The Indian govt’s curfew has brought this Muslim-majority territory to its knees but the ruling pro-Hindu party is happy to ‘sit it out’
Marching for freedom: A demonstration Aug. 30 in Srinagar, the capital of India-administered Kashmir. (Photo by Mukhtar Khan/AP)
Shahnaz Bashir, writer and journalist in Kashmir, testifies to the total blockade within this Indian state, disputed since 1947 by India, Pakistan and China, and placed under curfew for a month. The clampdown in this Muslim-majority territory is causing many difficulties for the Catholic minority.
What is the current situation in Kashmir?
Since the brutal suppression of its autonomy on Aug. 5 the whole of Kashmir has been muzzled by the omnipresent Indian security forces. There were already 700,000 Indian soldiers in Kashmir and now another 100,000 have arrived.
The 8 million inhabitants, 90 percent of whom are Muslims, are no longer allowed to meet, use public transport and telephones, while access to Internet connections has also been suspended.
Villages are cut off because no one can move on the roads.
Schools, hospitals, offices and markets are also closed. Nearly 10,000 people, including all local elected officials, opposition politicians, human rights activists and separatists, are detained by the government. Nothing has been working for 32 days.
Faced with this situation, how does the small Catholic community, with nearly 20,000 faithful, live?
Like the entire population, they are suffering the consequences of this curfew.
Some Christian families — mostly Dalits (former “untouchables”) who came to Kashmir a few years ago to find work — are blocked by the paralysis of the region and can no longer work.
This small local Christian community was already economically weak and the current situation only makes things worse. Many can no longer reach their parish, due to the discontinuation of public transport and telephone lines to share possible private transport.
How do you think the situation can change?
First of all, we must recall the roots of this crisis.
After India’s independence in 1947, an agreement was reached with the Hindu Maharajah of the State of Kashmir to grant a certain autonomy to this kingdom. This agreement prohibited Indians from buying land in Kashmir in order to protect the religious and cultural identity of that state.
But Pakistan, which has always opposed this situation, has consistently claimed Kashmir on the grounds that it is predominantly Muslim. And for the past 30 years, an armed separatist movement launched by extremist Muslims has been trying to free the region from Indian control.
This disagreement between India, Pakistan and China has already led to three wars: in 1947-48 following the creation of dominions of India and Pakistan; in 1962, because of China’s desire to change its borders with India in this region of Kashmir; in 1965, because Pakistani elements infiltrated the Kashmir army to provoke uprisings.
There was also a series of aerial attacks in 1999 against Pakistani-backed forces that had infiltrated into the mountains in Indian-administered Kashmir, north of Kargil. For 30 years, India has accused Pakistan of supporting insurgents and separatists, which Pakistan has always denied.
For the time being, the New Delhi government has shown no willingness to lift the curfew.
In my opinion, the crisis will worsen further and the Indian government will continue to ban everything until the protests are exhausted.
Kashmir is no longer a state governed by the rule of law. I myself am not sure I am allowed to return to Srinagar.