New York Times’ report exposes Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir

The New York Times in a new report has exposed Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir after the occupying forces arrested more than 2,000 people in the valley with no recourse since the abrogation of Article 370.

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The NYT, contradicting the Indian claim in the occupied valley has reported that at least 2,000 Kashmiris — including business leaders, human rights defenders, elected representatives, teachers and students as young as 14 — were rounded up by the Indian forces in the days right before and right after the Indian government unilaterally stripped away Kashmir’s autonomy.

“Bringing Kashmir to heel has been a Hindu-nationalist dream” — the only Muslim-majority state that India annexed on August 5, setting off a grave crisis in the disputed region, the paper said in a comprehensive dispatch published Friday.

“Kashmir was an obvious sore for the nationalist political movement that has flourished among India’s Hindu majority, powering [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s stunning rise,” NYT said.

“For decades,” it said, “Kashmir has been racked by militancy, oppression and unrest. Kashmiris are feeling especially demoralised and cornered now. The fear is that the area is about to blow and even with phone lines cut, leaders in jail and soldiers on every street, protests are erupting. Some are peaceful. Others descend into stone-pelting clashes.”

“But the fury is there, always,” NYT declared.

“There is only one solution!” the crowds cheer, the newspaper, adding, “Gun solution! Gun solution!”

Kashmiri Muslims shout anti-government slogans during a protest at Anchar Soura locality of Srinagar on August 23, 2019, after India revoked the autonomy of occupied Kashmir. Photo: AFP

Citing critics, the newspaper said that even under India’s tough public safety laws this is illegal and that PM Modi is bending the Indian legal system to cut off any possible criticism in occupied Kashmir and go after anyone with a voice — be that a successful merchant, a politician or a professor.

“Kashmir is silent as a graveyard,” human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover said. “The Indian government isn’t revealing what charges the detainees face or how long they will be held. Some were reported to have been flown on secret air force flights to jails in Lucknow, Varanasi and Agra,” NYT said.

On Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Office said it was “gravely concerned.”

Five UN Human Rights experts expressed concern that the measures, imposed after the Indian Parliament revoked the Constitutionally-mandated status of the state of occupied Kashmir would exacerbate tensions in the region.

“The shutdown of the internet and telecommunication networks, without justification from the Government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality,” the experts said.

“The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence.”

“We remind the Indian authorities that the restrictions imposed by the Indian Government are intrinsically disproportionate because they preclude considerations of the specific circumstances of each proposed assembly,” the experts stated.

Security personnel stand gaurd on a street near closed shops in Srinagar on August 22, 2019. Photo: AFP
Citing political analysts, NYT said the mass roundup was the final piece of a step-by-step plan that Modi’s government set into motion last year.

This included postponing state elections in occupied Kashmir to create a gap in local leadership.

Indian officials then changed India’s Constitution and moved to erase occupied Kashmir’s autonomy and statehood without any input from Kashmiris — though many lawyers have said that might not be legal, either.

“Mr Modi’s move instantly raised tensions with Pakistan, a Muslim-majority nation that also claims part of Kashmir. Its prime minister Imran Khan, harshly criticised Mr Modi on Wednesday, saying he had rebuffed Mr Khan’s requests to talk,” the dispatch said.

“Both nations are nuclear-armed, and President [Donald] Trump has urged them to reduce tensions and to avoid tipping the crisis over into war. But Mr Modi seems intent on digging in, and he has the Indian public firmly behind him.”

Many Indians see occupied Kashmir as an integral part of India and this move has stirred up jingoist feelings.

It said the Indian Home Ministry will not answer questions about the mass arrests, including how many people have been taken into custody.

“The foreign ministry won’t say why foreign journalists continue to be blocked from setting foot in Kashmir, even when government officials insist the situation is returning to normal.”

Modi has said occupied Kashmir, which includes the war-torn Kashmir Valley, had suffered too long and needed a change.

He promised that the new arrangement would improve governance, bring peace and boost outside investment, which many Kashmiris question, especially now that business leaders have been thrown in jail.

“Who will invest there?” Farooq Kathwari, a prominent Kashmiri and the chief executive officer of Ethan Allen, the American furniture chain, was quoted as saying by NYT.

The clock tower at deserted Lal Chowk is pictured during a security lockdown in Srinagar on August 19, 2019. Photo: AFP

The way Indian security officials have handled this, he said, “has taken the dignity of the people. They have created a rage, and that rage will get them to do all kinds of things.”

