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Sunday December 05, 2021

Living among the graves

August 16, 2020

The valley of Kashmir has been under a brutal military siege way before the Covid-19 pandemic unleashed its disruptive potential around the globe.

Since August 5, 2019 – when Indian authorities abrogated Article 370 of the Indian constitution and stripped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status – the plight of the Kashmiris has exacerbated on an unprecedented scale and nature.

While Kashmiri citizens of all age groups face state brutality, continuous torture and grave violations of basic human rights, it is vital out point out that women and children remain the most vulnerable.

India is the world’s biggest democracy by population, but palpably promotes illiberal values within its country and the neighboring regions. With the massive increase of Indian occupying troops to 900,000, Kashmir is now the world’s most militarized region. Inevitability, there has been an increase in drastic abuse against the people of the valley, with women and children again being the easiest targets of oppression and cruelty.

Women in the Kashmir valley have been affected the most due to this inhumane siege. One cannot forget that soon after the military lockdown in Kashmir, the BJP's Vikram Saini said that “Muslim party workers should rejoice in the new provisions. They can now marry the white-skinned women of Kashmir”.

The misogyny quickly spread online, with posts on social media networks carrying a similar theme. ‘How to marry Kashmir women’ was increasingly googled on the internet after the inhumane lockdown on August 05, 2019.

Reports of rape incidents have also been on the rise in Occupied Kashmir. Rape is not only glorified; it is also carried out with impunity to further oppress the already vulnerable. To make rape even more atrocious, there have been reports that Kashmiri women have been raped in front of their family members. Moreover, many of these rape cases go unreported which is most disappointing and heartbreaking.

As Indian soldiers dominate the Kashmiri streets through their brutal activities, the toll on education has been even more massive. It is extremely alarming that schools in Kashmir have remained closed since last year. According to the New York Times, around 1.5 million children are out of school – which leave their futures completely bordering on intense uncertainty. Fear and chaos loom large over Kashmiri lives. Any parent would think twice before sending their children out to school in such dangerous times.

But the closure of schools wasn’t enough for the Indian authorities; they have also been blinding Kashmiri children through the use of pellet guns. The violent use of pellet guns was already a norm for the Indian authorities but has intensified especially after August 5, 2019 – especially when India placed the valley under a brutal military lockdown. Using pellet guns and tear gas with such impunity has only exacerbated the plight of the Kashmiri people.

With India’s draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) of 1978 in full swing, around 13,000 innocent children have been detained since August 5, 2020. Horrifically, the PSA allows imprisonment of civilians for up to two years without any conviction. Many human rights organizations have been critical of this outrageous law. Amnesty International has called the PSA a “lawless law”. Clearly, there is no end to Indian state-sponsored brutality in Kashmir. In May 2020, Hazim Shafi Bhat, a 14-year-old disabled child, was brutally killed by Indian authorities in Northern Kashmir. Why is there no international public outrage in this case?

In July this year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported grave human rights violations by Indian security forces in Occupied Kashmir which included “extrajudicial killings, unlawful custodial deaths, enforced disappearances, and ill-treatment and arbitrary detentions, and sexual harassment” directed towards women.

As the humanitarian crisis worsens, it is time for Pakistan to intensify its diplomacy at international forums. Even though this year India became a non-permanent member of the UNSC, a vigorous diplomatic campaign – highlighting the plight of the Kashmiri women and children – would compel the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to hold a special session.

Moreover, there are other international forums where Pakistan could highlight oppression against the Kashmiris. The International Criminal Court (ICC) deals with offences related to crimes against humanity, war crimes and offences of genocide. Pakistan is not a signatory of the ICC. However, Article 13(b) of the Court, empowers the UNSC to refer a crime to the prosecutor of the ICC. Previously in history, we have seen how Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Yugoslavia and Siberian’s Charles Taylor were found guilty for crimes against humanity in the ICC. Surely, this precedent can be followed in the case of Kashmir?

The impunity with which India persecutes the people of Kashmir must be internationalized without any delay. India’s draconian measures against the Kashmir valley have gone on for far too long. We cannot let the innocent and defenceless Kashmiris fade away in history as violations of human rights escalate at a startling rate.

For how long will the world community remain silent regarding the atrocities committed by the Indian army in Kashmir? Following the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, the persecution of women and children has gained momentum, but today the endless stories of violence and torture must be brought into the spotlight. In this moment of crisis, let us not abandon the Kashmiris.

The writer is a member of the Sindh Assembly.