Bound and Gagged, Yet Kashmiris Make Modi Face Global Heat

AS this issue of Liberation goes to press, Kashmir has remained locked down for 50 days.

Even as the Modi Government and its defenders claim all is well, reports of medical emergencies, custodial torture, intimidation and violence against journalists, illegal detention and torture of children, and other atrocities proliferate.

The Government and propagandists for its Kashmir policy try to claim a victory in the arena of international opinion. But the fact is that the Modi Government is rattled by the unprecedentedly widespread coverage of the Kashmir lockdown in the international press, accompanied by unprecedentedly widespread solidarity expressed by prominent Opposition politicians in various countries. The Kashmiri narrative, perhaps for the first time, is making itself heard clearly above the din of the competing Indian and Pakistani narratives. That this is happening in spite of the total gag on Kashmiris in the Valley, is a tribute to the truly heroic efforts by Kashmiri journalists and photographers.

In addition, various kinds of civil resistance offered by the Kashmiri public has ensured that the Government of India is facing an unexpected degree of difficulty in ensuring that its own Kashmir narrative dominates the global conversation on Kashmir.

What worries the Modi Government even more is the fact that the spotlight on Kashmir is also shining a light on the fascist character of the Modi regime as a whole, and also on the decades-long treatment meted out to Kashmir by the “world’s largest democracy.”

At a time when television personality Bear Grylls showcases Modi as his guest on his Discovery Channel jungle-survival show; and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awards Modi for his Swacch Bharat sanitation initiative, Modi should be sitting pretty. Instead, he is facing the heat of a global campaign highlighting not only his caging of Kashmir, but the Islamophobic and xenophobic politics of his Government.

In his first term, Modi largely managed to avoid being counted among the world’s authoritarian leaders (such as Trump, Putin, Boris Johnson, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Orbán and Erdogan). But in the first 100 days of his second term, he is finally earning the international recognition he deserves – as one of the most dangerous among the current crop of the world’s fascists.

In this update, we look at the 50 days of the Kashmir lockdown, and also examine some of the global attention that Kashmir and Modi are receiving.

Defensive and Contradictory Arguments  

With international press covering the Kashmir lockdown extensively, the Modi Government is in firefighting mode, struggling to gain control of the narrative.

The Ministry of External Affairs cancelled the 10th annual Heads of Mission (Ambassadors and High Commissioners) conference, which had been scheduled for September 13-15, telling the Ambassadors and High Commissioners to stay put and work “on keeping the narrative on Kashmir positive.”

Various representatives of the Government, as well as embedded journalists seeking to appear “balanced”, are following the same script in this endeavour. They are saying that: a) the foreign media coverage of Kashmir is “one-sided” and is not “explaining” the  Indian Government’s compulsions, and is not emphasising that Pakistan is to blame for the Kashmir lockdown; b) restrictions on mobility and communications are simply to keep Kashmiris safe; c) anyone expressing concerns about atrocities by the Indian Government forces in Kashmir is a willing or inadvertent agent of Pakistan. Three of the most prominent attempts to “keep the narrative on Kashmir positive” are a press briefing by the National security advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, a column by journalist Barkha Dutt; and statements and an op-ed in the New York Times by Indian Ambassador to the US Harsh Shringla.

Ajit Doval held his media briefing on Kashmir (mostly for the foreign press) in the Prime Minister’s office – just a day after the US State Department expressed concern over “widespread detentions” in Jammu & Kashmir and “urged” the Indian government to “respect human rights.”

His briefing was defensive and full of self-contradictory claims.  

Doval said he was “convinced that a majority of Kashmiris totally support the abrogation of Article 370.” Why detain politicians who are not charged with any crime? Doval explained, “we cannot allow politicians to address gatherings of large crowds.” If a majority of Kashmiris totally support the abrogation of Article 370, what possible harm can large gatherings of Kashmiris do?!

When will the politicians be released? Doval said, “it will be up to the state government to decide when to release them.” But there is no state of J&K, let alone an elected state government of J&K – all the elected representatives are under detention!

