[News] India has confined 7 million Kashmiris and imposed a complete communications blackout

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 16 11:08:58 EDT 2019


  The Silence Is the Loudest Sound

*The Indian government has confined about seven million Kashmiris to 
their homes and imposed a complete communications blackout*

Arundhati Roy - August 15, 2019

NEW DELHI — As India celebrates her 73rd year of independence from 
British rule, ragged children thread their way through traffic in Delhi, 
selling outsized national flags and souvenirs that say, “Mera Bharat 
Mahan.” My India is Great. Quite honestly, it’s hard to feel that way 
right now, because it looks very much as though our government has gone 

Last week it unilaterally breached 
fundamental conditions of the Instrument of Accession, by which the 
former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India in 1947. In 
preparation for this, at midnight on Aug. 4, it turned all of Kashmir 
into a giant prison camp 
Seven million Kashmiris were barricaded in their homes, internet 
connections were cut and their phones went dead.

On Aug. 5, India’s home minister proposed in Parliament that Article 370 
of the Indian Constitution 
(the article that outlines the legal obligations 
arise from the Instrument of Accession) be overturned. The opposition 
parties rolled over. By the next evening the Jammu and Kashmir 
Reorganization Act, 2019 had been passed by the upper as well as the 
lower house.

The act strips the State of Jammu and Kashmir of its special status — 
which includes its right to have its own constitution and its own flag. 
It also strips it of statehood and partitions it into two Union 
territories. The first, Jammu and Kashmir, will be administered directly 
by the central government in New Delhi, although it will continue to 
have a locally elected legislative assembly but one with drastically 
reduced powers. The second, Ladakh, will be administered directly from 
New Delhi 
and will not have a legislative assembly.

The passing of the act was welcomed in Parliament by the very British 
tradition of desk-thumping. There was a distinct whiff of colonialism in 
the air. The masters were pleased that a recalcitrant colony had 
finally, formally, been brought under the crown. For its own good. Of 

Indian citizens can now buy land and settle in their new domain. The new 
territories are open for business. Already India’s richest 
industrialist, Mukesh Ambani, of Reliance Industries, has promised 
several “announcements.” What this might mean to the fragile Himalayan 
of Ladakh and Kashmir, the land of vast glaciers, high-altitude lakes 
and five major rivers, barely bears consideration.

The dissolution of the legal entity of the state also means the 
dissolution of Article 35A, which granted residents rights and 
that made them stewards of their own territory. So, “being open for 
business,” it must be clarified, can also include Israeli-style 
settlements and Tibet-style population transfers.

For Kashmiris, in particular, this has been an old, primal fear. Their 
recurring nightmare (an inversion of the one being peddled by Donald 
Trump) of being swept away by a tidal wave of triumphant Indians wanting 
a little home in their sylvan valley could easily come true.

As news of the new act spread, Indian nationalists of all stripes 
cheered. The mainstream media, for the most part, made a low, sweeping 
bow. There was dancing in the streets and horrifying misogyny on the 
internet. Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of the state of Haryana, 
bordering Delhi, while speaking about the improvement he had brought 
about in the skewed gender ratio in his state, joked 
<https://twitter.com/manakgupta/status/1160083098253455360>: “Our 
Dhakarji used to say we will bring in girls from Bihar. Now they say 
Kashmir is open, we can bring girls from there.”

Amid these vulgar celebrations the loudest sound, however, is the 
deathly silence from Kashmir’s patrolled, barricaded streets 
and its approximately seven million caged, humiliated people, stitched 
down by razor wire, spied on by drones, living under a complete 
communications blackout. That in this age of information, a government 
can so easily cut off a whole population from the rest of the world for 
days at a time, says something serious about the times we are heading 

Kashmir, they often say, is the unfinished business of the “Partition.” 
That word suggests that in 1947, when the British drew their famously 
careless border 
the subcontinent, there was a “whole” that was then partitioned. In 
truth, there was no “whole.” Apart from the territory of British India, 
there were hundreds of sovereign principalities, each of which 
individually negotiated the terms on which it would merge with either 
India or Pakistan. Many thatdid not wish to merge 
<https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24159594> were forced to.

