How Communication Shutdown Led to Humanitarian Crisis and Violence in the India-administered Kashmir

CONFLICT RESOLUTION - MEDIATION, ASIA--PACIFIC, BRICS, 7 Oct 2019

Irene Dawa – TRANSCEND Media Service

The Forgotten Conflict

3 Oct 2019 – Today news headlines talk about wars in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, they Rohingya refuges in Cox Bazar in Bangladesh. What about “Kashmir”? Why is the media not giving a voice to violent conflict happening at the heart of India? The international community is making efforts to end the wars that have received well publicity and the “Kashmir issues” is said to be an internal issues of India. This article is an attempt to bring to light one of worlds forgotten violent conflicts and to interrogate India’s latest action in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in which the Indian government has revoked article 370 (35A) that gave special  autonomous  status to the state of J&K and divides it into two union territories as New Delhi considers the article had become tools to what it called “mischievous element to fan separation and promote terror”[1] The article also highlights historical events  that has led to the current conflict in the Kashmir.

The information in this article was collected through qualitative methodology, observation and interviews were the key tools used during a visit to the state in 2019.  Some 10 KII interviews were conducted with different stakeholders mostly hospitals and shops. The names and positions of individuals are withheld for safety and security reasons. The qualitative data has been used to understand the conflict from past to present. The direct observation is been used to triangulate the past and present dynamics, interviews, newspapers and reports of NGOs working in Kashmir are used for validity and reliability. The article was inspired by previous work in Kashmir and being peace and  human rights activists, it was clear to me that the recent events in Kashmir violate article (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states,

 “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reasons and conscience and should acts towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

And article (9) that says,

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention[2]’.

It is important to note that days before the abrogation of Article 370 (35A), the government arrested all the political leaders of the state and put them behind bars without trail until the time of writing. The article concludes with general recommendation for the people of Kashmir and the Government of India on how to move from here.

 India’s General Context

India is considered world’s biggest democracy and understanding “democratic societies” in 21st century has become a big challenge because of their actions.  Despite complete lockdown Kashmir people for 6 weeks now, there is no clear stand from international community on how to respond to India’s aggression to the people of the valley.

India has population of 1.2 billion and total land area of 3,287,263 sq. km[3]  (including disputed areas of Kashmir). It is the largest “secular multi-party democracy” and a fast growing economic power in the world. The country has a diversity of cultures, ethnicities, languages, climates and is more a continent than a country in many ways. Besides Hindi there are 14 official languages and English is widespread as a business language. The diversity is noticed in religions with Hindus (80.5%) being the dominant religion and Hindi the national language spoken by 30% of the population[4]. In addition to Hindus there are Muslims (13,4%, which is approx.145million people), Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.9%) and a very small percentage of Buddhists and Jain. India has a varied climate ranging from subtropical in the Ganges basin to tundra climates in the Himalayas. In New Delhi temperatures can reach above 45 degrees during the summer months whereas temperatures in the winter have gone as low as 3 degrees Celsius.

The map of India showing states and union territories.
© Mapsofindia.com

Understanding the Conflict in India

According to Lederach[5], Conflict is a normal human relationship and it is motor of change. Conflict impacts people at different levels, that is personally, relationally, structurally and culturally. According to Galtung[6] conflict is “incompatibility of goals” that makes one actor’s pursuit of some value come in the way of some other actor’s pursuit of the same or a different value but may not have the same access to resources. This means that when people are in conflict, their minds are cloaked to their own point of view; they do not see the other persons view as offering an alternative and this is what we see between New Delhi and the state of J7K.

Not only the Kashmir issue, but in this rising superpower with nuclear capability, hundreds of thousands of people within India are also affected by (armed) conflict and neglect. The Central and State governments are struggling to deal with the ‘left-wing extremist’ (LWE or Naxalite/Maoists) activities Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal; the continuing tribal problems in the ‘North-East’ in Manipur, Assam however also the other NE states are affected ’. While the conflict in Jammu & Kashmir has a clear international dimension between Pakistan and India about the status of Kashmir, the North East of India has its own more local context: several groups (tribes) continue to fight for more autonomy and/or independence from India. The Naxalite fight for a ‘Maoist revolution’ directly affects a large part of the country.

