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India's blockade of Kashmir: 100 days in, the world's silence is deafening

Kashmir is under a tight grip, its people occupied and their movements monitored
An Indian soldier secures an area after a grenade blast at a market in Srinagar on 4 November (AFP)

At the end of October India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, travelled to Saudi Arabia to hold bilateral talks between the two nations. 

According to press reports, the topic of Kashmir and India’s move in August to abrogate the region’s semi-autonomous status and impose a communication blockade did not even make it as a topic of discussion. "The two sides discussed regional and international issues of mutual interest, and reiterated their categorical rejection of all forms of interference in internal affairs," read a joint statement released after the meeting.

This was unsurprising. The summation is emblematic of the new course of relations between Saudi Arabia and India, one defined by energy and security interests. 

Even Pakistan’s Imran Khan, who has championed the cause since 5 August, seems to be running out of steam

A gentlemen’s agreement to steer clear of talking about each other’s domestic affairs is also one that defines the Chinese and Arab relationship with India, too. 

But whereas Muslims facing persecution around the world are not likely to be holding out for words of comfort or solidarity from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, or any other Arab country for that matter, the resounding silence from other Muslim majority countries has been particularly shocking.

Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’ comments at the UN General Assembly in September have earned the wrath of India's government with Prime Minister Modi's planned visit to Ankara postponed as a result. Likewise, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's comments during his address at the UN summit, describing India has having “invaded and occupied” Kashmir, have led nowhere either.

Even Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, who has championed the cause since August, seems to be running out of steam. So, too, has the silence been from almost all quarters of the western world, otherwise evangelical in their approach to spreading democracy and justice.

100 days

On Tuesday, it will be 100 days since the blockade began in Kashmir and very little has changed on the ground.

Tens of thousands of additional troops that were sent in the early days of August remain on the street corners and outside people’s homes. In the sky, drones conduct sweeping Israeli-inspired surveillance over protest sites, helping armed forces identify "miscreants". 

Kashmir is under a tight grip, its people occupied and their movements monitored.

In the sky, drones conduct sweeping Israeli-inspired surveillance over protest sites, helping armed forces identify 'miscreants'

The internet is still disconnected while only landlines and post-paid mobile phones have been reactivated. Foreign journalists remain banned from visiting the region, while opposition leaders have been prevented from visiting.

The only foreign delegation allowed to travel to Kashmir was a select group of mostly right-wing parliamentarians from the Europe Union.

Not only are Kashmir’s pro-freedom leaders in detention, but even those pro-India political leaders on the margins of Kashmiri society, who for decades were integral to India’s grip on Kashmir, remain locked up too. 

The crackdown has seen thousands of ordinary people arrested, including children picked up by India’s armed forces - some held for a few hours, others held indefinitely - without any transparency from the state.

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Parents are said to be going from prison to prison in Kashmir, only to find that their sons, held without any charge, have been transferred to prisons in a different state thousands of kilometres away. 

In mid-October, 18 female activists and academics, one as old as 82-years-old, were arrested for staging a silent protest. They were only released when they promised not to speak or protest against India, a tactic authorities are using to quell dissent. 

Journalists have to queue up at government internet centres in order to file their stories, with 15 minutes each to do so, while worrying that their reports may be being hacked by the government.

Over the past week, a series of unusual and record snowfalls hit the valley, leaving residents without electricity for three days. Kashmiris were just left in the dark and in the freezing cold without the ability to call even their neighbours, emergency services or the outside world for help.  

A settler-colonial project

On 31 October, the Indian government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 and Article 35A that guaranteed semi-autonomy and exclusive land rights for Kashmir, became official.

 People carry Pakistan's and Azad Kashmir's flags and signs during what they call a freedom march in Islamabad, Pakistan on 20 October (Reuters)
People carry Pakistan's and Azad Kashmir's flags and signs during what they call a freedom march in Islamabad, Pakistan on 20 October (Reuters)

And so began India’s settler-colonial project in Kashmir with the larger ambition of changing the region’s demographics.

The spectre of Hindu-only settlements has left Kashmiris concerned that their home will resemble the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Crucially the demographic shift will render the UN mandated question of self-determination obsolete.

Again, the valid concerns have been met by pin drop silence internationally.

Kashmiris are not oblivious that their plight is among a number of vicious resource-driven and politically motivated campaigns against Muslims (often instrumentalised by Islamophobia) around the globe.

Kashmir is not just about territory disputed between India and Pakistan. Both countries rely heavily on the water that flows through the region.

Hope from West Africa

Amid such indifference from world powers, it might be the actions of a small west African government that just might gift Kashmiris with the belief that all is not lost. On Monday, The Gambia took Myanmar to the International Court of Justice, accusing it of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority. 

The filing of the case, according to Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, The Gambia's justice minister and attorney general, “will send a clear message to Myanmar and to the rest of the international community that the world must not stand by and do nothing in the face of terrible atrocities that are occurring around us. It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right before our own eyes.” 

Since 2017, thousands of Rohingya have been killed and more than 700,000 others were forced to flee following an ethnic cleansing campaign led by Myanmar's military. Homes were torched, women were raped and young men were murdered. 

The case, filed at the behest of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, has been touted as a historic one, for it gives the Rohingya a chance to seek justice and accountability. 

It has an outside chance of success. But it holds a glimmer of hope for Kashmiris.

Perhaps someone, somewhere, is watching and planning to act for them, too.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Azad Essa | Senior Reporter
Azad Essa is a senior reporter for Middle East Eye based in New York City. He worked for Al Jazeera English between 2010-2018 covering southern and central Africa for the network. He is the author of The Moslems are Coming (Harper Collins India) and Zuma's Bastard (Two Dogs Books).