While Partition and the horrifying violence that it caused is a deep, 
unhealed wound in the memory of the subcontinent, the violence of those 
times, as well as in the years since, in India and Pakistan, has as much 
to do with assimilation as it does with partition. In India the project 
of assimilation, which goes under the banner of nation-building, has 
meant that there has not been a single year since 1947 when the Indian 
Army has not been deployed within India’s borders against its “own 
people.” The list is long — Kashmir, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, 
Hyderabad, Assam.

The business of assimilation has been complicated and painful and has 
cost tens of thousands of lives. What is unfolding today on both sides 
of the border of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir is the 
unfinished business of assimilation.

What happened in the Indian Parliament last week was tantamount to 
cremating the Instrument of Accession 
It was a document with a complicated provenance that had been signed by 
a discredited king, the Dogra Hindu King, Maharaja Hari Singh. His 
unstable, tattered kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir lay on the fault lines 
of the new border between India and Pakistan.

The rebellions that had broken out against him in 1945 had been 
aggravated and subsumed by the spreading bush fires of Partition. In the 
western mountain district of Poonch, Muslims, who were the majority, 
turned on the Maharaja’s forces and on Hindu civilians. In Jammu, to the 
south, the Maharaja’s forces assisted by troops borrowed from other 
princely states, massacred Muslims. Historians and news reports of the 
time estimated that somewhere between 70,000 and 200,000 were murdered 
<https://kashmirlife.net/circa-1947-a-long-story-67652/> in the streets 
of the city, and in its neighboring districts.

Inflamed by the news of the Jammu massacre, Pakistani “irregulars” 
swooped down from the mountains of the North Western Frontier Province, 
burning and pillaging their way across the Kashmir Valley. Hari Singh 
fled from Kashmir to Jammu from where he appealed to Jawaharlal Nehru, 
the Indian prime minister, for help. The document that provided legal 
cover for the Indian Army to enter Kashmir was the Instrument of 

The Indian Army, with some help from local people, pushed back the 
Pakistani “irregulars,” but only as far as the ring of mountains on the 
edge of the valley. The former Dogra kingdom now lay divided between 
India and Pakistan. The Instrument of Accession was meant to be ratified 
by a referendum <https://undocs.org/S/RES/47(1948)> to ascertain the 
will of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. That promised referendum never 
took place. So was born the subcontinent’s most intractable and 
dangerous political problem.

In the 72 years since then, successive Indian governments have 
undermined terms of the Instrument of Accession until all that was left 
of it was the skeletal structure. Now even that has been shot to hell.

It would be foolhardy to try to summarize the twists and turns of how 
things have come to this. Let’s just say that it’s as complicated and as 
dangerous as the games the United States played with its puppet regimes 
in South Vietnam all through the 50s and 60s.

After a long history of electoral manipulation, the watershed moment 
came in 1987 when New Delhi flagrantly rigged the state elections. By 
1989, the thus far mostly nonviolent demand for self-determination grew 
into a full-throated freedom struggle 
Hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the streets only to be cut 
down in massacre after massacre.

The Kashmir valley soon thronged with militants, Kashmiri men from both 
sides of the border, as well as foreign fighters, trained and armed by 
Pakistan and embraced, for the most part, by the Kashmiri people. Once 
again, Kashmir was caught up in the political winds that were blowing 
across the subcontinent — an increasingly radicalized Islam from 
Pakistan and Afghanistan, quite foreign to Kashmiri culture, and the 
fanatical Hindu nationalism that was on the rise in India.

