By Sadia Azma
On my first visit to the valley of Kashmir as I took in the view of the rugged mountains by air and the picturesque landscape took my breath away after landing, I admiringly remembered what the Persian poet Amir Khusrow Dehlavi had penned about the beauty of this place, “If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this”.
Home to the long living Chinar trees, saffron fields, rich heritage of handicrafts, huge mountains, meadows, waterfalls, fruit orchards and famous lakes, Kashmir valley is a part of the Kashmir region occupied by India. One would imagine that with all these bounties, life would be quite blissful here. Alas, for far too long, this paradise and the people of Kashmir have lacked two key elements, “freedom and peace”.
When India was partitioned in 1947, the princely state of “Jammu and Kashmir” acceded with India on a condition that the people of Kashmir would be given the right to self-determination to choose their future. The accession of Kashmir to either India or Pakistan was to be determined in accordance with a plebiscite to be supervised by the UN. Unfortunately, this never reached fruition.
Instead, the 72-year struggle by the Kashmiri people to ascertain their right to self-determination has been met with forceful subjugation by Indian forces. The results are stunning:
- Over 100,000 Kashmiri’s being killed
- More than 6000 people injured by the use of pellet guns
- 782 eye injuries (Amnesty)
- 8000 or more people reported missing (APDP and J&K Coalition of Civil Society)
- 2,700 unknown, unmarked, and mass graves, containing more than 2,943 bodies across 55 villages in northern Kashmir (IPTK)
- 11,111 women molested
Invoking a Public Safety Act empowered Indian security officials to detain citizens at will. Numerous instances point to Indian forces using this option to detain innocent people, and not to maintain order. Converted into one of the most highly militarized regions in the world, women are intimidated by using rape as a horrific tactic to instill and propagate fear.
Amidst these continuing atrocities the people of Kashmir suffered an ultimate blow on August 5th, 2019, when India, the world’s largest democracy, jailed the people of Kashmir to their own homes with indefinite curfew and subjected them to complete communication blackout. All phone and internet services were cut off, people didn’t know of their own relatives’ demises. Scrapped was the Article 370 that had given them semi-autonomous rights. People had no access to medical or food provisions. Businesses were closed, heavily impacting daily wagers. Tourism, an important means of income for poor people, suffered significant loss. Politicians, even pro-India ones were house arrested, freedom of speech curtailed by shutting the media and even peaceful protests barred. Educational institutions were closed. Teenagers were forcefully abducted and sent to jails in different parts of the country to stop any uprising.
After 59 plus days and international uproar, only landlines have been partially restored but it is still very challenging to get through as connections are sporadic, people with no landlines are left without this option as well. Businesses are still closed. People aren’t venturing out or sending children to schools and colleges even if they have been opened now because of fear. There is no means of proper communication in case of an emergency.
The truly unfortunate part is, BJP, India’s ruling party, is projecting and defending these human rights abuses in the name of bringing development to this area. Annexing the land or changing rules forcefully is fundamentally, morally and legally wrong. People of India who fought for their freedom for 90 long years should know better.
Although the mesmerizing beauty of Kashmir brings solace to the grieving heart, the snow-capped mountains have not cooled the hearts of mothers who have lost their children or are struggling to find those who have disappeared. The royal gardens have been helpless in brightening the colorless life of so called “half widows” who do not know if their missing husbands are alive or dead. The soothing lakes haven’t calmed worrying of children reeling under recurrent curfews or the unabating fear of these children falling to radicalization under these hostile conditions.
With no end in sight, weary and desperate to be heard and helped, this lost paradise awaits long overdue justice and has been set ablaze in response to its quest to attain the right to self-determination.
Sadia Azma is a volunteer with Catholic Charities and helps rehabilitate the refugees who have come to America from war torn areas. Her in-laws are from Kashmir so she knows firsthand of the atrocities happening there.