A Letter of Support, from Gujarat to Kashmir
On August 5, the Indian state unilaterally and without consultation with the Jammu and Kashmir legislature revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s right to self-governance. It brought the region under the direct control of the New Delhi government. In doing so, the central government displayed a blatant disregard for the nation’s founding principles of democracy, secularism and justice.
This was followed by a military blockade and an unprecedented media and communications shutdown, which has lasted more than two months. The blockade has plunged the people of Jammu and Kashmir into fear and uncertainty and initiated a humanitarian crisis in the region. Kashmiris have been denied the basic civil liberties and freedoms of expression, information, assembly, movement and religion. Eid and Ashura passed as the clampdown continued, and Kashmiris both within and outside the state were unable to wish their family members. Even when an earthquake hit Mirpur, killing 38 and injuring hundreds, there was no media coverage of damages, injuries and fatalities on the Indian side of the LoC, leaving Kashmiris across India unable to contact their loved ones.
Despite mounting and credible evidence of human rights abuses and a healthcare crisis from numerous international media sources and independent fact-finding missions, the Indian government continues to insist that everything in Kashmir has returned to ‘normal’.
Military forces have detained thousands of people, among them politicians, leaders, lawyers, journalists, teachers, students, and children as young as ten. Civilians, including children, are being tortured and ruthlessly beaten and subjected to electric shocks.
In a report from BBC News, a civilian is quoted saying, “we told them we are innocent. We asked why they were doing this to us? But they did not listen to us. I told them don’t beat us, just shoot us. I was asking God to take me, because the torture was unbearable.”
Meanwhile, medical reports and hospital admission logs are being manipulated in order to keep casualty reports low. Doctors report being under pressure not to issue death certificates.
On August 15, as the rest of India celebrated independence from colonial rule, Kashmir went into an indefinite lockdown imposed by the Indian government. As India celebrated freedom won through years of protest, civil disobedience, and a commitment to self-rule, Kashmiris were being denied those very liberties.
With each passing day that this is allowed to continue, India inches closer to fascism, and further from democracy.
While thousands protest outside the United Nations in New York, here in Ahmedabad the police refuses permission to protest. Gujarat is where the very spirit of dissent has been crushed under the weight of a state actively and tacitly supported by the majority. The state has attempted to control the media narrative, shuttered places of protest, and stifled age-old democratic institutions like the Gujarat Vidyapith and the Mehdi Nawaz Jung Hall. The Sabarmati Riverfront, touted as a monumental reclamation of public space, does not allow for public assembly and dissent.
Despite this, we assert that there are still voices in Gujarat calling for change, voices that some have tried their best to quell, but that refuse to remain silent. Among civil society leaders, there is a sense of fear, uncertainty and helplessness. And yet, and still, there is dissent.
The Indian state has decided that the value of land is greater than that of human life. We cannot let this stand. We the undersigned stand in solidarity with Kashmiris, and demand that Kashmiri voices be heard.
Now, more than ever, is the time to remember those who fought for our freedom, B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, among so many others. These freedom fighters had a dream for this country, a pluralist democracy composed of states and peoples who willingly came together to preserve the idea of India. This dream of a free state did not and could not have included shutting an entire people out of the democratic process and imprisoning them.
It is imperative today that we remember their vision of a state in which justice, equality and peace could reach everyone, and in their memory, fight for freedom once more, from those who wish to usurp the very idea of what this country stands for.
We urge the Indian government to lift the communication and media blockade, restoring fundamental human rights to freedom of movement, assembly and information.
We call for the release of all political prisoners - leaders and young people - who have been detained without trial since August 5.
We call for the demilitarisation of Kashmir, and the initiation of a meaningful conversation with the Kashmiri people on the future of the state.
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