The first casualty of the uprising was the age-old bond between 
Kashmir’s Muslims and its tiny minority of Hindus, known locally as 
Pandits. When the violence began, according to the Kashmiri Pandit 
Sangharsh Samiti, or the K.P.S.S., an organization run by Kashmiri 
Pandits, about 400 Pandits were targeted and murdered by militants. By 
the end of 1990 
according to a government estimate, 25,000 Pandit families had left the 

They lost their homes, their homeland and everything they had. Over the 
years thousands more left — almost the entire population 
As the conflict continued, in addition to tens of thousands of Muslims, 
the K.P.S.S. says 650Pandits have been killed 
the conflict.

Since then, great numbers of Pandits have lived in miserable refugee 
camps in Jammu city. Thirty years have gone by, yet successive 
governments in New Delhi have not tried to help them return home. They 
have preferred instead to keep them in limbo, and stir their anger and 
understandable bitterness into a mephitic brew with which to fuel 
India’s dangerous and extremely effective nationalistic narrative about 
Kashmir. In this version, a single aspect of an epic tragedy is cannily 
and noisily used to draw a curtain across the rest of the horror.

Today Kashmir is one of the most or perhaps /the/ most densely 
militarized zone in the world. More than a half-million soldiers have 
been deployed to counter what the army itself admits is now just a 
handful of “terrorists.” If there were any doubt earlier it should be 
abundantly clear by now that their real enemy is the Kashmiri people. 
What India has done in Kashmir over the last 30 years is unforgivable. 
An estimated 70,000 people, civilians, militants and security forces 
have been killed in the conflict. Thousands have been “disappeared,” 
and tens of thousands have passed through torture chambers that dot the 
valley like a network of small-scale Abu Ghraibs 

Over the last few years, hundreds of teenagers have been blinded 
by the use of pellet-firing shotguns, the security establishment’s new 
weapon of choice for crowd control. Most militants operating in the 
valley today are young Kashmiris, armed and trained locally. They do 
what they do knowing full well that the minute they pick up a gun, their 
“shelf life” is unlikely to be more than six months. Each time a 
“terrorist” is killed, Kashmiris turn up in their tens of thousands to 
bury a young man whom they revere as a /shaheed/, a martyr.

These are only the rough coordinates of a 30-year-old military 
occupation. The most cruel effects of an occupation that has lasted 
decades are impossible to describe in an account as short as this.

In Narendra Modi’s first term as India’s prime minister, his hard-line 
approach exacerbated the violence in Kashmir. In February, after a 
Kashmiri suicide bomber 
killed 40 Indian security personnel, India launched an airstrike against 
Pakistan. Pakistan retaliated. They became the first two nuclear powers 
in history to actually launch airstrikes against each other. Now two 
months into Narendra Modi’s second term, his government has played its 
most dangerous card of all. It has tossed a lit match into a powder keg.

If that were not bad enough, the cheap, deceitful way in which it did it 
is disgraceful. In the last week of July, 45,000 extra troops were 
rushed into Kashmir 
various pretexts. The one that got the most traction was that there was 
a Pakistani “terror” threat to the Amarnath Yatra 
— the annual pilgrimage in which hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees 
trek (or are carried by Kashmiri porters) through high mountains to 
visit the Amarnath cave and pay their respects to a natural ice 
formation that they believe is an avatar of Shiva.

On Aug. 1, some Indian television networks announced 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ta1Dj9LHgM> that a land mine with 
Pakistani Army markings on it had been found on the pilgrimage route. On 
Aug. 2, the government published a notice asking all pilgrims (and even 
tourists who were miles from the pilgrimage route) to leave the valley 
That set off a panicky exodus. The approximately 200,000 Indian migrant 
day laborers in Kashmir were clearly not a concern to those supervising 
the evacuation. Too poor to matter, I’m guessing. By Saturday, Aug. 3, 
tourists and pilgrims had left and the security forces had taken up 
position across the valley.