Among the people who were rounded up were Mian Qayoom, president of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, Mohammed Yasin Khan, chairman of the Kashmir Economic Alliance, Raja Muzaffar Bhat, an anti-corruption crusader, Fayaz Ahmed Mir, a tractor driver and Arabic scholar and Mehbooba Mufti, the first woman elected as occupied Kashmir’s chief minister.

Shah Faesal, another politician, was arrested at New Delhi’s international airport, bags checked, boarding pass in hand, heading for a fellowship at Harvard, according to the dispatch.

Several prominent state politicians have also been put under house arrest; they told Indian news outlets they had been ordered not to engage in any “political activity.”

“These detentions are totally illegal and unconstitutional,” Zaffar Shah, a Kashmiri lawyer, was quoted as saying.

Mubeen Shah, 63, a wealthy merchant, was also arrested from his home in the middle of the night.

His wife is still stunned about him being taken away.

He was “just a business guy,” she said, who dealt in Kashmiri curios and carpets and had tried to woo foreign investors to build new electricity plants in occupied Kashmir.

She said some of the state police officers — Kashmiris — seemed reluctant to arrest him, but that dozens of heavily armed federal officers were at their back, according to NYT.

Citing analysts, the dispatch said all this was carefully set into motion in three big steps.

Step one came in June 2018, when the Kashmir branch of Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, known as the BJP, abruptly pulled out of a coalition government in the state assembly, leaving the leading Kashmiri political party without a majority.

Kashmiri Muslim children hold posters during a protest at Anchar Soura locality of Srinagar, Kashmir, August 23, 2019. AFP

That meant the governor — a central government figure, part of the Modi administration — took over. “Kashmiri politicians started to get nervous. They feared that Mr Modi was plotting to change Article 370 of India’s Constitution, which guaranteed Kashmir special land rights and a fair degree of autonomy to write its own laws.”

Dismantling this article was a goal stated in Modi’s campaign manifesto.

Article 370 says that any changes to occupied Kashmir’s status must be done in consultation with Kashmiri representatives.

But Kashmiri politicians knew that if the state continued to be ruled by a governor, without a state assembly, there was a risk that Modi might make changes without them.

In November 2018, Mufti occupied Kashmir’s former chief minister, sent a fax to the governor — which she posted on social media — saying she had found enough allies and was ready to form a new government.

“But the governor suddenly dissolved the state assembly. That was step two. The governor claimed he hadn’t received Ms Mufti’s fax. He called for fresh elections.”

“That led to step three: the blocking of those elections.”

According to an Indian official who said he would face harassment if his name were revealed, a team of experienced civil servants appointed by the national election commission recommended that occupied Kashmir hold elections around June.

“But BJP lawmakers seemed to be stalling, the official said and came up with some curious reasons. They said that if Kashmir’s elections were held in June, militants could hide in the tall summer grass, so November would be better.”

The election commission then postponed the elections to later in the year, without setting any date.

That meant there was no functioning state assembly when Modi revoked Kashmir’s autonomy on August 5. His government claimed that in the absence of a state assembly, the central government had the power to do this.

“The government had to engineer some other method to gain the levers of power,” Happymon Jacob, a political scientist in New Delhi, was quoted as saying.

“They simply would not be able to do what they did had there been elections.”

The final step was the lockdown, the dispatch said while pointing out, “Shortly after midnight on August 5, just hours before Modi’s government would announce that occupied Kashmir’s autonomy was over, the Indian authorities cut internet and phone service and activated thousands of federal security officers.

As dozens surrounded Mubeen Shah, others moved house to house, across the valley, looking for specific people.

At least 20 stormed the home of Bhat, the anti-corruption activist, his family said.

“Mr Bhat’s family said he had never been arrested before, ”not even for one hour.”

When his wife, Fozia Kauser, asked why this was happening, the Kashmiri police said they didn’t know. Again, the response was “orders.”

Human rights activists say the Indian government may be using the Public Safety Act, which allows the authorities to hold suspects without charges for up to two years if they are deemed threats to the state. But there are still rules, including an advisory board review.”

A few days after Shah, the rug and crafts merchant was arrested, his elder brother, Niaz, tracked him down at a Srinagar jail.

APP

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