My speech on 5 February – Kashmir Solidarity Day

It is good to be together on Kashmir Solidarity Day –  a day when we can amplify our voices for the rights of the people of Kashmir. This is a tough struggle. It will be a long struggle. We need to be well organised and united.

One of the great challenges we face in campaigning for the rights of Kashmiris is that there is so little awareness of the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by the Indian government.

To add to the challenges we have in building a global Kashmir support movement is that many governments are wilfully ignoring the plight of Kashmiris – the attacks on their democratic and human rights, the killings, disappearances, harassment of women and many other crimes.

This week we were reminded of the bias of the Australian government on this issue. The Australian foreign affairs minister, Senator Marise Payne, was quick to condemn the detention of democratically elected State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The Australian minister called on those responsible “to respect the rule of law”.

On 5 August 2019 India sent 38,000 additional troops into Kashmir. Minister Payne should have made a similar statement about respecting the rule of law when Modi government forces gaoled Kashmiri officials and committed other crimes. I will come back to Australia’s role later in my talk. 

I would like to explore life in Kashmir 19 months after the Indian government imposed a lockdown on that region. The disruption and damage this has caused to people’s lives, the economy and the health and education system has been immense.

When Delhi took total control of Kashmir telecommunications including internet services were blocked. Modi claims these services have been restored. Don’t believe his lies. At best the internet is 2G and phone services are intermittent. 

Imagine trying to deal with Covid with limited communications. The Health and Human Rights Journal in April 2020 reported that the low-speed 2G internet India has imposed on Jammu and Kashmir stops health workers from accessing public health guidelines and research on Covid, as well as accurate updates on transmission in the region. Contact tracing has been made more difficult. 

Two days ago, on 3 February, health officials reported that 1,941 people had died of Covid in Jammu and Kashmir. In a population of eight million that is very high.

We know that thousands of Kashmiri teenagers have been taken away from their homes and many gaoled in prisons scattered across India. What is the impact of Covid on these young people? How many have died? Who is monitoring their human rights, their health?

The Kashmiri economy has been decimated by the Indian occupation. Job losses are severe. The communication and internet cuts have had a devastating impact and not just in the  tourism sector where visitor numbers have dropped from more than 600,000 in 2017 to about 40,000 in 2019.

One of the Modi government’s tactics in consolidating their power over Jammu and Kashmir has been to increase non-Kahsmhiri ownership of various businesses. This is now occurring in the mining sector. Kashmiris were at a huge disadvantage in the recent contract bidding because they had no access to high speed internet services. As all bids had to be made online most locals were not successful.

For many years Kashmiri companies have conducted much of their business online particularly in the garment, shawl and carpet trade. The Kashmiri Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimates that since India’s August 2019 takeover about half a million jobs have been lost in the valley. Imagine the hardship that is causing for so many families – their income, their dignity, their hope for their children’s future – all shattered. 

I have emphasised a number of times that to win support for the right of Kashmiris to determine their own future we need to build awareness of what is happening in India.

That means we have to explain WHY the Modi government has unleashed policies that result in such hardship and suffering for the people of Kashmir and Jammu. Adherence to democratic practices and the rights of local people to determine their future do not figure in the colonial settler model pushed by the Modi forces. 

The BJP is deeply committed to extreme Hindu nationalism. As Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in India locals have been targeted by Modi forces.  As I mentioned the Modi forces are making it easier for non-Kashmiris to set up businesses, buy land and become Kashmiri citizens. The push is on to change the demographics of the region.

The 800,000 strong Indian troop occupation which brings with it extra judicial killings, kidnappings, assaults on women and numerous other crimes is the ugly face of the enforcement of this policy. 

India’s narrative about Kashmir still dominates media and political commentary. I commenced my speech with a comparison between Australia’s very quick action over this week’s events in Myanmar and the ongoing silence about human rights abuses in Kashmir and other parts of India. 

If the foreign minister was here now her response to our criticism would be – Kashmir is a domestic dispute between India and Pakistan and should be resolved by those two nations. 

I believe it is most important that we expose this myth. One cannot equate the response of the Indian government and the Pakistan government over the Kashmir issue. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has been very clear in recognising the rights of Kashmiris to determine their future. He strongly backs self-determination and supports the dispute being determined by a United Nations-mandated plebiscite. 

Compare that stance with the policies of the Modi government that are decimating the rights of Kashmiris. 

The responses of India and Pakistan to two reports on Kashmir from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights are also telling. The reports came out in 2018 and 2019. Their recommendations set out a pathway to ending human rights abuses in this region. We need to use them in our advocacy. 

The Indian Ministry for External Affairs described the first report as “fallacious, tendentious and motivated”. They even questioned why the reports were released. In contrast, the Pakistan Foreign Minister said his government was ready to cooperate with the key proposal to establish a UN Committee of Inquiry into Kashmir issues. Minister Payne should be lobbying her Indian counterpart to give a similar commitment. 

Australia has a role to play here – one because India is a neighbouring country but also because in 1950 the United Nations Security Council appointed Sir Owen Dixon, the Sixth Chief Justice of Australia, as UN Representative to organise a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir. As we know that never eventuated. Dixon was not at fault for this failure but that piece of history to my mind adds to Australia’s responsibility to stand with the Kashmiri people.

However, right now that is not the case. In fact it is quite disturbing how obsequious the Morrison government is towards the Modi government. My colleague David Shoebridge will cover the challenges we face with our government when it comes to standing with the Kashmiri people. 

I would like to conclude by sharing with you my wish – in fact my belief  that one day we will have an Australian government that will support and hopefully even move a resolution that will facilitate self-determination for the people of Kashmir.

Thank you. 

END

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