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Fighting a diligent case


August 18, 2019

On August 5, the government of India decided to revoke Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which had guaranteed Jammu and Kashmir's special status since the late 1940s. The decision is in stark contrast to the commitments made by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952 – that the constitution of India would not extend to Jammu and Kashmir against their will. It is also a violation of the commitments repeatedly made by India before international forums.

Subsequent to the move, a telecommunication blackout has ensued in the region, leaving citizens without access to the internet, and any other telecommunication services. The latest limitations in Indian-Occupied Kashmir will worsen the human rights situation in the region.The fact that hardly any information at all is currently coming out is of great concern in itself.

If we go back a little into history, Shaikh Abdullah admitted to having committed a grave mistake in the matter of favouring India. When he came to Pakistan during the Ayub period, he addressed the people of Rawalpindi and I happened to be present that day. He was reiterating that ultimately the Kashmiris would have the same fate as the Muslims of Kapurthala, Ladakh, Alwar, Bharatpur and Faridkot etc where the Muslim population had either been killed or expelled; he feared that same would happen to the Kashmiris.

India took the matter in 1948 before the United Nations and failed miserably. In the book, 'The Great Divide', the following observations were made; “the representative of India prove to be a no match for Pakistan’s contending council, Sir Muhammad Zafarullah. And having anticipated the result, they sought an adjournment and so the matter lingers on. But the status-quo order is alive. The Indian constitution cannot overwhelm the compact made between the people of Kashmir and the whole world and Pakistan."

Article 370 of the Indian constitution provided for the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, requiring the mandatory approval of most of the laws adopted by the Indian parliament in the state assembly. Now, the Indian government has voted in favour of splitting the Ladakh region from Jammu and Kashmir, making it a union territory under direct federal control. The legislation was introduced alongside a presidential order that takes from the region and its people some political autonomy and hereditary rights by revoking Article 370 of India’s constitution.

The changes will also lift a ban on property purchases by non-residents of Kashmir, opening the way for Indians outside the territory to invest and settle there. The local Muslim population has long feared such measures would change Kashmir’s demography, culture and way of life. Activists from Kashmir are looking at this as a theft of Kashmiri history and identity.

An indefinite security lockdown has kept most of the region’s seven million people in their homes and in the dark about the changes. The Indian government rushed through the amendments at a time when Jammu and Kashmir was under the direct rule of the central government, and the state legislature was dissolved.

The move was met with a strong response by Pakistan whose parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning India's 'unilateral move' on Kashmir; it also categorically rejected India's "illegal, unilateral, reckless and coercive attempt to alter the disputed status of Indian occupied Kashmir as enshrined in the UNSC resolutions".

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has also deemed these changes in contravention of domestic and international standards accompanied by draconian new restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and travel. The procedure adopted to revoke the special status and autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir appears to be incompatible with the judgments and observations of the high courts and the Supreme Court of India.

The UN high commissioner for human rights in two reports recommended to the Indian government to “fully respect the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir as protected under international law”.

Despite a paralyzing curfew imposed to head off unrest, sporadic protests have been reported by residents in Srinagar. AFP has reported that at least six people had been admitted to hospital in Srinagar with gunshot wounds and other injuries from protests.

Recognition of inalienable human rights for all is the highest decree of our civilization, and the world cannot choose to stay silent over this blatant and shameless disregard of human rights of Kashmiri people by the Indian government. The world needs to be made aware of the blatant use of force by the Indian army which has been targeting civilians with absolutely no regard to universally accepted human rights principles. The actions of the Indian forces have led to killings and persecution of the innocent people of Kashmir which is a flagrant violation of India’s international human rights commitments.

The struggle for freedom by the people of Occupied Kashmir needs a political solution – because the persistent human rights abuses in Kashmir are against the rights acknowledged by the UN Human Rights Charter.

India, which happens to be a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), must be held responsible for its actions. The matter will keep on simmering in the coming days. Along with advocating for the rights of Kashmiris at all the international forum, it is high time the government of Pakistan took the issue of Kashmir to the International Court of Justice.

The writer is the former chairperson of the National Commission on Human Rights.