Why clamp down on telephones and the internet? Doval said, ““People were not born with Internet. For us, it is more important to protect the right of life of the people and keep them safe.” This is an argument which is also being offered by other supporters of the Modi Government’s Kashmir policy. Journalist Barkha Dutt, for instance, in her column in the Washington Post, expressed anger that the foreign press coverage of Kashmir was one-sided, failing to explain the Indian Government’s side of things. She rationalised the phone and internet clampdown, approvingly citing an official’s claim that “to protect lives, some liberties may have to be compromised.” How is the clampdown protecting Kashmiri lives? Aren’t Kashmiri doctors saying their patients’ lives are endangered by the clampdown? In the 21st century, isn’t cutting off the internet and mobile telephones a war crime much like cutting off water and electricity? Dutt’s argument was that in 2016, after Burhan Wani’s killing, weaker restrictions led to 37 protesters being killed by Indian forces in the first week, necessitating tighter restrictions subsequently. Doval’s (and Dutt’s) claims that restricting civil liberties and human rights of Kashmiris are to “protect Kashmiri lives” are a particularly dishonest piece of victim blaming. The killing of Kashmiri protestors is a crime by the forces. Kashmiris’ freedom to communicate with each other and the world, to mourn and to protest together cannot be blamed for those killings!

Badri Raina hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “Locking up the Valley for peoples’ safety is somewhat akin to the old idea of locking up all the women in town because a nasty invader was on the way. It is highly doubtful that the people of Kashmir...view the matter in the colonial-patriarchal light in which the protective Indian state poses the matter. Like most women, Kashmiris would much rather be free to exercise their “democratic” and intellectual rights rather than be locked away in safe-keeping.”

Doval claimed that “Kashmiri people have been deprived of their democratic rights for 70 years”. As Badri Raina observed, “It’s rather mindboggling that the proclaimed restoration of Kashmiris’ “democratic rights” should be inaugurated by the wholesale incarceration of Kashmiri politicians, political workers and businessmen, given that a “majority of Kashmiris support”  the measures that the Government of India has taken.”

Perhaps most shocking of all was Doval’s claim that the lifting of the lockdown in Kashmir depended on Pakistan’s behaviour: “We would like all restrictions to go but it depends on how Pakistan behaves. It is a stimulant-and-response situation with the stimulant coming from Pakistan to create provocations, unrest, intimidate and threaten.” Again, if a “majority of Kashmiris” are with the Indian Government, then how would Pakistan be able to create “unrest” if those same Kashmiris were released from the cage? Also, if Pakistan continues to enjoy such power to influence the Kashmir policy of the Modi Government, then the latter’s claim that it has decisively weakened Pakistan does not hold.

Harsh Shringla, the Indian Ambassador to the US, also echoed the idea that foreign coverage of the Kashmir lockdown has been “one-sided.” In an op-ed piece in the NYT, Shringla claimed that the Modi Government was correcting a “historic” wrong in Kashmir and was seeking to make Kashmir “prosperous.” Citing the severe recession faced by Pakistan, he wrote that Pakistani PM Imran Khan “has, of course, every right to run his own economy into the ground. But his determination to inflict similar damage on the province of a neighboring country must be challenged by the international community.” This is a bit rich, since Mr Modi has certainly run India’s economy into the ground!

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Tide of International Opinion Supports Kashmir, Damns Modi

While authoritarian heads of State (from Trump to Putin to Mohammad Bin Salman) may well back Modi’s Kashmir crackdown, it is clear that Kashmiris’ own voices have the sympathetic ear of a global public.

The youngest ever Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for the rights of children and girls, tweeted with the hashtag #LetKashmirSpeak, saying “I am asking leaders, at #UNGA (UN General Assembly) and beyond, to work towards peace in Kashmir, listen to Kashmiri voices and help children go safely back to school. “I wanted to hear directly from girls living in Kashmir right now. It took a lot of work from a lot of people to get their stories because of the communications blackout. Kashmiris are cut off from the world and unable to make their voices heard.” Barkha Dutt responded with classic whataboutery, tweeting, “Disappointing to see @Malala wade into cliched Pakistan state narrative about #Kashmir when the hard truth is that she can never even return to her own country because she was shot for the rights of girls to go to school.” In fact, Malala is asking the world to listen to the voices of Kashmiri children and girls and safeguard their right to speak, go to school and live in peace, precisely because she herself has fought for the same rights for girls in Pakistan. It is unsurprising for the Modi Government to accuse rights activists in India and beyond expressing concerns about the communications blackout of peddling a “Pakistan state narrative”; but it certainly raises eyebrows when a self-proclaimed liberal-feminist Indian journalist does the same.

Even as Trump attended a “Howdy Modi” extravaganza feting Modi in Houston, many US politicians (including several of Indian descent) distanced themselves from the show and named Modi as one of the human rights violators the far-right Trump chooses to support.

US Senator Robert Menendez, Ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a  joint statement saying “As the world’s largest democracy, India has an opportunity to demonstrate for all its citizens the importance of protecting and promoting equal rights including freedom of assembly, access to information and equal protections under the law....Transparency and political participation are the cornerstones of representative democracies, and we hope the Indian government will abide by these principles in Jammu and Kashmir.”