Humanitarian and Political Context

India continues to be a country of paradoxes. This flourishing economy is coupled with extreme poverty where over 300 million people from the 1,2 billion people live below the poverty line[7]. India is the most populous democracy in the world with an increasingly powerful role on the world stage (member of the G7 and G20). India presents itself as a ‘strong state’. The image of India as an emerging superpower with the third fastest growing economy in the world and the projection of its modern megacities with affluent elite have been magnified by India’s emergence as an emerging donor to other developing countries. The government continues to define its own space and approach to the challenges it faces and does not ‘bow its head’ to international pressure easily. This is based in particular on its economic growth coupled with its mere size and population numbers, yet corruption is rampant and many different forms of conflict and violence exist. The rights of ethnic minorities, tribes and lower castes are often ignored and abused; communal violence flares up on a regular basis leading at times to large population displacements. It seems fair to assume that this trend will not reverse over the coming years.

Hard-line Hindu nationalist Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi with his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scored an unprecedented landslide victory in the May 2014 and recently April 2019 parliamentary elections. Mr. Modi fought his campaign on his record as chief minister of the economically successful state of Gujarat (although his time as chief minister of Gujarat was overshadowed by accusations that he did too little to stop the religious riots in 2001 which saw more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, killed), promising to fight against corruption and to revitalize India’s flagging economy. In 2017, PM Modi made significant moves to win the masses and confirmed his BJP party’s gain in different State assembly elections, winning the most populated State of Uttar Pradesh. Modi will continue to implement reforms to enhance the business environment further. It is important to note that the Humanitarian space for international actors is very limited as New Delhi continues to reject application for registration for foreign organisations.

The State of Jammu and Kashmir

The Kashmir valley lies within the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir on the North Eastern part of India with the line of Control (loC)  (border with Pakistan) along its Northern and Western boarders. It covers geographical area of 15,938Km2 with a population density of 439Km2. The total population according to Indian national population census of 2011 stood at 6.9 million with 73% living in the rural areas and 27% in urban cities. The adult population of Kashmir is approximately 4 million. The main languages spoken in the valley is Urdu and Kashmir. Kashmiri is the predominating ethnic group and the majority of the population are Muslims (97%), with Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist and Christians making up the other 3%. The beautiful scenery of Jammu and Kashmir holds a special imagine in the eyes of public. It is surrounded by the Himalayan mountains and has 3 season in the year (Summer, Winter and Spring) at the heart of the city Srinagar is the Dal lake with house boats that attracts thousands of tourist every year. On the country side, the mountains and valleys resembles those at the Swiss Alps. During winter, thousands of tourists flood to the country side for skiing.

However, looking beyond that natural beauty the Kashmir is embraced with, it envelopes in its shade tremendous suffering as a result of the long-time conflict and violence. As a result tens and thousands have lost lives directly to the conflict and others have disappeared, many have faced torture and injuries. The freedom of the people is curbed with its implication on the people especially women. Many young people lost their jobs or left for their safety. The indiscriminate killing and disappearing has led into new marginalisation of widow headed households and orphans without any support from the Government. A study in 2010 estimated the number of Widows to be at 42,000 and Orphans to be 158,400[8] and this number could be much high for the last one decade. The exposure of people to violence remains high in Kashmir with people witnessing cross fires, raids, torture, sexual assaults forced labour, arrests, maltreatment, disappearance and killing[9]. Unemployment stood at 5.5% against the national rate of 2.6% according to Action aid in 2016.

