In 2002, when India and Pakistan seemed on the edge of armed conflict in the Kashmir region, Solidarity already described India’s rule in its Jammu and Kashmir state as “unbridled state terrorism against the Kashmiri people”. Since then things have worsened considerably.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, in 1947, 1965 and 1999. We support the internationalists opposing conflict and fighting the militarists and chauvinists on both sides. Since 2002, however, the international conflict has faded into the background as India asserts ever more unbridled power over the Kashmiri population
In 2016-17, the relatively new Hindu-nationalist government of Narendra Modi provoked and repressed a wave of protests by the Muslim majority in the state, killing over a hundred protesters, injuring 15,000 and arresting 8,000 (the population then was 12.3 million, just over two-thirds Muslim).
In 2019, after the BJP and its “National Democratic Alliance” won re-election, the regime accelerated its shift to the right. Police and Hindu-nationalist vigilante violence against Muslims and other minorities has become more common. At a legislative level, there were two major attacks on Muslim-background Indians.
Changes to naturalisation law through the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and plans to roll out a National Register of Citizens (NRC) looked designed to render large numbers of Muslims stateless while creating more Hindu citizens. In December 2019 these changes sparked huge protests across the country, in what was then the biggest challenge yet to Modi and the BJP - but shortcircuited by the emergence of the pandemic. Struggles against the implementation of the CAA and NRC continue.
The regime fulfilled another longstanding Hindu-nationalist demand by launching a frontal attack on the rights of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only-Muslim majority state. Articles 370 and 35a of the Indian constitution, in place since the 1940s, were revoked, stripping the state’s special autonomy and removing restrictions on settlement in order to shift its demographic balance. Jammu and Kashmir was split into two centrally-controlled territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. To enforce this subordination the Indian state has launched a new wave of repression.
Since the victory of the farmers’ struggle, activists in India have stepped up calls for repeal of the CAA and restoration of Kashmiri autonomy, along with other changes to blunt the regime’s repressive capacity.
Stop the repression
The immediate struggle in Kashmir is one for basic human rights. This was already one of the world’s most militarised zones: the Indian government refuses to reveal troop numbers, but many estimates suggest more than half a million.
Long before Modi came to power, international human rights organisations, UN bodies and even the US State Department had long documented large-scale massacres (mainly in the 1990s), extrajudicial executions, mass graves, disappearances, torture and sexual violence by the Indian state.
Out of reams of shocking statistics, a few may illustrate the reality. A 2011 report by the now disbanded state Human Rights Commission confirmed thousands of bullet-ridden bodies buried in unmarked graves. The Indian government insisted these were all foreign Islamists; but the commission was able to identify 574 as missing locals.
681 of the 1,296 Kashmiri detainees interviewed by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2010 said they had been tortured.
In 2012, human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz undertook the first statewide study of torture. In his study sample of 50 villages, he identified and documented more than 2,000 extreme cases of torture. The report suggested one in six Kashmiris had faced torture.
Wikileaks has revealed that over 150 senior Indian officers had personally participated in torture and sexual violence.
There was a significant infrastructure of human rights activists documenting and challenging the abuses in Kashmir. It is now being demolished. On 22 November one of Parvez Imroz’s colleagues in the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society (JKCCS), Khurram Parvez, was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), accused of collaboration with Islamist terrorists.
The World Organisation Against Torture says it is “deeply concerned about the high risk of torture while in custody”. The international labour movement must demand Parvez is released immediately.
The attempt to associate Parvez with jihadism is ludicrous. A longstanding and much-respected campaigner with extensive links among human rights activists and NGOs internationally, including in Pakistan, he lost a leg in a landmine blast in 2004 and was central to a campaign that pressured Islamist militants to renounce landmines (the army gave no such commitment).
Unfortunately the Indian government doesn’t need evidence. In 2008, following the Islamist massacres in Mumbai, the Congress government amended the already repressive 1960s UAPA and created a National Investigation Agency — widening the definition of a terrorist organisation, allowing 180-day detention without trial, limiting access to bail and facilitating warrantless searches, seizures and arrests, alongside various other violations of civil rights. In 2019 the BJP government amended the UAPA to allow it to designate as terrorist not only organisations but individuals, without trial.
Across the country hundreds of people, mostly left-wing activists, are languishing in prison after arrest under the UAPA, bail denied and their pre-trial period extended by various mechanisms.
After revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy, the government deployed yet more troops, arrested thousands including hundreds of politicians, and imposed a curfew and communications and media blackout, elements of which lasted 18 months. It hoped to avoid the level of violence unleashed in earlier crises, and with some success.
Nonetheless, major bloodshed continues. One favoured army tactic is “fake encounters”, where civilians are killed and the army invents an account and evidence to depict a conflict with “militants”. A string of high-profile fake encounters have been exposed since 2019. Shortly before Khurram Parvez’s arrest the JKCCS highlighted the the killing of three civilians in Kashmir’s biggest city, Srinigar.
Since 2019 the organisation has, like many others, found it difficult to function under the communications blackout. In October 2020, as some elements of the blackout lifted, the JKCSS and other groups were raided by the National Investigation Agency. Many activists say it will now be hard for such campaigns to continue at all.
Self-determination for Kashmir!
The wider issue is one of self-determination, a right Kashmir has always been denied. After Indian independence and the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the Hindu ruler of the princely state of Kashmir and Jammu decided it should accede to India. When Kashmiri leaders tried to exercise some degree of self-determination in the 1950s and 60s, under leftish Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, they were subjected to repression — and so on, ever since.
Self-determination is not straightforward. Kashmir, the most populous part of the former state, is over 95% Muslim (heavily Sunni), but Jammu over 60% Hindu. Ladakh has a Muslim plurality (heavily Shia) and a very large minority of Buddhists. The Indian government has banked on Buddhists and to some extent Shias as more supportive than the Sunni Muslims in Kashmir, though since 2019 that seems to be changing. There is also the issue of the parts of historic Kashmir that since 1947 have been in Pakistan, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan (some minimally populated areas are now part of China).
Perhaps some sort of federal system with confederal ties to both India and Pakistan would make sense. In any case, no meaningful self-determination is possible while India is occupying Kashmir, dealing out repression and now maybe becoming a settler-colonial power too.
The other complication is the role of Islamist-jihadist organisations, growing since the 1980s, fuelled by state repression and the rise of Hindu nationalism. Many have ties to and advocate accession to Pakistan (whereas more secular nationalists have called for independence from both Pakistan and India); and target not just the Indian state but Hindus and other minorities. In October an Islamist group killed two teachers, a Hindu and a Sikh, after telling all the Muslim staff to leave. Contrast the Muslim women leading the 2019 citizenship protests in Delhi, who organised actions in solidarity with displaced Hindus in Kashmir.
The left and labour movement must denounce India’s repression and demand self-determination.