By midnight Sunday, Kashmiris were barricaded in their homes, and all 
communication networks went down. The next morning, we learned that, 
along with several hundred others, three former chief ministers, Farooq 
Abdullah, his son, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference and Mehbooba 
Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party 
had been arrested. Those are the mainstream pro-India politicians who 
have carried India’s water through the years of insurrection.

Newspapers report that the Jammu & Kashmir police force has been 
More than anybody else, these local police men have put their bodies on 
the front line, have done the groundwork, provided the apparatus of the 
occupation with the intelligence that it needs, done the brutal bidding 
of their masters and, for their pains, earned the contempt of their own 
people. All to keep the Indian flag flying in Kashmir. And now, when the 
situation is nothing short of explosive, they are going to be fed to the 
furious mob like so much cannon fodder.

The betrayal and public humiliation of India’s allies by Narendra Modi’s 
government comes from a kind of hubris and ignorance that has gutted the 
sly, elaborate structures painstakingly cultivated over decades by 
cunning, but consummate, Indian statecraft. Now that that’s done — it is 
down to the Street vs. the Soldier. Apart from what it does to the young 
Kashmiris on the street, it is also a preposterous thing to do to soldiers.

The more militant sections of the Kashmiri population, who have been 
demanding the right to self-determination or merger with Pakistan, have 
little regard for India’s laws or constitution. They will no doubt be 
pleased that those they see as collaborators have been sold down the 
river and that the game of smoke and mirrors is finally over. It might 
be too soon for them to rejoice. Because as sure as eggs are eggs and 
fish are fish, there will be new smoke and new mirrors. And new 
political parties. And a new game in town.

On Aug. 8, four days into the lockdown, Narendra Modi appeared on 
television <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0bNYhPJnxk> to address an 
ostensibly celebrating India and an incarcerated Kashmir. He sounded 
like a changed man. Gone was his customary aggression and his jarring, 
accusatory tone. Instead he spoke with the tenderness of a young mother. 
It’s his most chilling avatar to date.

His voice quivered and his eyes shone with unspilled tears as he listed 
the slew of benefits that would rain down on the people of the former 
State of Jammu and Kashmir, now that it was rid of its old, corrupt 
leaders, and was going to be ruled directly from New Delhi. He evoked 
the marvels of Indian modernity as though he were educating a bunch of 
feudal peasants who had emerged from a time capsule. He spoke of how 
Bollywood films would once again be shot in their verdant valley.

He didn’t explain why Kashmiris needed to be locked down and put under a 
communications blockade while he delivered his stirring speech. He 
didn’t explain why the decision that supposedly benefited them so hugely 
was taken without consulting them. He didn’t say how the great gifts of 
Indian democracy could be enjoyed by a people who live under a military 
occupation. He remembered to greet them in advance for Eid, a few days 
away. But he didn’t promise that the lockdown would be lifted for the 
festival. It wasn’t.

The next morning, the Indian newspapers and several liberal 
commentators, including some of Narendra Modi’s most trenchant critics 
gushed over his moving speech. Like true colonials, many in India who 
are so alert to infringements of their own rights and liberties, have a 
completely different standard for Kashmiris.

On Thursday, Aug. 15, in his Independence Day speech, Narendra Modi 
boasted from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort that his government 
finally had achieved India’s dream of “One Nation, One Constitution, 
with his Kashmir move. But just the previous evening, rebel groups in 
several troubled states in the north east of India 
many of which have Special Status like the erstwhile State of Jammu and 
Kashmir, announced a boycott of Independence Day. While Narendra Modi’s 
Red Fort audience cheered, about seven million Kashmiris remained locked 
down. The communication shutdown, we now hear, could be extended for 
some time to come.

When it ends, as it must, the violence that will spiral out of Kashmir 
will inevitably spill into India. It will be used to further inflame the 
hostility against Indian Muslims 
who are already being demonized, ghettoized, pushed down the economic 
ladder, and, with terrifying regularity, lynched 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFRuKs7ZfEk>. The state will use it as 
an opportunity to close in on others, too — the activists, lawyers, 
artists, students, intellectuals, journalists — who have protested 
courageously and openly.

