“The spirit of freedom cannot be quelled, for it is born amidst the mountains and flows like the rivers through the hearts of a people united.”- Every year on August 5, the people of Pakistan and Kashmir observe “Youm-e-Istehsal” to commemorate the day when India stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status. This significant day serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for freedom and self-determination in the region.
In 2019, India made a significant change to the long-standing Kashmir dispute by eliminating Article 370 and 35A from its Constitution. Under Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir was granted special autonomy, which included their own constitution, own flag, and significant internal autonomy. Additionally, Article 35A ensured that citizens were granted specific rights and privileges, further protecting the state’s demographic integrity. However, the revocation of these Articles undermined the special autonomy of the region and sparked controversy. It also disregarded the rights and aspirations of the people in the IIOJK and ignored UN resolutions recognizing the special status of the area.
The region of IIOJK has been facing a long-standing struggle for independence against Indian occupation forces ever since its illegal occupation. Despite numerous hardships and tragedies, the people of IIOJK have demonstrated remarkable courage and resilience as they continue to fight for their right to self-determination. Following the repeal of Articles 370 and 35A, the struggles of Kashmiris have been increased. The region underwent a complete shutdown, a communication blackout, and a rise in military presence. IIOJK has become the most militarized region of the world with the highest citizen to military ratio. India’s extreme measures displayed the extent to which they were willing to go to stifle the Kashmiri people’s expressions.
Despite India’s continuous assertion that the Kashmir issue is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan, it has consistently avoided engaging in productive dialogue on the topic and revoked the Articles unilaterally. This failure to initiate substantive conversations undermines India’s advocacy for a bilateral resolution. The Kashmir dispute has then moved into multilateral forums because we want a peaceful solution, but India continues to disregard these fora, insisting that it is still a bilateral issue. The deadlock leaves the ambitions of the Kashmiri people hanging in the balance, caught in the web of diplomatic wrangling.
There has been a lot of discussion surrounding Israel’s settlements in occupied territory and India’s actions in Kashmir. There are concerns that India may be altering the demographics of the region to further its own interests, which has caused controversy. The use of fake domiciles and allowing non-Kashmiri voters to register has resulted in a significant change in the makeup of the area. India has issued over 3.4 million fake domicile certificates to non-Kashmiris in a bid to change the demography of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (The Express Tribune). Reports also reveal that Indian government has registered almost 2.5 million new non-local voters in IIOJK (The Nations). All these moves of India are a big threats to the identity of the local Kashmiris.
The Indian government’s revocation of Articles 370 and 35A in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) has had far-reaching social and psychological repercussions as well. This contentious action, which altered the region’s special status, not only destroyed the social fabric but also caused psychological suffering in the local populace. The revocation has caused social separation, economic ramifications, identity concerns, and a sense of fear and uncertainty among the inhabitants of IIOJK. The revocation has caused considerable psychological damage among IIOJK residents. Fear and worry have been generated by the continual presence of Indian forces, arrests, and detentions. The region has become even more isolated as a result of the communication blackout and limitations on internet and media, leading to a sense of helplessness and frustration. Individuals’ mental well-being has been profoundly impacted by the loss of autonomy and political rights, as well as the ongoing conflict and human rights atrocities.
People of IIOJK are facing extreme Human Rights violation yet India claims that the region is now undergoing a lot of developments and freedom. But here rises a question that a peaceful region should allow press freedom to provide unbiased reporting. However, journalists in Kashmir faced censorship, harassment, and reporting restrictions, raising concerns about transparency and accountability. The lockdowns might not have been necessary, and the valley might have basked in the peace-filled hues if only India’s olive branch had resulted in the fruit of appreciation from the people of Kashmir. Unfortunately, Kashmir’s history is woven into its intricate fabric along with a deep-seated desire for independence.
Many Kashmiris yearn for the day when the world recognizes their right to self-determination, which is currently a mere brushstroke on a canvas of unfulfilled human rights promises. The search for a peaceful, inclusive resolution to the conflict persists, and the Youm-e-Istehsal observance plays a role in shaping the narrative of Kashmir’s ongoing struggle. To find a solution, the world must comprehend the intricacies of the Kashmir issue and recognize that the pursuit of dialogue is not solely a matter between India and Pakistan, but a responsibility that affects the entire global community. India’s demographic tactics cannot obscure the aspirations of a populace that seeks to be heard.
The writer Aleena Zafar is a Research Officer at YFK- International Kashmir Lobby Group, and a student of Strategic Studies at NDU, Islamabad.