The Conflict Dynamics

The state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has been the scene of a longstanding dispute between India, Pakistan, the Kashmiri population, and to a lesser extent China since its accession to India on 26 of October 1947[10].  When the British announced their plan to partition British India on 3rd June 1947, and informed the princely states that British would not be able to recognised them as independent dominions and expected them to make arrangements with either  India or Pakistan. The Maharaja (King) was informed by congress members that he should ready to join any of the states given the fact that 77% of his subjects were Muslims; he would do well to certain the wishes of his people[11]. After Independence in 1949, the Maharaja had no agreement with either countries and in the following weeks Pakistan began to exert pressure on the Kashmir valley[12]  this forced the king to ask India for support and hence India send troops to the valley to protect the King from any aggression from Pakistan on 27 October 1947[13].  It is important to note that the states accession to India in 1947 was provisional. This understanding is formally acknowledged in the UN security Council resolution of August 13, 1948 and January 1949 to which both Pakistan and India agreed to which remains fully in force today and cannot be unilaterally discarded by either party until a referendum takes in which the people can then decide decision India is opposed to.

Between 1947 and 1988 the Indian and Pakistani government entrench themselves in their positions and rhetoric regarding the Kashmir issue. India’s position is that the whole of J&K was signed over to India while Pakistan insists that the plebiscite should take place.  India and Pakistan have fought a number of wars and India develops clear military superiority over Pakistan.  Pakistan also ‘donates’ a part of Kashmir (the Korakoram valley which is part of Gilgit) to China and China built a road between China and Pakistan. India fought a war with China and loses a large section of Ladakh.  India also consolidates its position over Iadahk by integrating its territory into the Indian union. At this point, many Kashmiri youths choose violent recourse and the militancy began.

In 1989 an armed insurgency started in Kashmir valley after local elections were allegedly rigged and the results not accepted by most Kashmiri. This armed “struggle” is explained differently depending on who you listen to. Most Kashmiri’s see it as a fight for freedom, India often sees it as a proxy war fought by Pakistan, Pakistan likes to portray it as a fight by Kashmiri’s to join Pakistan, and some extremist religious groups see it as part of the holy Jihad for Islam.

During the height of the armed struggle, 1989-2002, there were frequent grenade blasts, encounters and Fidayeen attacks (attacks by fighters who expect to die in battle) which affected the daily lives of ordinary Kashmiri. India responded to the violence by setting up an enormous security apparatus in the valley and the presence of security forces remains overwhelming even now. Human rights abuses were reported from both the militants and the government forces, unwarranted arrests, extra-judicial killings, disappearance, encounters, house-to-house searches, abductions and torture were regular occurrences.

Since the early 2000’s the armed struggle has gradually changed into a civil struggle, a ceasefire agreement along the line of control (LoC) was signed in 2003 (however regularly broken) and from 2008 onwards the most commonly seen acts of resistance are strikes, often called by the separatist leaders and massive protest rallies by the general population. There have been continues acts of “civil unrest”. In  July 2016 and the February 2019 Pulwama attacks in which some 40 Indian special forces were reported killed in a suicide attack and this affect the daily lives of people in a significant way and sometimes lead to a complete standstill of normal life for days, weeks or even months at a time. Regular grenade attacks and shootouts between government forces and militants still continue to this day, often on a weekly basis.  In an interview with association of the disappeared persons in Kashmir, since 1989 to date, 8000 people have disappeared in Kashmir as a result of the conflict

The Recent Events: Communication Blockage and How It Has Led to Medical and Other Humanitarian Crises

