On the night of August 3, unidentified security personnel in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) stopped Riyaz Ahmad Shah, a 21-year-old ATM guard who was on his way home from work.
According to a case registered at the Karanagar police station against unknown security personnel, the unidentified security official shoved a pellet gun into Riyaz’s stomach and unloaded the high-capacity magazine directly into his abdomen. An autopsy later revealed that more than 300 pellets were shot into his stomach at close range.
Riyaz’s death triggered fresh protests in Srinagar, where Indian military and paramilitary forces have already killed at least 55 people in protests following the death of a Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old pro-freedom leader earlier in July.
There is no doubt that Kashmir is a political issue, but let us not forget the people who own the disputed territory, the Kashmiri people. Since the illegal Indian occupation began seven decades ago, hundreds of thousands have been killed, and many more injured by Indian security forces.
A number of human rights organisations have condemned India’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir. In a report published last year, Amnesty International highlighted the numerous human rights violations in J&K, and demanded accountability of the Indian security forces by their government.
A 2006 report by the Human Rights Watch, ‘Everyone Lives in Fear: Patterns of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir’, stated that Indian security forces are responsible for torture, murdering Kashmiris in faked “encounter killings,” and are also responsible for illegal detentions and “disappearances.”
The extent of the human rights abuses carried out against the local population in J&K by Indian security forces is not just limited to torture or death. Another report by HRW described how Indian security forces use rape as a weapon of their war on the Kashmiri people.
There are dozens of other reports, dating back to the 1970s that describe the severe human rights violations committed in Jammu and Kashmir by Indian security forces.
To highlight the ongoing brutality of the Indian forces in J&K, the Pakistani American Congress (PAC) held a congressional forum at the Capitol in Washington DC on August 11. At the forum, multiple speakers, mostly American citizens of Kashmiri origin, talked about the living conditions of their families and relatives in J&K. They called upon their government (the US government) and the Tom Lantos Commission to encourage the Indian government to do the following:
• Announce a rapid demilitarisation process from Jammu and Kashmir;
• Repeal the draconian laws including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act, which allow the arbitrary and irresponsible behaviour of the Indian Armed Forces with impunity against heinous crimes such as extra-judicial killings, rape and torture against innocent and defenceless people of Kashmir;
• Ensure the right to assembly, freedom of expression, right to worship freely according to the religious beliefs of the people of Jammu and Kashmir;
• Release all prisoners including leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference from prisons, detention centres, and house arrest and restore their basic human right to assemble and protest in a peaceful fashion;
• And finally, urge the US government to work with other members of the United Nations Security Council to ensure the implementation of the UN Resolutions in order to resolve the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir.
On August 19, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the ongoing killings in Indian-held Kashmir. Unfortunately nothing more was said or done. Even the Americans continue to watch as Indian forces butcher the people of J&K. The American State Department press office spokesperson said that they were aware of the clashes and remained “concerned about the violence.”
The Muslim world has also failed the people of Kashmir, other than the expressed concern over the severe human rights violations; the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation had nothing more to say.
It is great to show solidarity with the people of Kashmir and voice our concerns over the heartless violence in Indian occupied Kashmir, but it is not enough. Our governments need to do more; they can start by politically isolating India, and announcing economic sanctions. This will put tremendous pressure on the Indian government to stop the violence in Kashmir, and to end their persecution of the Kashmiri people once and for all.
Kashmiri lives, like all lives, matter. This is a serious human rights issue, an issue that must be immediately addressed by all nations. Like all people, the people of Kashmir deserve to be treated like human beings; they deserve to live with dignity and respect, and without fear.
The writer is an assistant professor at NUST in Islamabad.