CJ Werleman on how recent events in Kashmir are shining a light on the plight of Muslims living there – and doing untold damage to the reputation of the world’s largest secular democracy.
In scrapping Kashmir’s “special autonomous status” and putting the Muslim-majority territory under lockdown, India may have succeeded in doing what Kashmiris themselves have failed to do over the past seven decades – getting the world to suddenly care about them.
While Afghanistan has been dubbed the “forgotten war” under the respective military occupations of two superpowers, eight million Kashmiri have long been the forgotten people during 70 years of Indian military occupation.
Whereas the Palestinians have been used as a political football, with promises and expressions of solidarity heaped upon them, the Kashmiri have been almost entirely ignored. Their plea for self-determination, freedom and a right to determine their own future has fallen largely upon deaf ears.
When the then US presidential candidate Barack Obama stated his commitment to resolving what he called the “Kashmir crisis” during the closing weeks of the 2008 presidential election campaign – identifying it as a “critical task” for his future administration – it would be the last time he ever mentioned Kashmir publicly again.
When Kashmir has made its way into international news headlines, it is never about aspirations for independence but rather the hostile encounters between protestors, militants and Indian soldiers. The newspaper maxim “if it bleeds, it leads” holds true for the disputed territory.
In the past two weeks, however, Kashmir has dominated international news coverage like never before, with reports of India’s actions in the valley making their way onto the front pages of nearly every major newspaper in the world and into the homes of television viewers everywhere.
What the world has now witnessed is the totality of Indian brutality, including the jailing of hundreds of Kashmiri political figures, curfews, a communications lockdown, night-time raids, denial of religious festivals and harassment on the streets.
“Frankly, it looked like occupied Iraq or occupied Palestine” is how Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All Indian Progressive Women’s Association, described what she has witnessed in Kashmir to the Huffington Post.
Thus, suddenly, the world now cares about Kashmir.
The Struggle Goes Global
Kashmiri civil rights activists have long aimed to tie Kashmiri aspirations for independence from India to movements that support liberation for the Palestinians, Tibetans and other occupied peoples. The hope being that, if the global community views India’s injustices against Kashmir’s eight million Muslims in the same way it views Israel’s against six million Palestinians, then an internationalising of their struggle will follow.
Until now, racist and Orientalist “war on terror” discourse has framed the way many have come to view Kashmir and the struggle between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory, positing the secular and democratic world to be locked in a battle with Islamic extremism. It is the same ruse used by Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, by Israel in Palestine, by China in Xinjiang, and by India in Kashmir.
It’s an absurd notion given that Kashmir comprises a “well-educated Muslim population, heterodox and pluralist by tradition and temperament and desperate for democracy,” according to Pankaj Mishra, the renowned Indian novelist.
Kashmiri have been almost entirely ignored. Their plea for self-determination, freedom and a right to determine their own future has fallen largely upon deaf ears.
In an op-ed for Foreign Policy, Michael Kugelman argues that India has handed Pakistan a public relations gift by launching what amounts to a Hindu nationalist settler-colonial project in Kashmir.
“Up to now, Pakistan has largely failed to sell its case to the world,” he wrote. “Pakistan’s image problems have left India winning the PR war. Indeed, many protestors who might rally for Tibet or Palestine don’t go out of their way to mobilise for Kashmir. But as India’s move spurs press coverage worldwide, Islamabad has its greatest opportunity in years to internationalise the dispute.”
There is no doubt that India’s sudden and unexpected move has internationalised the dispute, with US President Donald Trump expressing a desire – genuine or not – to play the role of “mediator” if that’s what both Islamabad and New Delhi want, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation slamming India’s crackdown in Kashmir as an “affront to Muslims across the world”.
These headlines and stories are creating a new global awareness of India’s brutal and repressive measures in Kashmir. Many around the world are learning for the first time how Indian security forces use torture as an “instrument of control” to terrorise the Muslim majority into submission. Many are learning about how India intentionally blinds by firing pellet guns directly into the eyes and faces of Kashmir’s protestors. Many are also learning about the forced disappearances, custodial killings, fake encounter killings, home demolitions, rapes and more. None of this augurs well for India’s reputation.
In the past 48 hours, street protests against India’s actions in Kashmir have been held in cities throughout the world, including London, Copenhagen, Edinburgh and Washington DC.
Instead of being recognised as the world’s largest secular democracy, the global community is beginning to view India as an increasingly authoritarian human rights violator – one that is being steered into the abyss by the worst impulses of Hindu nationalism.