The Indian government’s decision to revoke special constitutional autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir state and create two federally governed territories came into effect today.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the two territories have taken “a step towards a new future today.” But it’s not evident that future includes protecting the rights of Kashmiris, which have been under assault since even before the government announced the decision in August.
Anticipating a backlash to the announcement, the government imposed broad restrictions on freedom of movement, arbitrarily detained an unknown number of political leaders and others, and shut down the internet, phone services, and educational institutions.
While some restrictions have been lifted, hundreds of people remain in custody or under house arrest, and there is still no access to the internet. Schools and colleges are open, but attendance is sparse because parents are afraid to send their children out on the streets. Security forces have arbitrarily detained numerous children, although the government insists they were released after warnings. There are credible reports of torture and other violations by security forces.
Violent protesters have at times threatened those that fail to join shutdowns to counter government claims that the situation is normal. There have also been attacks by militant groups.
The situation in Kashmir has generated international concern. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recently said that Kashmiris were being “deprived of a wide range of human rights.” A hearing assessing the situation was held in the US Congress.
But instead of responding to the allegations, the government has blocked opposition politicians, foreign diplomats, and international journalists from independent visits to Kashmir. At the same time, Indian authorities welcomed a group of European lawmakers that largely comprised members of right-wing political parties unlikely to raise concerns with the government’s policies. “The situation is not as bad as we thought,” three participants said at a press conference.
As Jammu and Kashmir mark the beginning of a new, uncertain future, the Indian government should stop trying to hide or rationalize abuses and focus more on upholding human rights.