A year later, Canada’s silence on Kashmir is even more deafening

Lack of media attention given to Kashmir remains striking
Photo: Becker1999 / Flickr Creative Commons
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It has been a year since Indian occupied Kashmir was put under military lockdown. The Kashmiri people lost their autonomous status on Aug. 5, 2019, when Prime Minister Modi arbitrarily revoked Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution.

Article 370 had provided special status for Jammu and Kashmir, while the Kashmiri people waited for the plebiscite promised to them through United Nations Security Council Resolution 47 in 1948. Article 35A had been in place since 1927, and provided protection from altering its demography.

The day before, internet and telephone services were cut, curfews enacted, public assembly prohibited, and thousands — including minors and almost all elected officials of Jammu and Kashmir — were put under preventative detention.

The world seemed to wake up after decades of slumber over Kashmir. Thousands came out in the streets, including in Canada. Media ran articles. For the first time since 1971, Kashmir was the main topic of discussion before the UN Security Council.

In December 2019, as part of a Canadian human rights delegation, I visited Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Large signs posted the number of days of lockdown — about 150 when we left. We hoped to be able to visit Indian-occupied Kashmir (IOK), but it was not possible. Not even Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch were allowed in.

Visiting AJK allowed us to see firsthand the independent legislature in progress. We also visited four camps for people who had fled from IOK in the early 1990s. About 40,000 people live in makeshift homes there. They told us we were their first visitors from the international community in 30 years, since they left IOK.

We visited the Line of Control — the militarized border separating the two Kashmirs — where we talked with locals who are under constant threat of Indian artillery fire.

The lack of attention given to Kashmir is striking.

I recall refugee camps in Palestine that I am familiar with, which, at least before COVID-19, had a steady trail of international visitors. Human rights observers, both international and Israeli, are at the checkpoints and other places monitoring and attempting to provide a protective presence.

No such international presence is possible in IOK. Even in AJK, the international community has paid virtually no attention.

In AJK we heard firsthand from those who had fled in terror after their family members were badly beaten or killed by the Indian army, as well as homes burned. We heard from people divided from their families, hoping to return after three decades, and how after Aug. 5, they no longer had any contact with family members in IOK.

Settler colonization in hyperdrive

Now, a year later, Kashmiris have been faced with a brutal human rights situation of double lockdown — a year-long aggressive military lockdown coupled with the devastating ramifications of COVID-19.

But more than this, under the veil of the pandemic, the settler-colonialization project is in hyperdrive.

Under Prime Minister Modi, India introduced the Domicile Law on March 31, 2020, allowing non-Kashmiris to apply for domicile certificates and thus acquire property and settle in the state if they have lived in the area, worked for government or the public sector, or gone to school there for a certain amount of time. This has grave implications for Kashmir’s future and demography.

Meanwhile, the indigenous Kashmiri population has to apply for the same domicile certificates, but faces more difficulties in getting the documents necessary for an application. Without a certificate, they are blocked from basic functions of life such as education and employment, and fear deportation could result.

This is a parallel process in which the Israeli granting of full citizenship in Jewish-only settlements located in occupied Palestine, while requiring Palestinians in the occupied territory to have residency permits that limit their movement.

Indian controlled Kashmir is an internationally disputed territory. The Indian Domicile Law directly contravenes international law, and many observers see it part of an effort at demographic transformation encouraging Indian Hindus to settle in Kashmir and become a majority in the region.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states “the occupying power shall not transfer its own civilian population into territory it occupies.”

Under Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention all High Contracting Parties, which includes Canada, are required to take action to ensure respect for the Convention “in all circumstances.”

Canada is complicit in its silence and inaction

The Domicile Law is aimed at not just demographic change but also the classic settler-colonization process of robbing the land and resources from the indigenous population.

Civil society groups have called on newly appointed UN ambassador Bob Rae to meet with them to reignite the leadership that Canada’s representative, Andrew McNaughton, provided in the early days of the UN. As president of the UN Security Council, McNaughton’s leadership resulted in Resolution 47 (1948), which promised a plebiscite for self-determination for the Kashmiri people.

The people we met in the camps in AJK still hold hope that Canada would make the promised plebiscite a reality seven decades later.

People are writing directly to Canadian elected officials. And Scott Duval, NDP MP for Hamilton Mountain, has sponsored a government petition to be presented to parliament this fall. Residents or citizens of Canada can add their names to this petition, which calls on the Government of Canada to take the following actions:

  1. Condemn the government of India’s Domicile Law, and its settlement-colonization underway in Jammu and Kashmir;

  2. Request that India immediately restore 4G internet access;

  3. With urgency given COVID-19, request that India ends preemptive imprisonment and free all political prisoners;

  4. Insist upon compliance with international legal obligations as part of Canada’s ongoing relationship with India, especially in trade, defense, and counterterrorism; and

  5. Proactively work with the UN towards implementation of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Karen Rodman is a retired civil servant and the executive director of Just Peace Advocates, a Canadian-based international human rights organization. Karen was part of a Canadian human rights delegation to Azad Jammu Kashmir in December 2019.

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