This Week In Fascism: Kashmir and India’s BJP
Military occupation and communications blackouts terrorize Kashmiris
Since August of 2019, social media has featured more and more mentions of Kashmir and the Indian government, with hashtags like #redforkashmir trending on Twitter and Instagram accounts setting their profile pictures to red circles to bring awareness. Despite this, however, there are still many who aren’t fully informed about what the emergency in Kashmir entails, or even who Kashmiris are and where they live. Hindu nationalism, military occupation, communications blackouts, and citizenship rights are all things that have come up in discussions again and again, but it can sometimes be difficult to sort through this information when we are far from the events as they unfold.
Some in Regina, though, who have travelled here from the area or know those who have, are acutely aware. On Aug. 31, Ahmereen Salim, a third-year psychology student at the U of R, helped to organize a rally in Regina with its Pakistani community in support of Kashmir. The rally was attended by “just over 200 people” by her own estimate. Salim said she was “outraged” by the communications blackout which had happened in Kashmir a few weeks before, leaving Kashmiri people with no internet or phone access, and making it almost impossible for people to check on their families in the area. Salim also started a letter-writing campaign and encourages Canadians to write letters calling attention to the human rights abuses in Kashmir.
In a phone interview with The Carillon, Salim went through the basics of Kashmir that she wants people in Canada to understand. Firstly, she says, it should not be conceptualized by the public as purely an issue between the states of India and Pakistan. Kashmir needs to be viewed as its own distinct region with its own people, who are Kashmiri, not Pakistani or Indian. Kashmir is not its own state, but rather is a highly contested area that is claimed by both Pakistan and India. During the 1947 partition of India, when Pakistan split from the nation, Kashmir was made Indian territory. However, it is still claimed by Pakistan. Regardless of both of these claims, however, Kashmiris should be seen as Kashmiris, who strive for autonomy, self-governance and independence.
Furthermore, the abuses in Kashmir are contextualized by Salim as part of a worldwide “war on Muslims,” which rides on the rising wave of modern fascism. This war is seen across the United States (Trump’s “Muslim Ban”), China (Uighur Muslim state surveillance and detention in camps), and now India, Salim says. We can recognize even in Canada that Islamophobia leans on xenophobic racism to incite hatred, and is used frequently by fascists to generate outrage and division.
Now, the history. Salim says that in 1947, the United Nations urged India to issue a plebiscite that would allow Kashmir a vote on whether it should be Pakistani or Indian territory. However, she continues, the Indian government would not facilitate this vote, and it never actually took place. As a result, Kashmir has become “one of the most highly militarized zones in the world,” partitioned and occupied by both Pakistan and India while China claims another small part. Amongst a population of around 8 million, says Salim, there are “tens of thousands” of military troops. Salim also says that the part of Kashmir occupied by India is the most heavily militarized, with police on “every street corner,” and the human rights abuses of Kashmiris have also greatly worsened since 1947.
August of 2019 was another significant point. The communications blackout occurred on Aug. 5, and on Aug. 6, the nationalist Indian BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the significant Article 370. This article was one that gave Kashmir special status and various rights, including a right to its own language and control over the land of the region. Without the article, India has more license to build on Kashmir and violate the rights of Kashmiris. Additionally, the Indian CAA (or Citizenship Amendment Act) does not grant Indian citizenship rights to Kashmiri Muslims or other religious minorities because of the Hindu nationalism or Hindutva of the BJP. These leaves religious minorities (Muslims, Sikhs) gravely unprotected.
When discussing these rights violations, Salim emphasizes women and children as victims, who are “often ignored.” She says that due to the communications blackout little details are known, but there have been multiple accusations of sexual assault as well as fetishization of Kashmiri women by military. There is precedent for such assaults, Salim says–over 30 women were assaulted by the Indian military previously, in one operation in 1991. Kashmiris are also often arbitrarily detained by the government, and on Jan. 19 India put the NSA (National Security Order) into effect, which made it lawful to detain people for up to 12 months without informing them of the charges until 10 days after the fact.
The speakers at Salim’s August rally included people who were from Kashmir and still have family living in the area, where Salim says people are “scared to leave their houses to this day” because of military occupation and violence. One of the speaker’s, a grandmother of Salim’s friend, “could barely speak” in front of the crowd of 200, and cried, overwhelmed by the fear and uncertainty. When The Carillon asked Salim what she would consider the most urgent part of the situation, she said that the total lack of information is an enormous concern.
“No one knows what’s happening there 100 per cent,” she said. “Some reporters have been able to come in and leave,” but that Kashmir was now experiencing “one of the biggest communications blackouts in any history of a democracy. . .it really is an emergency, the fact that we don’t know what’s going on is catastrophic.” Salim also expressed that it seemed like this situation would lead to a genocide. This worry is seconded by many–Equality Labs have many resources on their website under “Indian Fascism 101,” including a graphic that outlines the stages of genocide as experienced by Kashmir, which are progressing in a horrifying manner towards the end goals of extermination and then denial.
Salim encourages students on campus to lift themselves out of ignorance when it comes to Kashmir–Equality Labs and Stand With Kashmir are good sources, and Regina’s own Briarpatch Magazine also has several articles–and not allow themselves to be in the dark any longer. The cry for justice in Kashmir among protestors is “Azaadi”–”freedom.”