US Representative Andy Levin, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation wrote an opinion piece connecting the dots between Modi’s Kashmir lockdown, his Hindu-supremacist politics, and other Islamophobic and authoritarian world leaders:

“Modi’s actions speak to a broader, global concern: the increased acceptance of anti-Muslim bigotry and the dangers posed by ethnonationalists like Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump. ...all of this plays out under the specter of an American president who has stoked bigotry and violence in our own nation and globally, preferring the company of dictators and human rights violators to democrats and allies....The India that I love can still be saved, but Prime Minister Modi puts it in grave danger with moves like revoking Article 370. Rather than unilateral action, this decades-old, immensely complex issue will require thoughtful solutions crafted by the parties and global community working together. We must not let actions like those taken by India become a global trend, even as our President fans the flames and shuns the very ideals of multilateralism and collaboration.”

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib issued a comprehensive statement on Kashmir, which said that the “unacceptable actions” of the Modi Government “strip Kashmiris of their human dignity, put millions of people in danger, and seriously undermine democracy in India and Kashmir.  People should not have to fear unjust detention, rape, or torture because of who they are and what they believe. ...I urge the Indian government to accept responsibility for the human rights violations being carried out in Jammu and Kashmir and hold the responsible parties accountable. India and Pakistan both must begin implementing the OHCHR recommendations from its 2018 and 2019 reports on the crisis.” She also called for “a United Nations-backed peaceful resolution that restores autonomy and ensures self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”  

The Guardian editorial on Modi’s 100 days, titled “Trashing lives and the constitution”, observed that:

“Mr Modi has chosen to govern much as he did his first term – as a rightwing populist on behalf of the majority Hindu population at the expense of the rights of minorities, especially Muslims, in his vast country.

India risks becoming an ethnic democracy with an implied two-tiered citizenship. It is not one yet. However, in deed Mr Modi gives the impression that this is desirable. This month almost 2 million people living in Assam, a state in north-eastern India, have been left at risk of statelessness because they cannot prove they arrived there before Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan in March 1971 in special courts that, says Amnesty, are “shoddy and lackadaisical”. No one is sure how many Indians who have been declared “foreigners” are Muslims. The evidence suggests many are. Mr Modi’s right-hand man called them “infiltrators” and “termites”, who ought to be thrown “into the Bay of Bengal”.”

On Kashmir, the Guardian editorial said, “The BJP argued, absurdly, that the continuance of a low-level insurgency stemmed not from a heavy-handed military response with torture and killings to claims of independence but from the special treatment Kashmiris receive. This summer Mr Modi muscled aside the constitution to break up the state. The Muslim-majority areas appear to have been turned into an open air prison, with the inmates cut off from the outside world.”
Pointing out that Modi spent three times what the Congress did in the 2019 election campaign, and revealed far less about the state of the country, the Guardian editorial said:

“He became first Indian prime minister to go to the polls without showing how his government had fared in diminishing poverty. He also tried to suppress data that revealed unemployment to be at a 45-year high. India’s economic prospects are worsening.”

The Guardian editorial ended with a pointed warning to the likes of Bear Grylls and Bill and Melinda Gates: “Western environmentalists and billionaires need to be careful not to end up as props for Modi’s regime, which rests on damaging civil liberties and the rule of law in the name of popular majorities.”

US Congressman Ro Khanna (D-Fremont), sharing an article noting the connections between tweeted on August 29: “It’s the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist & Christians.”

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Courtroom Farces Mock Kashmiris

The scenes playing out in the Supreme Court as it dealt with a slew of petitions relating to the Kashmir siege, confirmed that the writ of the Indian Constitution has always stopped at the Kashmir Valley.

Journalistic reports from Kashmir are documenting widespread illegal detention and custodial torture of children and young men and the use of pellet guns to target children. One Kashmiri teenager committed suicide after a bout of custodial beating by armed forces in illegal detention. A magazine reported that armed forces had hit a child on the head with a brick.  Enakshi Ganguly, an eminent child rights expert and Professor Shanta Sinha, the first Chairperson of the National Commission for Child Rights (NCPCR) filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, seeking that the Government be asked to file a status report detailing the current whereabouts, and the medical (both psychological and physical) status be provided on the specific children described in this petition, who have been detained or were detained and who have been beaten up in custody.

The petition also asked that all persons below the age of eighteen years who are detained in any police station, detention centre, jails, or any other confinement, by whatever name called in Jammu and Kashmir be identified through an age census conducted under the aegis of the Juvenile Justice Committee of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir. The PIL asked that all children who are currently detained be produced before the Juvenile Justice Committee of the High Court and brought under their care and supervision, so that they may be provided with the necessary support. The petitioners also sought a direction for payment of compensation to children who have been maimed or illegally detained and to families of children who have died.

