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Fragility and Rule of Law in KashmirKashmir is a region in South Asia with disputed territories in India, Pakistan and China. It is known for its diverse and vibrant culture, delicious cuisine, rich music and a wide range of clothing. Located in the Himalayas, Kashmir now stands as a symbol of fragility and the fight for the rule of law due to political disputes.

History

The Jammu and Kashmir territories have been under dispute since the Partition in 1947 when the British Raj withdrew and India and Pakistan separated based on religious divisions. With a Muslim majority, Kashmir had the choice to join either country. Initially planning for independence, the Hindu ruler Maharaja Hari Singh later acceded to India after a tribal invasion, setting the stage for the fragility and ongoing struggles for the rule of law in Kashmir.

However, the Maharaja’s agreement to join India was based on terms outlined in Article 370 and Article 35A. Article 370 granted Kashmir autonomy to create its own Constitution, make laws and have its flag, while Article 35A ensured equal opportunities for Kashmiris in land ownership, employment and assistance. The Indian government deployed its army to counter the tribal invasion and although the United Nations (U.N.) established a ceasefire, both Indian and Pakistani troops remain in the region as of July 2023.

Political System in Kashmir

On August 5th, 2019, the Indian government revoked Articles 370 and 35A. The revocation undermined the rule of law in Kashmir and deprived citizens of the same rights and liberties they once had legal entitlements to. Jammu and Kashmir lost their state status and became Union Territories (UT), regions administered entirely by the central government, further contributing to the political fragility of the region.

Citizens of Jammu and Kashmir have had limited political participation since the last state assembly elections in 2014. While India prides itself on being one of the world’s largest democracies, the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s state status raises concerns about the fragility and the rule of law in Kashmir. With the new UT status, both executive and legislative power rests with the central government and the State Assembly of Kashmir has been dissolved. This lack of representation has led to calls for the restoration of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir.

Human Rights Violations

In addition to the ever-changing and fragile system of government, arrests and enforced disappearances of activists and journalists have become increasingly common, undermining the fundamental principle of the rule of law in Kashmir. Notably, journalist Irfan Mehraj was arrested by the National Investigation Agency for exposing human rights abuses. 

According to the Free Speech Collective, the arrest of Irfan Mehraj is “an alarming indication of how far the authorities will go to clamp down on independent journalism.” The organization emphasizes the need to stop targeting independent journalists in Kashmir, allowing them to practice their profession without fear or favor.

Furthermore, the government has imposed numerous internet shutdowns, restricting communication and preventing the flow of information. In 2021 alone, Jammu and Kashmir experienced 85 internet shutdowns, violating the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression, as ruled by the Indian Supreme Court. This demonstrates the fragility of Kashmir, where the government perceives freedom of the press as a threat. 

Additionally, the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act grants the military broad powers in Jammu and Kashmir, leading to further human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture and rape. These violations often go unpunished, fueling controversy and perpetuating human rights abuses.

Political instability and human rights violations directly contribute to poverty in Kashmir. The region’s militarization, as seen through policies like the Armed Forces Act, is a leading cause. Additionally, 73% of people lack access to health care and 43% of children are out of school. The forced disappearances, violence and arrests have caused distress and instability within family structures, hindering socioeconomic success. Political instability has worsened inflation, with no state government creating opportunities for Kashmiris.

Take Action

Kashmir Action provides a variety of resources to educate individuals about the crisis in Kashmir. The website is run by the organization, Justice For All, which addresses issues and politically mobilizes for causes that have not garnered sufficient international support. For instance, Justice for All advocates for independent Kashmiri media, creates petitions for specific issues in Kashmir, organizes protests and provides educational material. In 2020, the organization reached more than 6 million social media interactions and distributed 75,000 educational brochures. A few ways to support Justice for All include signing petitions, making awareness posts and reading their reports.

Helping Hand for Relief and Development is another organization dedicated to providing direct humanitarian aid to Kashmiris on both sides of the border. It offers resources to those in need through its campaigns across the world. For example, in 2021, the organization provided in-kind gifts to 4,718,872 containing food, furniture, hygiene items, school supplies, medical equipment and clothes. The essential items in the relief kits assist people across the globe living in poverty while alleviating their suffering. Moreover, Helping Hand’s Kashmir Relief Campaign goes to projects such as Winter Relief, Ramadan Food, Water for Life and the Medical In-Kind Gifts Program. These campaigns are especially important for global poverty alleviation as they provide necessities to vulnerable populations in Kashmir. 

