On May 5, 2021, the highly symbolic Kashmiri freedom leader, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai, Chairman of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), died of COVID-19 while in the illegal custody of the occupying Indian forces in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). Sehari was a 77years old vanguard freedom movement leader and outstandingly resisted Indian occupation for more than 50 years.
He was first arrested in 1965 when he was just 22. Upon his release, Sehrai superbly humiliated Indian occupying forces by asking that “What kind of democracy cages free speech and people who speak the truth?” A few days after his sad departure, his two sons namely Rashid Sehrai and Mujahid Sehrai were detained under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) – a brutal law known for hindering civil liberties and freedom.
Indian atrocities in Kashmir
Previously on August 5, 2019, the IIOJK witnessed a new round of bigotry and bicker orchestrated by the Indian Government. Previously it clearly violated the international law and the United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 38 of January 17, 1948, and UNSCR 47 of April 21, 1948, regarding the disputed status of the Jammu and Kashmir issue and revoked Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution. Hence, denying the valley of a special status guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
In a coordinated effort, immediately a strict lockdown was forcefully enforced by means of the Indian Army and other law enforcement agencies throughout the IIOJK. Meanwhile, members of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC – an alliance of 26 socio-political parties seeking independence from illegal Indian rule) and other political parties were detained in an extrajudicial manner.
In aftermath of the revocation of Kashmir’s special status and its subsequent annexation, from August 2019 till his death, despite poor health conditions and old age, the Indian occupying forces denied Sehrai release on humanitarian grounds and access to medical facilities. Resultantly, the valiant freedom fighter sacrificed his life but did not yield to illegal and immoral Indian demands.
Read more: Future of the Kashmir Issue
In hindsight, the departure of Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai left had many questions unanswered. Most importantly, the complete media blackout in the IIOJK denied the world-at-large at any knowledge of the worsening COVID-19 situation. However, the fate of Sehrai makes one thing clear that like most parts of India, the IIOJK is equally exposed to the dangers of COVID-19. And the illegal and extra-judicially detained prisoners are the most exposed to contracting such a highly contagious virus.
Did Sehrai really died due to Covid-19?
Also, Sehrai being a prominent leader, made it to the news. There is no credible information available on the current number of infections, active cases, and recovered patients in the IIOJK. Likewise, it is dangerously uncertain that whether India intends to vaccinate the inhabitants of IIOJK or to leave them at the mercy of COVID-19. Keeping in view India’s lack of interest in vaccinating the people of IIOJK, it would not be ambitious to argue that the COVID-19 death toll may soar in the coming weeks and months.
It would be in the larger interest of the people of IIOJK that India may collaborate and coordinate with Pakistan in providing basic medical supplies including face masks, sanitizers, and surgical gloves, to the people of IIOJK. Moreover, oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders, and vaccines could also be provided jointly under the supervision of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).
A female resident of IIOJK using the pseudo name Sadia Munawar penned down remarkable words that “all the happenings in Kashmir, about the people in jails, about the vast meadows, about mountains, about deaths and the fear.” The extrajudicial caging of the Kashmiri resistance clearly elucidates that despite momentous brutal attempts of suppression, the Indian Government could not silence the voice of Kashmiri prisoners of conscience.
The President of Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference (JKPC) Sajjad Gani Lone paid tribute to him by arguing that “Sehrai Sahib was a political leader not a terrorist” and “why did he have to die in incarceration and not at his home amongst his kin and loved ones. Have we become so weak that an old infirm dying person is a threat to the state.” Sehrai’s death, though, has denied Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the people of Jammu and Kashmir of a trustworthy comrade and an iconic believer of freedom; nonetheless, Sehrai has left a commendable legacy acting as a beacon of hope, especially for the Kashmiri youth.
Neglection of IIOJK civilians
It is to be noted here that Sehrai’s son Junaid embraced martyrdom in June last year while fighting against the illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir by India. Arguably, Sehrai and his gallant sons have reminded us of a famous saying attributed to the Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace that “they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom.”
Keeping in view the prevalent pattern of behavior of the Indian Government in dealing with Kashmiri leaders, it could be assessed and estimated that it is likely to use COVID-19 as an opportunity in decimating the resistance. The jails in IIOJK are overcrowded by the illegally detained Kashmiri resistance leaders and workers who have no precautionary and preventive measures against COVID-19. A highly contagious virus such as COVID-19 is wreaking havoc at such establishments.
Read more: Resolve Kashmir issue before it is too late
It is quite unfortunate that in contemporary catastrophic times when India is suffering thousands of COVID-19-related deaths on a daily basis and witnessing a record-breaking surge in infections, its Prime Minister Narendra Modi has little or no remorse for the people of IIOJK. Further, black laws such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) (that was used to detain Sehrai and other voices of freedom), and UAPA under which Sehrai’s two sons were detained; the strain on Indian overhyped claims of diverse democratic culture and liberal values.
The author is a Research Associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), Pakistan. He co-authored the book Realism and Exceptionalism in U.S. Foreign Policy: From Kissinger to Kerry (2020). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.