond

The reaction from the international community has been mostly muted. As such, India has been able to continue its crackdown in Kashmir unabated. The short reason is that in the eyes of the world, Kashmir is a sacrificial pawn in the geopolitical chess game. The United States has long been an ally of India. During the Trump Administration, Washington was happy to ignore the abuses of the Modi regime if they lavished praise upon the former President. It was hoped that with Joe Biden assuming the Presidency in 2021, there would be a renewed focus on democracy and human rights, as the President had campaigned for. Indeed, there was optimism at the beginning of Biden’s term that he could pressure Modi to change course. However, with the fall of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and heated tensions with China, U.S. foreign policy is distracted, and unable or unwilling to commit political capital to pressure India to end its occupation. While the U.S. has publicly called out India’s human rights abuses, it has not been enough. Furthermore, while Europe has been more willing to call out the abuses in India, its focus is still distracted by domestic issues and the invasion of Ukraine.

How does the occupation end?

There are several ways that the occupation can end- The most frightening possibility is that India succeeds in its goal of turning Kashmir into a Hindu state within India. This long-term goal is dependent upon decades of political cronyism and repression, but it is certainly not impossible. The rise of illiberal democracies, such as Victor Orban’s Hungary and Modi’s India, in the early 21st century is a troubling trend, one that no one knows with certainty how they will end. Illiberal democracies may prove stable enough to exist, even with widespread persecution within their borders. It is also possible, even likely, that Illiberal democracies that are critical allies to the world’s great powers might prove farther durable than others, such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. Nor is liberation by an outside force, like Pakistan, a realistic possibility. Not only because another war between nuclear powers was undesirable, but a war would exacerbate the suffering of Kashmir and further strengthen the autocracy in New Delhi. Liberation from within is also unlikely. India has shown itself adept at crushing any dissent, even peaceful protests. It’s clear that a scenario like the overthrow of the Sri Lankan government is not likely to be repeated in Kashmir. There are only two ways this ends in Kashmir’s favor. The first is that the Nationalist government loses power in New Delhi, and the administration that replaces focuses on other issues within India and restores autonomy to Kashmir. Autonomy may not be enough for Kashmiris, but it may at least ameliorate their intense suffering and political suffocation. It may also allow space for further discussion on future dispensation of Kashmir’s future. The second is international pressure. Kashmir still possesses a U.N. Resolution for self-determination dating to 1948. What is missing is the will to act. While enforcing the U.N. resolution must be the long-term goal, the short-term goal is to continue to exert pressure upon the world governments to leverage their political and economic pressure on India to end its occupation and human rights abuses. This is a long-term goal. Building awareness and keeping the attention of the world on the events in Kashmir is necessary for change. While a large-scale atrocity could force the world to act, it is our goal to prevent large-scale losses of life, and building awareness of the daily and monthly misdeeds is how we keep the pressure up. Lastly, what should be understood is this. Kashmir has been struggling for 75 years for its freedom. If necessary, we will struggle for another 75, because self-determination, freedom, and human rights are universal and worth enduring for. For the Kashmiri diaspora, our sacrifices are far less than those that our people under occupation are enduring now.