Looking Ahead

The people of Kashmir continue to show resilience under the unstable political system and the ongoing human rights violations that undermine the rule of law. Raising awareness of the attacks on human rights is pivotal to garnering international support. While political instability and human rights violations contribute to socio-economic disparities in Kashmir, taking both political actions and donating to humanitarian aid play a crucial role in shaping a brighter future for Kashmir. 

– Mehreen Syed
Photo: Unsplash

Around 43% of the population in India has internet access. Unfortunately, internet access growth has paused due to economic issues and tight government restrictions. The government usually cuts internet access for “elections, protests, religious festivals and examinations.

The shutdowns are all over the country but mostly affect the poorer regions of India. Internet access plays a major role in the economy and education equality. The regions that lack stable and affordable internet access face issues such as students dropping out of school, alongside other economic challenges.

Additionally, reports suggest that regions that do not support the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruling party suffer restricted internet access. According to these reports, the Kashmir region faces other human rights abuses and the lack of internet access only emphasizes the economic inequalities that other marginalized Indian communities experience.

Understanding the Conflict

Kashmir is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. The region has witnessed numerous violent rebellions. In 2019, the region was reconstituted as two union territories, Kashmir and Jammu, under Indian control. With an increasingly Hindu nationalist country, tensions have heightened due to the majority Muslim population in Kashmir.

Many residents lost a substantial amount of political and civil rights when India gained control over the area. This event resulted in the emergence of opposition and rebellion. The past five years have been marked with violence from anti-Indian separatists, Jihadist rebels and Indian security forces. And the Indian government, BJP, has been training and arming militias to fight “anti-Indian insurgencies,” but it has also been attacking the rebel Kashmir region by cutting off internet access.

Impacts

India has imposed internet shutdowns throughout the country and Kashmir has experienced the majority of these disruptions. The BJP justifies these shutdowns as security measures to combat the ongoing rebellion. Recently, the region endured an 18-month internet shutdown, which further aggravated frustrations. These shutdowns have resulted in human rights violations, hampering communication among residents and limiting access to external information. Journalists have faced challenges in fact-checking and reporting, often having to leave the area.

The 18-month shutdown took an economic toll on the area and its residents. Hospitality services were not able to receive any bookings and had to rely on loans from friends and families to maintain regular bills and payments. The ongoing shutdowns all over India have already cost the economy around $600 million.

Although there has been a restoration of internet access to Kashmir, the region still faces intermittent shut-downs in conjunction with slow and limited access. India has faced backlash from countries, like the United States (U.S.), for allowing human rights violations. But even in the face of such criticisms, internet shutdowns are still prevalent, especially in Kashmir.

Positive Updates

India has made stronger commitments to human rights, with the Supreme Court ruling that access to the internet is a fundamental right. Notwithstanding, the government has yet to cut down the internet shutdowns. However, pressure from other countries and international communities might continue to push India forward in protecting human rights.

A joint letter was published in 2019 on Access Now, calling for India to keep the internet “open and secure” in Kashmir and surrounding areas. This letter was signed by over 20 international organizations to encourage the Indian government to return internet access to the area. Many Indian groups from the ‘#Keepiton Coalition’ have spoken out about the lack of internet access in Kashmir and Jammu.

Looking Ahead

In 2021, some internet access was upgraded to 4G after the Indian Supreme Court, the Apni Party leader, the National Conference president and even some members of Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, called for the restoration of 4G internet. Kashmir is slowly rebuilding after the devastation of COVID-19 and the lack of internet access. And as a result, several schoolchildren are finally able to continue their schooling.

Kathryn Kendrick

Photo: Flickr

Improving Education in KashmirThe conflict in Kashmir has disproportionately affected education due to a variety of national as well as domestic threats. Children, in particular, are being significantly affected, Education in Kashmir was halted far before COVID-19 affected the rest of the world. Improving education in Kashmir is essential for poverty reduction.

Political Unrest and COVID-19

In August 2019, Article 370 of the Indian constitution that applied to Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated. Repealing this article revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous ‘special status’ as a state. As a way to curb anticipated unrest in the state, the Indian government blocked internet and phone lines. This crisis along with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has put the future of education in Kashmir on shaky ground, reflective of its political landscape. Between 2019 and 2020, schools in Kashmir officially functioned for as little as 100 days.

