Kashmir: Human Rights Issues

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In a region once called the most beautiful place on earth, social and political turmoil have led to dramatic abuses of human rights. According to a 2008 Worldfocus report, 20,000 deaths in Kashmir have been officially accounted for, but human rights organizations estimate that up to 70,000 people have died and 8,000 have “disappeared.” Around 1,000 bodies have been found in mass graves in Kashmir Valley, according to Haley Duschinski, who has conducted extensive research on the Kashmir conflict. The conflict has led to unjustified executions, arson, rape, torture, and unexplained disappearances.

Located in Southeast Asia, Kashmir lies to the north of India and Pakistan, and also borders China and Afghanistan. Great Britain controlled the area of Kashmir, India, and Pakistan until 1947. After years of struggle, Great Britain eventually granted India independence. However, problems surfaced as a result of the religious makeup of India: most Indians were Hindu, but a significant Muslim population refused to live in an independent state ruled by Hindus. Eventually, both India and Pakistan became independent nations as part of the Partition Plan, in which Great Britain partitioned India.

Maharaha Hari Singh, the Hindu leader of Kashmir in 1947, chose to merge Kashmir with India in exchange for military support and future independence. However, Kashmir was never granted its independence. Kashmir is situated in a strategic location with advantageous natural resources, and both India and Pakistan claim to have rights to its possession. While India views its possession of Kashmir as a symbol of its secular government and as legal according to the Indian Independence Act, Pakistan (a Muslim country) claims ties to the Kashmir people based on their dominantly Muslim religious identity.

This dispute culminated in a war between India and Pakistan from 1947 to 1948 and again in 1965. The Line of Control (LOC), a cease-fire line, was established along with a peace agreement between the two nations in 1972. The LOC distinguished two areas of Kashmir, delegating two-thirds to Indian control and one-third to Pakistani control. The Indian-controlled region has approximately nine million people and has become known as Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistan-controlled region is called Free Kashmir. Further discord exists as a result of groups within Kashmir working to make it an independent state, free from the rule of both India and Pakistan.

Indian rule of Kashmir has been seen as unfair and repressive, often resulting in economic setbacks, violence, manipulation of elections, jailing of political leaders, and denial of democratic processes. Kashmir Valley is one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world, with over 500,000 armed security forces in the area according to a 2006 report by Human Rights Watch. Kashmiris must carry identification cards with them while in public because they are subject to interrogation and search at any time.

On the other hand, militants fighting for Pakistan and Kashmir independence continue to bring violence to the region. Pandits, or Hindu Kashmiris, claim that a process of ethnic cleansing is taking place as Islamic terrorists try to rid Kashmir of its Hindu population. India has accused Pakistan of providing resources (including weapons and funding) for violent groups of insurgents, many of which have ties to terrorist groups. Some experts on the situation claim that extremist Muslim militants supported by Pakistan have overtaken what was originally a religiously driven rebellion within Indian controlled Kashmir. Pakistan denies any support for these groups, but continues to send militants into Kashmir to oppose Indian efforts to control and stabilize the area, thereby disrupting peace and initiating violence.

The lack of a peaceful resolution to this deeply-rooted conflict still threatens social and political stability in Kashmir, but a 2006 Human Rights Watch report recommends three things for international participants who wish to alleviate the situation in Kashmir to do: help provide relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction efforts for civilians, ensure that this aid is distributed to all civilians regardless of political beliefs, and promote compliance with international standards of due process, fair trials, and impartial inquiries.

 

Sources:

Duschinski, H. (2008). Q&A: Kashmiri people, history, and human rights. Worldfocus. Retrieved from http://worldfocus.org/blog/2008/12/08/qa-kashmiri-people-history-and-human-rights/3151.

Grossman, P. (1999). Behind the Kashmir conflict: Abuses by Indian security forces and militant groups continue. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1999/kashmir/summary.htm.

Human Rights Watch (2006). “With friends like these…”. Retrieved from http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2006/09/20/friends-these-0.

 

Featured picture was taken from user Esparta on www.flickr.com, which is permitted according to the Creative Commons license. The original picture can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kkoshy/2260639712/