One of the main rationales given by the Indian government for revocation of Article 370 and 35A was development, governance, and better standards of living for the residents of Indian Occupied Kashmir. According to the Indian government, this move would bring “peace” and “end militancy” in Jammu and Kashmir. However, immediately after the revocation, the residents and political leadership of Jammu AND Kashmir were put under a strict lockdown.
The Indian government ensured that all forms of dissent and mobilization were nipped in the bud before they took a threatening shape. Three years on, the valley harbors simmering anger against the Indian authorities. Indian government claims that the security situation has improved in the valley with the number of terrorist incidents going down significantly; however, the trend of joining militancy has grown. According to DGP Jammu and Kashmir Dilbagh Singh, even though the number of terrorist incidents has reduced in the valley, the number of Kashmiri residents joining the militants has actually increased.
Understanding the matter better
The estimates provided by the Indian government claim that through the time period of August 2019 to November 2021, a total of 366 terrorists have been killed, while 96 civilians have died. A total of 81 law enforcement personnel has died. Indian authorities are notorious for operating beyond the law, ignoring human rights, and defying proper protocols for the investigation and arrest of suspected terrorists. One wonders about the possibility of extrajudicial killings as well as fake police encounters, considering the figures provided by the Indian authorities. For instance, how many of the three sixty-six terrorists killed were actually terrorists, and how many were innocent civilians or dissenting voices. A number of laws provide cover to Indian law enforcement agencies and allow them to act without impunity, accountability, or mechanism.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) protects security personnel from any accountability no matter how grave the accusations or convincing the supporting evidence is. Human rights groups have long documented the abuses carried out by the Indian state and how these laws protect and encourage the security personnel and related institutions. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) gives the police authority to arrest anyone on charges of sedition and terrorism. The Act allows the detention of individuals for six months without the charges even being filed. This draconian law provides a vague and broad definition of terrorism, including nonviolent protests.
In 2019, the Act was amended, and law enforcement agents were given the authority to designate anyone as a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer. Another act called the Public Safety Act allows law enforcement authorities to arrest anyone for disrupting the “security of the State or maintenance of public order” for an extensive period of time. A number of high-profile human rights activists and journalists have been arrested under these two laws.
The objective is to punish and deter anyone from disagreeing with the state’s narrative
The Indian state has a history of using censorship of media, NGOs, and human rights activists to suppress dissent and curtail the knowledge and information about human rights abuses committed by Indian troops. After the prohibition of the Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status in 2019, the amount of censorship and punishment the Kashmiri civil society and political actors have been subjected to remains unprecedented even in Jammu and Kashmir’s own history. To prevent any public outrage after the revocation of Article 370, the law enforcement authorities adopted the policy of maximum suppression.
Extra troops were called in; communications were blocked, and a strict lockdown was imposed while agencies continued brutal takedown of any form of protest and committed human rights abuses. The complete subversion and intimidation of media and curtailing of freedom of speech represent the typical tactic of brutal regimes into keeping their subjects compliant. In 2020 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns over the unaccounted and frequent use of these laws to silence peaceful protestors as well as civil society groups.
It is clear that the intent behind the frequent use of these laws against civil society and media is to simply prevent any protests or criticism from arising. This is the classic method of simply raising the stakes of even the slightest criticism, dissent, or disagreement so high that no one dares it. For instance, in January 2022, a prominent Kashmiri journalist was arrested Fahad Shah was arrested under the UAPA. The police charge against him stated that he engaged in “glorifying terrorism, spreading fake news and inciting general public.” The real cause behind Shah’s arrest was his comments on a recent police encounter with rebels in the Pulwama district.
The police claimed that three rebels and one “hybrid terrorist” had been neutralized in the shootout. The family of the “hybrid terrorist” stated that he was innocent and had nothing to do with the entire situation. Shah simply reported both the police version as well as the family’s version and paid the price. Another journalist Sajid Gul was arrested under the UAPA for reporting about the security forces’ human rights abuses. Human rights activist Khurram Parvez was arrested for documenting forced disappearances and mass graves. A politician Talib Hussain was arrested for raising concerns over the police’s killing of a local in a counter-terrorism encounter.
Under similar charges of supporting terrorism, dissent, inciting violence, spreading fake news, and promoting enmity between groups- a local politician Waheed Para was arrested, and Irfan Ahmad Dar was killed in police custody. Irfan Ahmad Dar is suspected to be a victim of enforced disappearance. The police also arrested a father under UAPA who demanded an investigation on the death of his school-going teenage son in a counter-terrorism operation. There are numerous incidents where journalists and families have disputed official claims of killing “terrorists” and “militants”.Such individuals were and are continued to be silenced through these draconian laws.
A number of analysts believe that the calm in Kashmir valley does not signify an improvement in the security situation; rather, it is just a brief period that can shift any moment. Since the beginning of the Kashmir insurgency in the late eighties, there have been numerous periods of heightened militancy and relative calm. The current scenario doesn’t have much to do with what the government claims as positive effects of development and integrating the Kashmiris into Indian nationhood. The tactics used by rebels and militants have also evolved.
Now the rebels, particularly The Resistance Front (TRF) are more targeted in their approach. Rather than using methods that cause massive loss of civilian lives and damages property, target killing of particular groups which the rebels classify as non-civilian is being employed. These individuals include security personnel, non-Muslim residents of Kashmir, Indian domicile holders who have settled in Kashmir after the abrogation of 35A. Rather than believing that terrorism has receded, it seems that methods used by rebels have changed.
The government’s claims of development in Kashmir also hold no weight
Experts claim that there hasn’t been any development or investment in the valley, and neither has the governance improved. Meanwhile, there are growing signs of indigenous militancy in the southern region of the valley. From Kashmiri’s point of view, they have gained nothing in exchange for their autonomous status. There are legitimate fears among Kashmiris that abrogation of 35A would strip them of their majority status and further degrade them as second-class citizens depending on the mercy of the migrated Indian citizens.
The stated goal of the Indian government behind the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A was to integrate and assimilate Kashmiris into the Indian nation, erase the sense of a separate Kashmiri nationhood and strip all elements of Kashmiri nationalism and separatism. In all accounts, the Indian state has failed. Kashmiris have never been as distrustful and resentful of New Delhi as they are at this point. The grave violations and suppressions carried out by the law enforcement agencies and complete curb on the right to protest are becoming further deepening the resentments.
The disputed valley’s celebration of India’s defeat by Pakistan during the T20 Cricket World Cup was, in fact, a manifestation of such sentiments and a form of dissent. Predictably those who celebrated were arrested and thrown into jail. Sooner or later, the valley will erupt, and the Indian state will have no one to blame but itself. It’s not a question of if but when. All signs point that the Indian state’s desire of Kashmiris to give up their separate identity, nationalism, and demand for a separate state will remain a pipe dream for a long time.
The writer is a Political Scientist and Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science in Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.