The danger will come from many directions. The most powerful 
organization in India, the far-right Hindu nationalist Rashtriya 
Swayamsevak Sangh, or the R.S.S. 
with more than 600,000 members including Narendra Modi and many of his 
ministers, has a trained “volunteer” militia, inspired by Mussolini’s 
Black Shirts. With each passing day, the R.S.S. tightens its grip on 
every institution of the Indian state. In truth, it has reached a point 
when it more or less /is /the state.

In the benevolent shadow of such a state, numerous smaller Hindu 
vigilante organizations 
the storm troopers of the Hindu Nation, have mushroomed across the 
country, and are conscientiously going about their deadly business.

Intellectuals and academics 
are a major preoccupation. In May, the morning after the Bharatiya 
Janata Party won the general elections, Ram Madhav, a general secretary 
of the party and a former spokesman for the R.S.S., wrote that the 
“remnants” of the “pseudo-secular/liberal cartels that held a 
disproportionate sway and stranglehold over the intellectual and policy 
establishment of the country … need to be discarded 
the country’s academic, cultural and intellectual landscape.”

On Aug. 1, in preparation for that “discarding,” the already draconian 
Unlawful Activities Prevention Act was amended to expand the definition 
of “terrorist” to include individuals, not just organizations. The 
amendment allows the government to designate any individual as a 
following the due process of a First Information Report, charge sheet, 
trial and conviction. Just who — just what kind of individuals it means 
— was clear when in Parliament, Amit Shah, our chilling home minister, 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnd_ELCFhCM>said: “Sir, guns do not 
give rise to terrorism, the root of terrorism is the propaganda 
<https://thewire.in/rights/uapa-bjp-terrorist-amit-shah-nia> that is 
done to spread it … And if all such individuals are designated 
terrorists, I don’t think any member of Parliament should have any 

Several of us felt his cold eyes staring straight at us. It didn’t help 
to know that he has done time as the main accused in a series of murders 
in his home state, Gujarat. His trial judge, Justice Brijgopal Harkishen 
Loya <https://caravanmagazine.in/tag/loya>, died mysteriously during the 
trial and was replaced by another who acquitted him speedily. Emboldened 
by all this, far-right television anchors on hundreds of India’s news 
networks, now openly denounce dissidents, make wild allegations about 
them and call for their arrest, or worse. “Lynched by TV,” is likely to 
be the new political phenomenon in India.

As the world looks on, the architecture of Indian fascism is quickly 
being put into place.

I was booked to fly to Kashmir to see some friends on July 28. The 
whispers about trouble, and troops being flown in, had already begun. I 
was of two minds about going. A friend of mine and I were chatting about 
it at my home. He is a senior doctor at a government hospital who has 
dedicated his life to public service, and happens to be Muslim. We 
started talking about the new phenomenon of mobs surrounding people, 
Muslims in particular, and forcing them to chant “Jai Shri Ram 
<https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-48882053>!” (“Victory to 
Lord Ram!”)

If Kashmir is occupied by security forces, India is occupied by the mob.

He said he had been thinking about that, too, because he often drove on 
the highways out of Delhi to visit his family who live some hours away.

“I could easily be stopped,” he said.

“You must say it then,” I said. “You must survive.”

“I won’t,” he said, “because they’ll kill me either way. That’s what 
they did to Tabrez Ansari 

These are the conversations we are having in India while we wait for 
Kashmir to speak. And speak it surely will.

Arundhati Roy is the author of the novel “The Ministry of Utmost 
Happiness.” Her most recent book is a collection of essays, “My 
Seditious Heart.”

/The Times is committed to publishing //a diversity of letters/ 
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And here’s our email: //letters at nytimes.com/ <mailto:letters at nytimes.com>/./


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