India does not have the ‘traditional’ humanitarian setup like in many conflict regions. While tens of thousands of NGO’s are present throughout the country, most are working on ‘development’ issues, addressing poverty or advocating, often ‘on behalf of marginalized groups’. Only a few NGO’s work in the heart of conflicts including in Kashmir and their activities are very restricted and monitored as a result; most International Organisation are based in Delhi and have liaison office in Srinagar, today only UNICEF, MSF, ACTION, SAVE THE CHILDREN and ICRC are the few organizations with liaison office in the Kashmir Valley. The ICRC is not proactive in Kashmir because of the sensitivity of Kashmir conflict, they as the custodian of international humanitarian law are not able to question the detention of political prisoners and have limited freedom to work and have basically gone low profile for now. The situation in Kashmir changed dramatically on the 5th and the 6th of August as the lower and upper houses voted the revocation of articles 370 and 35A without prior consultations or discussions with stakeholders in Kashmir. Weeks before, Government sent more militaries and reinforced its presence along the LoC without giving explanation. One week before the votes, Government also ask the pilgrims and tourists to leave Kashmir without notice. That created a lot of confusion, fears and panics among the population, as they did not know the reason for those moves and could only rely on rumours.

Since then, there has been complete lockdown of the valley with no means of communication. Internet and Mobile service have been shut down. There has been international concern over situation in the valley. It has affected every life of the people, businesses (tourism that always boomed) including hotels, private hospital, drug shop, grocery shops have been severely affect. There have been some statements from the EU, The US senator Bernie Sanders[14] as well and protest from Pakistan against the Indian decision to revoke the status of the and Pakistan Prime Minster called on what he calls “Kashmir hour” in which Pakistan come out every Friday to protest the decision of India.  An interview with the Hospital authorities Srinagar, confirmed that the hospital have been receiving cases of pellet victims. It is important to note because of the long history of conflict, Kashmir has some of the highest rates of mental health issues according to MSF Kashmir mental health survey 2015 which puts the figure at 45% of the adults[15].  And a study by Action Aid in 2016 found 58.69 % of respondents have been exposed to traumatic experiences[16].

In  interviews in several hospitals, Psychiatrists report a 50 % increase of mental health patients in the last three weeks and are having difficulties to cope with the situation. The doctors reported cases of relapse of patients because of the recent happenings. Some hospitals like Pulwama see between 100-150 patients a day and out of these ¾ have no access to medications. There complete shutdown of public transport in the valley has worsened human suffering as main people are not able to move around. Businesses are also shut; shopkeepers mostly open their shops early morning and late evening mostly for people to access basic food items. However, most of the day, fruits and vegetables can be purchased by the roadside where most of the traders sit to sale these items.

Schools have been closed since then.  Children’s lives have been restricted to homes and their normal life has come to a standstill. In an interview with UNICEF staff,  this situation has taken a toll on the psychological wellbeing of children, as they are not allowed to leave their houses and are not been able to access the child friendly spaces that was set by UNICEF in different communities for children to interact and get Psychological first aid.

Some hospital heads seemed sceptical about medical supplies, and said  medical supplies are not being replenished, hospital have been ordered to only take emergency not regular check-ups but still in a few days, hospitals will face acute shortage of medical supplies in the situation remains. Medical superintendent of a Hospital said in an interview said,

‘ I can’t put an official request to the outside world even though I know we have run out of lifesaving supplies in the hospital.

From pharmacies, we found out that even though some are open most of the day, it is unusual to see them selling alternative drugs to clients than prescribed as they have no new supplies coming in. A doctor told said  an interview that,

due to lack of cellular network, medical teams at hospitals are facing difficulties in communicating to each other at the time medical emergencies like thrombolysis for stroke and heart attack patients and we see people dying but we can’t do nothing.

At the time of writing, It was not clear as to when this communication blockade with be lifted and if this continues it might lead more unprecedent tragedies as  there is rising anger and frustrations among the population if not addressed immediately.

