By Sher Bano*
On 5th August 2019 India revoked the special status of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). Since then the IOK has been under strict inhuman security lockdown. It has been more than eight months since Indian forces are deployed in the valley to tighten the curfew. There has been complete media and information blackout including no access to internet and cellular networks. Even the widespread international condemnation and a severe humanitarian crisis like COVID-19 could not compel the Indian government to end its inhumane siege or remove the internet ban in Kashmir. The outbreak of pandemic like COVID-19 has further intensified the already chaotic situation in Kashmir and has unleashed a new wave of terror in the valley. Nonetheless the pre-COVID 19 situation wasn’t any less worrisome.
From the continuous security lockdowns, complete media blackouts to Pandemic quarantine, Kashmir is about to become a boiling pot that can explode any time. Current pandemic has urged the world to observe social distancing, quarantine and isolation. Hence, switching to online channels of communication has become a new normal as a precautionary measure. However, in the absence of good internet connectivity, the Kashmir valley faces various challenges like low downloading speed of internet which makes it difficult for the doctors to keep up with the guidelines and provide advice to the locals seeking online guidance. Apart from that there is a lack of enough information regarding basic healthcare protocols and notices to general public. COVID-19 has been declared the public health emergency in the world, where social distancing is a new phenomenon. However, for the people of IOK this new normal is an old normal with strict curfew and heavy Indian military presence for the last 8 months. According to many international analysts, Kashmir is the most ill-prepared nation to cope with the COVID-19 patients. It has been declared a ‘hotspot’ for COVID-19 in India. Because of the strict security lockdown there are limited number of medical equipment and testing kits which are not sufficient as per number of population. The hospitals are ill-equipped and understaffed to fight the outbreak.
With the cases of COVID-19 increasing in the valley fear of human catastrophe loom large over the closed valley with minimum or no contact with the outside world. Even at this critical juncture Kashmir finds itself consigned to the struggle for the fundamental right to information. Indian authorities have made the current pandemic a law and order situation to further criminalize the existence of already vulnerable people. The brutality with which the freedom of mobility has been curbed shows the government’s reluctance to resolve the crisis with dialogue and coordination. Instead this has been used as an opportunity to spread terror in the valley. The authority’s decision to continue the blackout of internet which already works at 2G speaks volumes about the criminal negligence by the Indian state.
Currently on one side Kashmir is battling with its old age traditional conflict and suffering from health crisis on the other. India by not giving the basic health facilities and preventive measures to cope with COVID-19 is using this pandemic as a tool of genocide of Kashmiris according to one of the criteria of UN Convention on Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide 1948. Indian Authorities are trying to bring major demographic changes in Kashmir by providing insufficient medical facilities and by introducing new domicile policy to provide permanent residence to non-Kashmiris. India aims to make Kashmir a completely “Hinduized” valley by diminishing the Muslim majorities of Jammu & Kashmir through its genocidal policies under both security and human security lockdowns since August 2019.
Holding innocent people as political prisoners during the outbreak of a pandemic is true violation of human rights being committed by the Indian authorities. The Indian strategy of completely wiping out the Muslim population from Kashmir seems to become successful in near future if Kashmir is kept under the lockdown. Past eight months have been a living hell for the Kashmiris.COVID-19 is not even taken as a major threat in the Indian occupied Kashmir where genocide takes place every day. Forced quarantine, lack of medical facilities and social distancing was already part of their routine life. If not the pandemic, the pellet guns and shelling will surely kill the Kashmiris.
Pakistan has been urging the international community to intervene as Kashmiris are being treated inhumanly even during the global health crisis. The international community must pressure India to lift the internet restrictions so that people in the valley can have full access to the health and safety related information. It’s high time that Kashmir should be considered a global crisis where guns and diseases are wiping out the Muslim population of the Kashmir. Activism, campaigning and diplomatic pressure must be exerted by the UN and the international community on India to stop its atrocities in the Kashmir and move toward peaceful and sustainable solution.
*The writer is working as a Research Affiliate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.