Internet Connectivity in Kashmir

According to the latest census, 68.74% of Jammu and Kashmir’s population are literate and males are 20% more literate than females. Roughly 27.21 % of the state of Kashmir live in rural areas where access to education is a key issue, especially during COVID-19. Over time, the Indian government has facilitated low-speed internet to select areas up to the speed of 2G. The issue is that a higher speed of internet is required for classes to be facilitated via Zoom, Skype or to be watched on YouTube. Other than the children, educators, college and graduate students are faced with a continuing lag that has affected education in Kashmir. The government has whitelisted some websites and restored higher speed connectivity in some districts of the state.

Aawo Padhain

The Directorate of School Education Kashmir has set up “Aawo Padhain” (Come Lets Study). It is a portal that is filled with E-content and video-based classes for children to continue studying during the lockdown. The center is also equipped with a free Child-Line for children in need of aid and assistance. Additionally, Whatsapp has become a portal for teachers to send educational videos to students. While this initiative addresses the issue of continuing education during COVID-19, more needs to be done to address the other issues that affect education in Kashmir. Improving education in Kashmir will have benefits that are far-reaching.

Education Reform

The National Educational Policy 2020 (NEP 2020), approved by the government on July 29, 2020, was introduced to implement changes to education, with special focus on Jammu and Kashmir. The policy is based on the pillars of “access, equity, quality, affordability, accountability” and will transform India into a “vibrant knowledge hub,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, the success of such a policy depends on its implementation. Its effectiveness, or lack thereof, will be seen in due time. For successful educational transformation, Kashmir also needs well-qualified teachers, access to electricity, the internet, computers, technology and libraries. Furthermore, country-wide internet bans should not be allowed.

Kashmiri students have lived in a life of lockdown longer than the rest of the world has, with their education impacted long before COVID-19 came about. To bridge the overall gap in education in Kashmir, it is essential for the country to receive assistance to implement educational reform for improving education in Kashmir.

–  Anuja Mukherjee
Photo: Flickr

Top Developments in the India- Pakistan Conflict: Terrorism, Education, and PovertyThe India-Pakistan conflict dates back to 1947, when both countries gained independence from the British. Yet after more than 60 years of tumultuous coexistence, war and poverty are still imperiling the lives of many, especially in the India administered region of Kashmir and the bordering regions of Pakistan. With a slew of periodic terror activities by many separatist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, the lives of many hang in the balance.

The killing of activist Burhan Wani in 2016 has been the main catalyst for the recent surge of violence in the Kashmir Valley. Srinagar, the capital, has been pervaded by unrest, protests and demonstration ever since. Millions of people in war-torn areas of the region live below the poverty line due to the recent surge in hostilities, especially in the Line of Control areas, India’s de facto border with Pakistan.

Since 1989, over 60,000 people have been killed due to violent armed rebellion in Kashmir. Nearly 10,000 people have disappeared and have not been accounted for. Over 45 percent of children under five are malnourished in Pakistan. Human rights violations and the oppression of minorities are rampant, and innocent civilians continue to get caught in the crossfire.

 

Learn about poverty in Pakistan

 

According to the Indian Ministry of Labor and Employment, Kashmir has 105 unemployed individuals per 1,000 people, the highest unemployment rate in recent years. The level of unemployment is impoverishing many individuals, creating more social divisions and aggravating tensions between families. With rising unemployment, small-scale industries like handicraft and embroidery are rapidly on the decline.

Education in the region has been gravely affected by the escalating India-Pakistan conflict. Many children in Kashmir have been denied primary education and social safety nets due to their circumstances. They often have to work in unorganized sectors for a living to support their families.

During her speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj stressed the importance of the empowerment of the poor in alleviating the effects of the India-Pakistan conflict. The socioeconomic status of people living in disputed areas has been steadily declining.

To combat these issues, the regional government is setting up juvenile homes to rehabilitate children impacted by the conflict and those affected by drug abuse, psychological trauma and other issues. Mental health issues such as PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression are quite prevalent in Kashmir, and these homes will help provide treatment.

Despite the India-Pakistan conflict, Kashmir has become the first state in the country to commit to a universal basic income to raise incomes and protect the poorest in the state. The cost of delivering welfare schemes is also decreasing.

India will only resume talks with Pakistan on easing the conflict if cross-border terrorism is halted. Not only will this help open dialogue between the two nations, but it will also help address humanitarian aid, resettlement and restoration. Like the Afghan conflict, the India-Pakistan conflict must be tackled through a regional approach and comprehensive bilateral discussions.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

Universal Basic IncomeTension-fraught Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is laying plans to provide a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to all its residents living Below the Poverty Line (BPL). This plan is the first instance of an Indian state committing to a UBI policy.

