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US academic calls for world community to push India to end rights abuses in Kashmir

An American academic of Kashmiri origin has regretted the lack of any “significant pushback” against India over its slew of human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir because of its strong economic ties with many countries, and called for turning attention to the aspirations of the suffering people in the disputed state.

 

“For too long India has been able to commit human rights violations in Kashmir without significant pushback because so many countries have strong economic ties with India and they see India as this obvious space for investment and a huge market,” Dr. Hafsa Kanjwal, an assistant professor in South Asian history at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, said on a major American television channel.

“But I think that narrative of Indian soft power needs to kind of slowly erode,” she said, while pointing out that India is seen as a place of Bollywood and yoga, and “nobody can imagine the kinds of violations that the Indian government does.” Prof. Kanjwal, an expert on South Asia who hails from Srinagar, was interviewed on MSNBC programme “Why Is This Happening?”

Responding to questions, she gave a full historical background to the crisis in Kashmir, from Maharaja’s controversial accession to India that led to a rebellion in the Himalayan state to UN resolutions calling for resolving the conflict through plebiscite, as also the indigenous struggles by the suffering Kashmiris to free themselves from India’s yoke and New Delhi’s to suppress them as well as the latest move to illegally annex the disputed state and place the territory under lockdown with internet and phone links blocked.

“In the Indian side of Kashmir, it’s important for people to know that it is the most militarized zone in the world,” the professor told the programme’s anchor Chris Hayes who in his opening remarks referred to the grim crisis, pointing out that India has a “right-wing, Islamophobic demagogue running it named Narendra Modi.”

“Modi in the last few months has taken moves to blackout Kashmir and to once and for all put it under Indian control,” Hayes, the anchor, told American audiences.

Prof. Kanjwal said India has over 700,000 troops in Kashmir. “If we just think about at the height of the occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan there might’ve been between 150 to 200,000 U.S. troops. So this is an incredible amount of foreign troops that are not just at the border with Pakistan but also in civilian areas,” she said.

“As a result, life has been completely shifted in accordance to this. So there’s been a number of human rights violations that have occurred, especially since the late 1980s. There’s been mass rapes of Kashmiri women by Indian soldiers.

There’s been enforced disappearances. Kashmiri human rights groups say that between eight to 10,000 people, mostly young men, have been disappeared which means that to this day their families do not know about their whereabouts. There’s been mass graves that had been discovered by international organizations, extrajudicial killings, torture.

“I mean, there’s a whole slew of human rights violations that have gone on. But beyond that, daily life is just difficult for any average Kashmiri. If you think about the day to day in terms of going to school, running a business, things like that, just things don’t happen under a state of normalcy.

“So even today, schools have not been operating in Kashmir for months now. And this is a regular feature of most young people’s lives. During days that have been curfewed where there’s strict shoot on site orders, businesses are not in operation. So every single aspect of daily life gets impacted by this occupation.”

Asked about the situation on the Pakistan side of Kashmir, the professor said she had not been there, but pointed out that just recently India did not allow a U.S. senator to go and visit Indian occupied Kashmir and see what’s happening there, but Pakistan did.

“The Pakistani side of Kashmir, he was allowed access there. So I think a lot of people try to equate the two countries when it comes to their respective sides of Kashmir. But I don’t think that that kind of equivalence can be made.”

She explained to her audience articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution, even though all of the provisions were eroded over time, they remained very symbolic for Kashmiri. “But the fact that Kashmiris at least could still buy their own land and property, that was what was important up until this stage”.

Questioned about the situation of Muslims in India, Prof. Kanjwal said they were some of the poorest.

“They live in ghettos like Muslim only areas and cities. There’s reports on the conditions of India’s Muslim population and they’re quite heartbreaking.

Just the kinds of things that Indian Muslims have to deal with, go through, not even able to get job interviews, housing in certain areas because people know that this is a Muslim.”