Today, on the eve of both India and Pakistan’s independence, Asia Watch is focusing exclusively on unfolding events in the disputed region of Kashmir in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. Given last week’s astonishing changes to the Indian Constitution impacting Kashmir, the simmering geopolitical tensions between multiple governments in the region, and the scope of human rights violations being committed against Kashmiris, this is arguably the most far-reaching political issue in the region in seven decades.
Sparking conflict . . .
On August 5, the Government of India issued a presidential decree that revoked Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, which granted special rights to the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir in Northern India. The major consequence of this change is that Jammu and Kashmir will no longer be governed as a semi-autonomous state, but rather as a Union Territory with less autonomy and closer ties to New Delhi. In the weeks leading up to this move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government, India sent more than 35,000 troops to the region, imposed communications and media blackouts, arrested key political leaders, and imposed a mandatory 5 p.m. curfew across a region with seven million people, raising tensions in the Indo-Pakistani relationship.
Civilian reality . . .
Given the widespread communications blackout that has been imposed over the past 11 days, it is difficult to fully assess the implications on the ground in Kashmir. Available reports indicate Kashmiris are living under a form of imposed martial law, with Indian army personnel patrolling the streets and a strict curfew in effect. The major Islamic festival of Eid took place over the weekend, and the Indian Government banned large-scale assemblies in an attempt to avoid anti-India protests – with the continued communications blackout leaving Kashmiris outside of the region unable to contact their families. Basic services such as access to banks/ATMS, medical support and hospitals, and even garbage collection have come to a complete halt in major cities like Srinagar. Last week the Indian Army reportedly opened fire and used tear gas to break up 10,000 protesters in Srinagar, an act denied by the Indian Home Affairs Ministry but backed up by a BBC video.
Shaping public opinion . . .
In an attempt to control the media narrative and demonstrate that violence has been minimal , the Indian Government has been sending prominent journalists on organized “fact-finding” missions to the region. Journalists describe these trips as restricted and heavily controlled by the Indian Army. As a result, wide scale public opinion is being shaped largely by a pro-India discourse that is framing these actions in Kashmir as a “solution” and a way to resolve nuclear tensions in the region. The mixed reaction to popular Bollywood actor Priyanka Chopra’s pro-Indian Army remarks to a protester at an event in Los Angeles over the weekend exemplifies this type of unilateral discourse.
- The Wire: South Kashmir ground report: 'Not a single day since August 5 when no youths were picked up'
- Huffington Post India: This Eid, Kashmiris are cut off from their family and friends as blackout continues
- The New York Times: Inside Kashmir, cut off from the world: ‘A living hell’ of anger and fear