By Francesca Mele
On August 5, 2019, the Indian government announced the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted independence to Kashmir since 1947, when after a dispute over the territory’s independence and a Pakistani’s attack, Kashmir turned to India to ask for protection. The intervention of the Indian government in defence of Kashmir took place on the condition that from that moment on, the first one would be in charge of external affairs, defence and communications. Thus, Kashmir was not granted complete independence. As the Minister of Home Affairs Shri Amit Shah affirmed, “Article 370 has prevented J&K to merge with India rather than being a basis of its merger” and “ is equally harmful for people of all religion”. The reference to religion is important because Indian-administered Kashmir entails Kashmir Valley, Jammu, and Ladakh, counting respectively 95%, 30% and 46% of Muslims in their population.
This dispute is characterized by a degree of complexity that has persisted for years. Suffice it to say that in 1957, an Indian diplomat by the name of Krishna Menon set the record for the longest speech, which is 8 hours, before the UN Security Council talking about the reasons why Kashmir should be considered as a part of India.
Probably the importance of the state lies in political, geographical and economic reasons: for India, it was about a desire to create a secular and democratic state; for Pakistan, it was about a region that could be home for South Asian Muslims. Furthermore, it is a central territory between three nuclear power states, strategic position, with great resources and “out of six rivers that run through Pakistan three of them which include River Jhelum, Indus and Chenab originate from Kashmir while the remaining Rivers Bias, Ravi and Sutlej have their origin source in India” (R. S. Hashmi, A. Sajid, Kashmir Conflict: The Nationalistic Perspective (A Pre-Partition Phenomenon, p.228).
Nowadays it raised concern for human rights violations, as a report released by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in July 2019 claimed. In particular, the OHCHR pinpoints two laws that constitute a threat to human rights, that are 1) public safety act (PSA), 1978, 2) armed forces (Jammu and Kashmir) special powers act (AFSPA), 1990. With PSA, a person could be detained for up to two years due to security reasons and public order. The AFSPA granted immunity to security forces making them unaccountable for what happened during possible unrest. Section 7 doesn’t allow prosecution against military forces before the government agreement. In 2018, 160 civilians were killed.
To the list, OHCHR adds other violations such as excessive use of force, arbitrary detention, restrictions on freedom of assembly and association, censorship and restrictions to freedom of expression. In particular, restrictions to freedom of expression is a recent concern for India’s Supreme Court. After the abrogation, Kashmir was subjected to curfew and interruptions to the normal functioning of means of communication. Internet services were suspended for more than 150 days.
The Supreme Court asked New Delhi to review the suspension within a week because it compromises freedom of expression and the enjoyment of human rights. The government has until now explained its rule due to order reasons. As Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, “It’s significant in the sense that the Supreme Court has in principle laid down that access to the internet is a fundamental right. It’s a basic right and cannot be denied”.
- Should Internet access be considered a basic human right?
- What should be the limits to the actions taken on behalf of maintaining “public order”?
- Is India’s Supreme Court going to rule against the crackdown?
R. S. Hashmi, A. Sajid, Kashmir Conflict: The Nationalistic Perspective (A Pre-Partition Phenomenon, South Asian Studies, Vol. 32, N. 1, 2017.