27 Oct 2022
LAHORE: Speakers in the Asma Jahangir Conference’s session on Kashmir have called on India and Pakistan to initiate dialogue over the disputed region stalled for several years due to hostilities between the South Asian states.
Victoria Schofield, British author and historian, moderated the session titled “Kashmir and Religious Intolerance in India/State of Minorities in Kashmir”. The panellists included Christine Chung, Human Rights Officer in the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, Muzzammil Ayyub Thakkur, President, World Kashmir Freedom Movement, Tapan K Bose, Indian activist and director of South Asia Forum for Human Rights, Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, Indian social and women’s rights activist, and Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International India.
However, given the current poor relations between the two countries, the speakers expressed little optimism that a change in the current status quo would be forthcoming in the immediate future.
Recommendations in UN reports on Kashmir still not implemented: Chung
Christine Chung, Human Rights Officer in the Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights, dilated on the UN reports about rights abuses in Kashmir. “The OCHR report in 2018 was the first report by the United Nations about the human rights situation in Kashmir,” Chung said. She said the report was followed by another report the next year which covered the human rights situation in Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control.
Chung said that the findings of both UN reports which came out before the profound changes of August 2019 that affected one portion of the disputed territory, were not outdated. “The impunity for such violations continues and in fact deteriorated there,” she added.
Chung regretted that the recommendations listed in both reports for the international community and governments in India and Pakistan had not been implemented. “The UN reports were an acknowledgement of the grave situation in Kashmir,” she said.
Chung said the OHCHR continued to monitor the human rights situation on both sides of LoC in Kashmir. “The communications to India and Pakistan over special procedures of the Human Rights Council is a continuation of the documentation of human rights abuses in Kashmir,” she emphasised.
Muzzammil Ayyub Thakkur, President, World Kashmir Freedom Movement, spoke about his experiences as an indigenous Kashmiri. Thakkur said he was born in exile but the Indian government had launched several cases against him despite his living abroad. “Kashmiris living abroad still face consequences, pointing out just a little as to what Kashmiris inside India have to deal with,” he added.
Kashmir is an open-air prison: Thakkur
Thakkur called Kashmir a literally open-air prison, adding that Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi was recently denied permission to visit the region. He said Kashmir was undergoing occupation, subjugation, rapes and gang rapes, thousands of killings, and the destruction of businesses, properties, and infrastructure. Besides, it has witnessed media blackouts, genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, enforced disappearances, and staged encounters. Every single family in Kashmir has a story to tell the world,” he added. “A human rights apocalypse is happening in Kashmir not seen since the Holocaust,” Thakkur revealed.
BJP abrogated Article 370 to please Hindu vote bank: Bose
Participating virtually in the session, Tapan K Bose, Indian activist and director of South Asia Forum for Human Rights, said the Bhartiya Janta Party had abrogated the special status of Kashmir under Article 370 in order to woo the Hindu vote bank in India. According to the Modi-led government, they had resolved the issue of Kashmir by integrating the disputed territory into India. Bose said New Delhi had weakened its claim to Gilgit-Baltistan by turning the Line of Control into an international border between India and Pakistan.
Kashmiri women bravely facing consequences of Article 370 abrogation: Syeda Hameed
Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, an Indian social and women’s rights activist, paid tribute late Asma Jahangir saying the late human rights icon had toured the Kashmir valley alongside her and her spirit still hovers there. She quoted a Kashmiri pandit as saying that the abrogation of Article 370 has made Kashmir more dangerous than the uprising in 1990. Hameed said she was part of a women’s delegation that visited Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370. The Kashmiri women said they did not allow their men and young boys to go out of their homes after dark, fearing that they would be killed or become victims of enforced disappearance, she said, adding that women took the lead role in handling worsening circumstances in Kashmir.
Syeda Saiyidain Hameed also referred to Parveena Ahangar, a Kashmiri woman who was highlighting cases of hundreds of missing persons in Kashmir by holding a protest in Srinagar every month for over three decades.
India promulgated several laws against Muslim minorities
Speaking virtually in the session, Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International India, highlighted numerous laws in India that were promulgated against Muslim minorities there. He said the beef laws in certain states, the national registry of citizen legislation and the ban on interfaith marriages were all targeted against Muslim minorities. “The Modi-led Indian cabinet does not have a single minister or a member of the lower house who is a Muslim,” he revealed, stating that the Muslim population in India was around 200 million.
The journalist and rights activists said the European Parliament had condemned India over discriminatory laws against Muslim minorities. “It is due to pressure from the European Union that New Delhi has stopped the implementation of the discriminatory citizenship law,” he pointed out.
The panellists discussed all aspects of the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. The session highlighted the significance of the 2018 and 2019 United Nations reports. The speakers also dilated on the suffering of the inhabitants, especially in the valley and of the women, while the dispute remained unresolved. The overall discrimination which was developing against Muslims throughout India, and the potential for demographic change in the valley of Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 also came under discussion.
With the concurrence of the panel, it was resolved that it was imperative for discussions to be initiated between India and Pakistan which included representatives from the various regions in the state. As the moderator, Victoria Schofield pointed out that in order for there to be a resolution of the issue the focus could not simply be on the valley. However, given the current poor relations between the two countries, there was little optimism that a change in the current status quo would be forthcoming in the immediate future.