A landmark announcement on August 5, 2019 took the world, and all of India, by surprise. The news of the neutering of Article 370, thereby, revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was unprecedented and unexpected. In an immediate backlash, Pakistan expelled the Indian envoy Ajay Basaria from Islamabad in a move to downgrade diplomatic ties with India.
As the shackles of special provisions were removed from J&K, the now short-circuited introduction of a domicile legislation seems to be a distraction from the more contentious matters in J&K. When the entire country was celebrating the removal of barriers for any Indian citizen from investing or settling in J&K, the implementation of a domicile law starts building iron curtains yet again, preventing India from direct access into its own union territory. What is more frustrating is Altaf Bukhari, founder of the Jammu Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP), founded on regionalism, meets with Home Minister Amit Shah and receives assurance that the statehood will be returned to J&K soon. This came in a response to concerns raised by the Bukhari led JKAP delegation on the Article 370 removal.
While one is still grappling with what the actual stance is of the current government, a Hindu sarpanch (leader of a village), Ajay Pandita, is brutally murdered in the valley in June 2020. This has further angered the already disillusioned the Kashmiri Pandits, Hindus from Kashmir Valley. It has reminded the country that justice was yet far from delivered for the millions of displaced Kashmiri Hindus and those murdered, raped, looted within genocidal crime in 1989-90. Thirty years on, there is no formal recognition of Kashmiri Pandits as internally displaced or refugees in their own country. The entire process of domicile registration seems like a trap to white-wash the truth and hijack the real lacuna in justice delivery system in India. Whose demand was it to introduce domicile law in J&K? Whose interests and whims are being pandered to? It will be interesting to note here that India was among the early signatories to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes of Genocide in 1949, later ratifying it in 1959. Contract bound to legislate Genocide Crime Prevention and Punishment law, India, though, is yet to introduce such a law. When one looks at the full picture, there are visible and seemingly deliberate holes in India’s policy in relation to J&K, domestic or otherwise.
Narratives emerge based on realities on the ground and how they are communicated to the world. It seems that India’s narrative is a ‘free-for-all’ and the only party not responding to it is India itself. Having gloated over the re-election as a Non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council for the eighth term, the basic contractual obligation to such an important UN human rights convention has been evaded for years by India. It questions directly, the political will of the nation to truly address situation on ground.
India has proactively legislated (via the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019) to protect the rights of Hindus and minorities in Bangladesh and Pakistan though it fails to legislate to protect the rights, lives, and safety of its own Hindu population in Kashmir valley. None of the terrorists responsible for and openly confessing to the genocidal crimes, have been punished or tried. Each incident is viewed in isolation and treated as ordinary murder trial.
Closer to home, in London we as Indian diaspora, experience a heightened aggression in the form of protests, attacks on Indian embassy, resolutions passed in party conferences and statements issued in British Parliament by rogue Pakistani origin MPs calling India a human rights violator.
United Kingdom (UK)-wide protests were held, led by Pakistani diaspora and saw the active participation of politicians from Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (PoJK). On 15 August 2019, the High Commission of India was attacked by a mob of hundreds of rogue protestors. Children and women who were assembled at the Indian embassy to celebrate India’s Independence Day at a cultural programme were surrounded and caught in this violent mob attack for over four hours. Flags of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), ‘Azad’ Kashmir and Pakistan were flashed by the mobs shouting slogans with cuss words, abusing the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and throwing frozen bottles, sticks, eggs and various other objects at the small surrounded group of ethnic Indian diaspora. Police were outnumbered too until reinforcement arrived and the mob was controlled. Though complaints were formally registered by the Indian officials, and permission to protest withdrawn, on 3 September again protestors launched attacks on the Indian embassy, this time throwing stones, vandalising the embassy building. A statement by Ministry of External Affairs calling these attacks ‘unacceptable’ was issued.
As an ethnic Indian, I expected a stronger response to the series of aggression and terrorism inflicted by the Pakistani diaspora instigated and led by politicians from Pakistan and UK (but of Pakistani origin). It may be useful to jog people’s memory and remind you of the brutal murder of Ravindra Mhatre, an Indian diplomat in 1984 who had stepped out to buy a cake for his daughter in Birmingham. He was kidnapped and detained a Mirpuri (PoJK) dominant area and later killed. The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Army claimed responsibility and sought a one-million-pound ransom and release of the JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat from Indian custody. It may be pertinent to recall that JKLF was banned by India in March 2019 under anti-terror law. To then have the same organisation participate actively in the violent protests on the Indian embassy and Indian diaspora does not appear too out of place. Why was a strong statement not issued by India, demanding the banning of JKLF by the British government?
On 25 September, the Labour Party in the UK passed a resolution that supported “international intervention in Kashmir and a call for UN-led referendum”. India turned down engagement with the Labour party in response. Maintaining its ‘internal matter’ stance, though it took a strange tangential turn, when India chose to invite and host European parliamentarians in J&K.
Debate after debate, statement after statement in British as well as European Parliament, India is slandered against. Yet there is no formal briefing issued by India to these parliamentarians. Western media seems unkind to India on its ‘Kashmir’ policy but what if anything is done to counter these opinions or misrepresentations.
Who are we to blame then when the global perception of India and its handling of ‘Kashmir’s is viewed as suspect? Who exactly is India trying to appease, why and to what avail?
(Lakshmi Kaul is a British Indian of Kashmiri Hindu heritage. She is the former political aide to a Tory Member of Parliament, and lives in London).