What was the Supreme Court’s response to this urgent petition on such a grave matter, in which a single day could mean life or death for a child? The CJI asked the petitioners to approach the J&K High Court! When the petitioners said that lockdown prevented affected persons from hiring lawyers and approaching the High Court, the CJI sought a report from the Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The CJI then informed the petitioners - “We have received a report from the Chief Justice (of J&K High Court) which does not support your statement.” The SC Bench then directed the Juvenile Justice Committee of the J&K High Court to file a report before it “within a week” on the issue.

Meanwhile, journalists reported that “Even as thousands are detained in Kashmir, courts and legal system remain frozen. Habeas corpus petition are piling up but hearings are being postponed and court orders have dwindled.”

Note that the “habeas corpus” provision is a basic protection from illegal detention/custody guaranteed to every individual under the Indian Constitution. The standard procedure in habeas corpus petitions is that the Courts must act swiftly ordering the government to produce the detainee before the court and ensure that any detention is in keeping with legal and constitutional provisions. In the Kashmir Valley, though, habeas corpus petitions have always met with a different response. Widespread illegal detentions for months on end have been the norm – and the filing of a habeas corpus petition is the cue for the detaining authority to promptly file a case under the Public Security Act (PSA), which allows for detention without trial for up to two years! This is the process the whole world saw in action when Tamil Nadu leader Vaiko filed a habeas corpus for former CM Farooq Abdullah, whose detention Amit Shah had categorically denied in Parliament. Overnight, Abdullah was booked under PSA. And everyone in India got a crash course in how the “law takes its course” in Kashmir!

A leading newspaper reported that in four weeks since 5 August 2019, “a staggering 250 habeas corpus petitions have been filed in the Valley — almost six a day — by individuals challenging their detention by the government under the draconian Public Safety Act.” The High Court has shown no urgency whatsoever, allowing the petitions to gather dust.

Likewise, the Supreme Court also, faced with habeas corpus petitions, delayed listing the orders, casually delayed proceedings, failed to ask the Government about whether or not the detention was legal, and also failed to ask for the detained person to be produced in Court. Instead, it acted as an arm of the Government, allowing petitioners to meet the detained persons but cautioning them not to “indulge” in any political activity!

The most shocking display of casual mockery of the very notion of Constitutional rights for Kashmiris was witnessed when former CM Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter Iltija’s petition that she be allowed to meet her mother and travel without restrictions in Kashmir. The CJI responded by saying, “Why do you want to move around? It is very cold in Srinagar.”  

Civil Disobedience

How are the Kashmiris responding to a situation where Indian Courts, as well as almost the entire Indian media, are normalising the lockdown?

In a situation where it is impossible to plan and coordinate protests, Kashmiris are not giving up.

It is young Kashmiri journalists and photographers who are making sure that Kashmiris’ voices are reaching the world, in spite of the lockdown. Further, Kashmiri people are evolving forms of civil disobedience. When the Administration demands that they open shops, sell apples, or send their kids to school so that the Government of India can claim that “normalcy” is back, they defiantly refuse. The curfew is turned on its head, into a hartal.

They are also, as always, helping each other. Amateurs as well as doctors are setting up makeshift clinics in homes, getting pellets out of patients’ bodies without anaesthesia – so that those with pellet injuries do not have to go to hospitals where police can arrest and charge them.

The Modi Government is claiming a huge triumph over Kashmir. In reality, though, it is unable to maintain control over Kashmir, or over the Kashmir narrative. In India and in the world, solidarity with Kashmir continues to grow.

‘Adios Modi’ Protests In Houston

The BJP and RSS network in the US organised a “Howdy Modi” gala event feting Narendra Modi. The event doubled as a campaign rally for US President Trump who faces re-election in 2020. Modi referred to Trump who was in attendance at the rally, as “candidate Trump”, and chanted a Modi-inspired Trump campaign slogan - ‘Abki Baar Trump Sarkar.’ He thus became the first elected leader of a country to campaign for a candidate in a foreign country’s election.

In his speech at the event, Modi ironically spoke about India’s diversity in language, faith, food – a diversity which he and his Government attack at home in India! He claimed that his Government had abrogated Article 370 to ensure that “Kashmir’s people now have the same rights as the rest of India.”  This claim boggles the mind, given that Kashmir is a prison, deprived of communication, mobility, politics, protest, and subjected to illegal arrests and torture.

Trump’s speech at the event spoke of the concerns about “border security” that India and the US share - thus using his xenophobic election rhetoric against “illegal immigrants” to tacitly endorse the BJP’s sinister NRC project which threatens to render millions stateless.