Jammu and Kashmir’s State Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu proclaims that a UBI will prevent wastage of monetary funds. In a January 2017 budget presentation, Drabu announced that the J&K would use direct benefit transfers. This means that the government deposits money directly into individual bank accounts.

Economic experts have for long endorsed a UBI. According to Pranab Bardhan, emeritus professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, Below the Poverty Line (BPL) lists in most Indian states exclude persons legally designated as poor, while numerous well-off families succeed in bribing their way onto the lists.

In Jammu and Kashmir, where geopolitical turmoil wreaks havoc on the economy and the public’s standard of living, UBI systems could tackle poverty. The J&K has a poverty rate of 21.63 percent. Additionally, the unemployment rate among young people is an alarming 24.6 percent.

In 2011, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), in a project funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), launched pilot studies of the effectiveness of such UBI grants in India. Several results stood out:

  1. Recipients often used the money to improve their housing, latrines, walls and roofs. Additional funds were employed to take precautions against malaria.
  2. Nutrition has advanced: the average weight-for-age of young children increased, particularly among girls.
  3. Diets also improved, as commerce shifted from ration shops to markets. More fresh fruits and vegetables consequently became affordable.
  4. Improved health led to superior rates in school attendance and performance.

The SEWA/UNICEF trial yielded greater benefits for working class families, women, and persons with disabilities. Universal Basic Income helps reduce debt and renders less likely the need to go into more significant debt. Individuals reduced the need to borrow money for short-term purposes.

UBI will replace several current welfare schemes, compelling cooperation between the central Indian government and Jammu and Kashmir. Aside from lowering the cost of delivering social programs, Drabu declares UBI plans will deter leakages that plague many current social programs. Existing policies have left over 350 million people mired in poverty, even after two decades of high economic growth.

Universal Basic Income in Jammu and Kashmir will replace several current welfare schemes, necessitating cooperation between the central Indian government and J&K. In addition to reducing the expense of delivering the social projects, Drabu maintains UBI will deter leakages that plague many current social programs.

Heather Hopkins

Photo: Flickr

kashmir_protest
Tension over Kashmir resurfaced in the form of a cricket match, as 67 students were charged with sedition after cheering on a Pakistani team at their university in Meerut, India on March 2. The Kashmiri students, who were attending the College of Swami Vivekan and Subharti University in India’s Uttar Pradesh region, faced life sentences before widespread outcry from other students across the country.

Protesters argued the seriousness of the sedition charges, which many did not feel their actions warranted, eventually succeeding in getting them dropped to a misdemeanor disturbance of public harmony. Prior to the charges being dropped, the students’ defense claimed that they never threatened to bring down the government nor tried to hurt India’s national integrity.

The case quickly gained national attention after the Opposition Peoples Democratic Party publicly demanded leniency and an apology from the University and state officials for their acts of “fascism.” Also, active in demonstrations were the Kashmir University Students Union as well as several chief officials from the northeastern regions of Uttar Pradesh and Jammu. The Pakistani Government who has offered to welcome their own universities to the students at hand.

Many critics feel as though the charges were motivated by ethnic and political discrimination, since the students committed no actual illegal act outside of rooting for the wrong team. The contentious Kashmir region has been the subject of controversy since it was divided between India and Pakistan in the 1947 partition and has prompted two Indo-Pakistani wars in the decades since.

According to the Student Union, the scenario “is nothing new, but a testimony to the fact that we have been in a perpetual state of war with India for the past 67 years.”

Since 1989, popular insurgency has been fighting for either Kashmiri independence or a complete merge with Pakistan. Sentiments of nationalism resonated in the arrested students’ actions, which reports say consisted of cheers of “Long live Pakistan” and “We want freedom.”

Vice chancellor of their university, Manzoor Ahmed, holds the students responsible and supports the sedition accusations, stating “You cannot pass judgments against your own national team. Their behavior was not conducive to peace on campus. It creates bad blood with the local boys.”

However, the students themselves claim the cheers were not political at all, but rather inspired by loyalty to their cricket team alone. Cricket is the national pastime of India, and has enjoyed popularity in South Asia due to the lingering legacy of British colonial rule. Cricket events, like the Asia Cup in which the two national teams were competing at the time of the arrests, are valued as one of the only spaces for tolerance and friendship between India and Pakistan, who both share a love of the game.

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Al Jazeera America, Times of India, New York Times
Photo: The Star