Recommendations

  1. There should be a space for dialogue between Indian central government and state government in J&K to discuss issues that are at stake including giving access to justice to those political prisoners who have been arrested and detained without trail.
  2. There has to be a balance media reporting, you can’t humiliate and add salt to the wound, different media houses in India have been blaming the militants (terrorist) for misusing the article 370 and sweep under the carpet the fact that the people’s opinions were not sought through a referendum.
  3. There needs to be a plan for civic education for the people on what article 370 actually meant for them and what the reconvocations means and how they will benefit from it and during this time, there must be space given to the people to have their say.
  4. New Delhi needs to set a good governance and administration in the state to facilitate a process of dialogue with the people.
  5. It is in the interest of the government to open communication to give a chance for the people to vent their anger. Even though New Delhi argues that shutting communication had reduced violence, It is not a solution to the conflict. The problem has been postponed and we expect it come soon.
  6. Give the youth space and listen to them instead of labelling the Militants and giving them names, bring them on board so that they can have their space to talk. They are the majority population and unemployment is high, offer them alternatives so that they can think positively.

Conclusion

The Kashmir conflict is complex with both national and international dynamics. A single solution at one level will not work; rather, having multiple solutions at different actor/levels keeping their interests in mind will include Pakistan, India China negotiated by the UN at one level (track one), and having Indian government and state based authority negotiated by France for example (track 2) and graft home based solution in consultation with religious, community leaders, scholars and civil society negotiated by representatives of civil society in a neutral country (track 3) that could benefit both New Delhi and the people of Kashmir would be the ideal thing to do. As said above, it is in the interest of New Delhi to open the space for communication with the people before it gets too late. Remember a problem postponed only leads to more problems in the near future.

NOTES:

[1] Government of J7K (2019) A single constitution for entire country: How J&K and Ladakh benefit?. Rising Kashmir 3 September, p. 1

[2] United Nations (1948-2008) Universal declaration of human rights: Dignity and justice for all. New York,  UN press, p.3-4

[3] Economist Intelligence Unit (February 2019) India Country Report Country Report Available at www.eiu.com [Accessed on 6 September 2019].

[4] Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (n.d) Country policy paper 2017

[5]Lederach, John Paul (2003) The little book of conflict transformation: Clear Articulation of the Guiding Principles by A pioneer in the Field. Pennsylvania, USA: Good Books, p.-4-5

[6] Galtung, J. 2004. Transcend transformation: An Introduction to Conflict work. London, UK: Pluto Press 4-5

[7] Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) 2011-2014 Country policy paper (n.d)

[8] Dr. Bashir Ahmad, Dabla (2010) A sociological study of windows and orphans in Kashmir, p. 22-25

[9] Schofild, (2000 and Jong 2008 in Action aid 2016) Mental Health illness in the valley, A community-based prevalence study of mental health issues in Kashmir, p.10

[10] Abudl Majid Mattu (2002) The Kashmir issues: A historical perspective M/S Ali Mohammad &Sons, p.v-vi

[11] Prem Shankar Jha  (1996) Kashmir 1947: Rival version of History Oxford University Press, p.1-10

[12] Stanley in Jinnah of Pakistan; Letters of the kink 7November 1947 (OUP, New York, 1948; rpted OUP, Dlehi 1948) and  Lamb, Op. cit.,p. 126

[13] Prem, Shankar, Jha  (1996) Kashmir 1947: Rival version of History Oxford University Press, p.1-10

[14] Greater Kashmir Sunday 1st September 2019 US senator concerned about the situation in Kashmir- 2

[15] Muntazar (2015) Kashmir mental health survey. Mediciesn sans Frontieres, p. 9

[16] Action Aid India, Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences Kashmir and Humanitarian and Civil protection 2016. Mental Health illness in the valley, A community-based prevalence study of mental health issues in Kashmir 10-12

__________________________________________________

Irene Dawa, from Uganda, holds an MA in Peace and Conflict Studies from the European Peace University in Austria and an MA in International Relations and Economics from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, Italy. She has worked in Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, DRC, Liberia, USA and India. Her research focuses on women peace and security, sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict, protection, conflict sensitive programming, and project development and management. She is currently perusing a PhD in Peace Studies at the Durban University of Technology in South Africa. Iryndahda@gmail.com


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 7 Oct 2019.

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