But the Howdy Modi event also became an occasion for activists to expose the links between white supremacists (like the Ku Klux Klan – KKK) who back Trump, and Hindu supremacists in India and the US. In the week before the event, the Houston City Council, a meeting of the elected representatives and citizens of Houston, saw Indian-origin Americans protesting against Indian Prime Minister Modi with signs such as “Go Back Modi”, “Save Kashmir” and “Stand with Kashmir”. At the meeting, Peter Friedrich, a South Asian Affairs analyst called out the Americans who were “complicit in Modi’s crimes against humanity.” Friedrich provided all 16 council members with a folder comprising of three well researched articles about the RSS, White Supremacists and Nazis, in order to support his claims. He ended by calling upon people to say ‘Adios Modi’ instead of ‘Howdy Modi’.

On the day of the event, thousands protested outside the hall, displaying placards supporting Kashmir as well as minorities in India, and chanting “Adios Modi", "Modi, Modi, you can't hide, you committed genocide" and “RSS is KKK, RSS go away.”

A similar spirited protest, combined with a fund-raiser to provide humanitarian aid for besieged Kashmiris, was also held in New York, where music bands came together to make a “Noise for Kashmir” and to oppose Modi’s visit. One of the organisers of the protest, comedian Arish Singh said in interview, “I think there is a general ignorance among the US population at large about what exactly Modi’s extremist actions are, but it's changing, especially with the press coverage over Assam and Kashmir, and also with things like this rally in Houston. South Asians who criticise him are becoming more outspoken.” Another of the organisers, a member of an Indian-American punk band Kominas, said about the Sanghi trolls, “they are the manure that fuels our creativity.” Asked what was their strategy in case the Sanghis tried to disrupt their event, they said, “A mukka (punch)!”

Trump and Modi are Two Sides of the Same Coin

(Excerpt from an article by Sarah Philips, a third generation Indian-American in CNN, 21 September 2019)

I’m coming of age at a time when fascism and ethnonationalism are on the rise across the world. Trump and Modi are two sides of the same coin -- they're both authoritarian leaders who intimidate and exclude marginalized communities, chill the free press, and champion fake news and propaganda to whitewash their atrocities.

This weekend, South Asians in Houston will not be silent and simply accept the spectacle of Modi and Trump together on a stage. We will join protesters of all backgrounds and faiths to send a message to people around the world, including the people of Kashmir, that we will not celebrate or welcome those who violate human rights here at home or in our countries of origin. We offer a different narrative: one based in the liberation of all people, from Houston to Kashmir.


Nobel Peace Laureates Tell Gates Not To Award Modi

(Excerpts from letter by three Nobel Peace laureates - Mairead Maguire, a peace activist from Northern Ireland; Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman, a Yemeni journalist and politician; and Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and political activist -  to Gates Foundation. In addition to this, more than 100,000 people signed a petition against the award to Modi, that was delivered to the Gates Foundation.)

We were deeply disturbed to discover that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be giving an award to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi later this month. Under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, India has descended into dangerous and deadly chaos that has consistently undermined human rights, democracy. This is particularly troubling to us as the stated mission of your foundation is to preserve life and fight inequity.

Consider, for example, the attacks on minorities, specifically Indian Muslims, Christians, and Dalits. Since the BJP, Prime Minister Modi’s party, came to power in 2014, the use of organized mobs to respond to alleged sectarian “offenses” with violence has undermined the rule of law so frequently that the Indian Supreme Court warned that these “horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land,” according to Human Rights Watch.

The situation in the state of Assam and Indian-administered Kashmir are cause for grave concern as well. The organization “Genocide Watch” has issued not one, but two alerts for India in these regions. In Assam, 1.9 million Indians have been stripped of citizenship; in Kashmir, since August, 800,000 Indian armed forces have kept eight million Kashmiris without phone or internet service for the last month.

Because of these human rights abuses, children in Kashmir from Kindergarten to college are unable to attend school. As one of your organization’s goals is to “ensure that young people survive and thrive,” please consider this statistic: In 2016 (the year the most recent data has been available), schools in Kashmir were open for only four months out of the year.

Finally, scholars inside and outside of India have never cleared Prime Minister Modi of his involvement in the horrific 2002 massacre of Gujarat. As a result, Modi was banned from entering the United States, the UK, and Canada for 10 years until he acquired diplomatic immunity by becoming India’s Prime Minister. To be sure, his role in that crisis as the then Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat cannot be ignored.

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate, 1976
Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman, Nobel Peace Laureate, 2011
Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate, 2003

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