In a stunning statement, India’s newly recruited Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat has declared that India is considering creating deradicalization camps for Kashmir´s youth: “There are people who have completely been radicalized. These people need to be taken out separately, possibly taken into some deradicalization camps. We have deradicalization camps going on in our country.” By doing so, he has drawn international criticism and established a dangerous parallel to China´s treatment of the Uighurs. India´s undemocratic practices are not new in a region that suffered numerous political and human rights setbacks in 2019, a year of turmoil in the autonomous region that nearly triggered a war between India and Pakistan. Although Kashmir has been in dispute between the two countries since 1947 (when Pakistan achieved its independence), India´s decision to withdraw Kashmir´s autonomous status in August fostered a completely new and dangerous precedent. Moreover, Rawat´s statement is also a clear violation of India´s separation of powers, as military leaders are “not allowed” to make political statements.
Narendra Modi, India´s president (who achieved a landslide victory in the 2019 presidential elections) produced a presidential decree last August stripping India´s constitution from its article 370, which guaranteed special rights to Kashmir (a Muslim majority state). As part of these special rights, Kashmir was allowed to pass its own laws and establish its own constitution in all policy areas except defense, foreign affairs and communications. As a result of the decree, India split the state of Jammu and Kashmir (the only Muslim majority state in India) into two union territories that would be administered by the Indian Federal government. Not surprisingly, the decision paved the way for the deployment of “mass arrests, torture, killings, use of excessive force, harassment, and intimidation”, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a local human rights advocacy group. According to a report published by the organization: “the year witnessed at least 366 killings in different incidents of violence, with extrajudicial executions of at least 80 civilians, besides killings of 159 militants and 129 armed forces.” Children were also exposed to arbitrary arrests and police beatings. Furthermore, India set an internet blockade that lasted 5 months extremely hurting local business, students, emergency services, professionals and activists.
If Indian authorities think that by repressing the youth in Kashmir, curtailing their human rights and autonomous freedom they will be able to foster Indian sentiment in the region, they are clearly mistaken. Repression, human rights violations and despotism have never been successful political tools towards building citizenry and national sentiment. While it is clear that ethnic tensions and political divisions have preceded this year´s turmoil for decades and that India is not entirely to blame for the lack of social cohesion in Kashmir, the path it has taken is extremely dangerous and will not help restore peace with either the people of Kashmir or its neighbor, Pakistan. Moreover, it sets a very dangerous precedent for the rest of the Muslim community that lives in other parts of India, for it basically paves the way for further ethnic divisions and authoritarian and arbitrary laws against them. India claims it is a democracy, but it is clearly behaving as an ethnocentric authoritarian regime.
“India should not follow China because India has a claim to constituent democracy,” according to Noor Ahmad Baba, a political analyst in Kashmir: “Kashmir is a political issue, there is nothing like radicalization. This is not a desirable thing to happen in a democracy. Kashmir is a political problem and needs a political solution.” Baba makes two crucial arguments in his strong criticism of India´s authoritarian behavior in Kashmir: 1) no true democracy tries to change people´s identities by locking them in “concentration camps” where they brainwash them and strip them from their own ideologies. That is typical behavior of totalitarian regimes that match Orwell´s thought police; 2) the only real solution to political crises and ethnic divisions like the one in Kashmir comes from long term plans that try to bridge different communities together. These plans basically develop strategies that are based on ethnic inclusiveness, religious and autonomous freedom and political equality. Only when both Hindu and Muslim people in Kashmir feel equally represented in India, have the same opportunities and can develop their lives fully, with independence of their political ideology, religious creed and social background will Kashmir stop living in political turmoil. Locking people in ‘concentration’ camps, blocking internet access, making arbitrary arrests, torturing young people and systematically breaking basic human rights will not only condemn India in front of the rest of the world, it will continue to alienate Kashmiri people and foster their thirst for independence.
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