Kashmir has seen an increase in violence over the past five years, culminating in the deadliest attack of the decade: the Pulwama terrorist attack in February. This attack left more than 40 security personnel from India dead and prompted stern, vengeful rhetoric from the Indian government. Overall violence in the region has intensified, with terrorist attacks increasing by about 176 percent in the last five years. Data acknowledged and supported by the Indian government shows that 1,315 people have been killed in Kashmir since Operation Calm Down began in 2016 to quell the outbreak of unrest in the wake of prominent Islamist militant commander Burhan Wani’s death. Of those, more than 10 percent were civilians, 25 percent were security personnel, and nearly 64 percent were Kashmiri rebels. Indian security forces reportedly have killed thousands of Kashmiris, taken others into custody, and performed extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances. Indian forces reportedly carry out these human rights violations with total impunity.
Parallel to the rising militarization of the region — India’s recognized strategy to contain the Kashmiri resistance movement — has been a rise in the radicalization of Kashmiri Muslim youths. There are many reasons for the increase in radicalization, including the lack of acceptance Kashmiri Muslims find in Hindu-majority India. Across the country, Kashmiri Muslims typically are considered the aggressors in the conflict over Kashmir that began in 1989, and the Hindus who had to flee the valley in the early 1990s are considered the victims. This erosion of trust makes it difficult for Kashmiri Muslims to find necessities like housing to stay in for work or schooling.
After the Pulwama attack, the rise in anti-Kashmiri sentiments targeting particularly the Kashmiri Muslims set a precedent for greater discrimination in the near future. The situation in Kashmir is steadily gaining a disturbing communal overtone that could provoke discord between Hindus and Muslims in the rest of India.
Revoking Article 370
India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government revoked Article 370, which gave the region of Jammu and Kashmir special status. The provision allowed the region to have a separate constitution, a state flag, and autonomy over the internal administration of the state. This article, along with Article 35A, stated that Jammu and Kashmir’s residents live under a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights, as compared to residents of other Indian states. The provision also kept Indian citizens from other states from purchasing land or property in Jammu and Kashmir.
With the revocation of Article 370, which was done without any type of consultation with the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP government is on a path to abolish democracy and introduce dictatorship. India’s central government would regard any sort of protest as “anti-nationalism” — another hallmark of undemocratic rule. The media in India are being tampered with; news channels are playing the same victory narrative as a form of propaganda. History is being distorted, and dissent is being curbed. It is hard for people to feel like they can be reasonably critical of the revocation without selling out their nation.
India and Kashmir have not held any sort of dialogue about integration or built any trust between them. The BJP government would prefer to sensationalize a national security narrative than to take the time that would be needed for a smooth integration of Jammu and Kashmir following the revocation of Article 370. Even if India opts to facilitate integration, it should follow procedures to build trust and connections not just with the Kashmiri state but with its people. Kashmir has been a political issue for so long that common sense dictates the necessity of a dialogue with all stakeholders to prepare them for a huge change. Instead, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government carried out the administrative changes for Kashmir with no warning.
Before the general election in 2019, the BJP took up the issue of Kashmir as a major part of its agenda. The revocation of Article 370 has been a dream of the Hindu nationalist movement for decades. As the BJP and Modi grew more nationalist, they increased efforts to erase the Muslim identity in India, and Kashmir became a clear target for action; after the Pulwana attack, the government saw how anti-Kashmiri sentiments spiraled into an anti-Muslim narrative within days.
NHRC and the U.N. on Kashmir
In the wake of the Pulwama attack, the National Human Rights Commission issued notice to the Union Ministries of Home and Human Resources Development and the state governments of West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh to submit reports over “ill-treatment” and human rights violations of Kashmiris. This notice was based on specific reported incidents of violence against Kashmiri Muslims and Muslims from these states. The United Nations has expressed deep concern that the latest restrictions in Indian-Administered Kashmir will exacerbate the human rights situation in the region. The United Nations said that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means, in accordance with the U.N. Charter.
The fact that hardly any information is coming out of Kashmir is of great concern. Without the Kashmiris’ voices, India can create a narrative of grassroots support for harmony between Kashmir and the rest of India, even if that is not the case. If New Delhi is confident that the people will welcome the revocation of Article 370 and that there will be no violence, there would not be such a great military presence in the region. There would be no need to lockdown the entire state, cutting off the internet, phones and preemptively arresting Kashmiri leadership.
Although Pakistan has repeatedly demanded that the United States act as chief mediator in resolving the Kashmir crisis, Washington has said that India’s actions in Kashmir constitute a “strictly internal matter.” In the meantime, the Kashmiri population is suffering. Human rights and justice should be the first priority in dealing with the issue. Any attempt to heal the divisions between Kashmir and India should involve the Kashmiri people and their wishes; otherwise, the sense of insecurity to identity will poison the next generation.
Dr. Swati Chakraborty is an Assistant Professor of Human Rights in Schoolguru Eduserve Pvt Ltd. Dr. Chakraborty is also International Fellow at the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue ( KAICIID) in Vienna, Austria. She also serves as Vice-President for SE Asia at the Eurasian Doctoral School Academy (EDSA).