UK Labour Party MP Debbie Abraham’s deportation is not the only evidence of India blocking critical voices. It’s been a pattern and in most cases linked to New Delhi’s inability to digest criticism over the disputed Kashmir region.
UK Labour Party MP Debbie Abrahams was deported from India’s capital New Delhi minutes after she landed there on Monday.
Quoting government sources, Indian media reported that Abrahams paid the price for what they called “anti-India acts”, which meant calling out India for unilaterally ending Kashmir’s nominal autonomy in August last year, largely seen as a forcible annexation carried out with the blessings of the far-right Hindu dominated Indian parliament. The decision was widely criticised on both legal and practical terms, since it was imposed on Kashmir amidst a severe lockdown followed by the longest internet shutdown the world has ever witnessed.
Although a small number of Indian journalists questioned the government’s decision of sending Abrahams back, the loud and dominant right-leaning journalists backed the move, even accusing her of being a “Pakistan proxy”. Then Indian Twitter followed the chorus, fast turning into a rabid hate-mongering machine, hurling expletives at Abrahams.
Abrahams denied all the allegations saying she had a valid year-long visa issued to her in October last year.
After being blacklisted in India, she reiterated her position on Kashmir: “Again, for clarity, I am PRO human rights and social justice. I will always speak up for people who are not afforded these rights including Kashmiris on both sides of the line of control.”
Abrahams’ is not a rare case of deportation from India. Many other foreign observers, including politicians, journalists and human rights researchers, have been deported from India in the past few years. And Kashmir has been a common feature in several cases.
The United States Democratic Party Senator Chris Van Hollen said in October last year that India denied him permission to visit Kashmir when he expressed his willingness to visit the disputed region to assess the situation on the ground.
In yet another incident of rescinding a visa, Cathal McNaughton, the chief photographer with Reuters’ Delhi office, was denied reentry into the country for allegedly travelling to India-administered Kashmir. He was accused of violating visa rules that block foreign journalists from freely accessing Kashmir. The Indian government has set up a vetting process for foreign reporters who intend to visit the disputed region.
Similarly in 2015, Amnesty International Researcher Christine Mehta was deported from India ostensibly for working on a report that examined the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir. The law shields Indian armed forces from legal proceedings, should they engage in the killing of unarmed civilians.
While India has tightened the screws on its visa process and even made several parts of the country inaccessible for foreign observers, it has not shied away from ferrying diplomats and ambassadors from various countries into Kashmir in tightly-choreographed state trips. The guests are taken to scenic areas of Kashmir’s main Srinagar city, introduced to handpicked Kashmiris, who tell them everything is fine in Kashmir.
Such events often enrage foreign journalists who want to report independently from Kashmir. Joe Wallen, a New Delhi-based reporter for the Telegraph, recently vented his frustration for being barred from entering Kashmir.
“I have been banned from visiting Kashmir for ten months now(!). 25 international diplomats are currently in the state as ‘tourists’ as part of a hugely disputed ‘PR tour’. Our report into the desperate state the Kashmiri tourism industry is actually in,” Wallen wrote on Twitter.
So what’s India trying to hide in Kashmir?
Kashmir has been a UN-recognised dispute between India and Pakistan since 1947. At least 100,000 people have died as a direct result of this dispute and the two nuclear neighbours have already fought three wars over the region.
A large piece of Kashmir controlled by India since 1947 has witnessed grave human rights abuse allegedly at the hands of the Indian army and other security agencies. At least 6,000 single or mass graves have been found in India-held Kashmir since 2008, and many of them are believed to be possible victims of enforced disappearances, a phenomenon in which a Kashmiri man disappears after being picked up by the Indian army or police. There are several hundred victims of rapes allegedly by Indian security forces, and cases of dozens of extra-judicial killings, besides rampant blindings of young men who were shot in the eyes by the Indian security forces in various anti-India demonstrations.
The United Nations has held India responsible for widespread human rights abuses in Kashmir multiple times. In July 2019, the UN released a comprehensive report recommending a commission of inquiry, which is generally reserved for major global crises, “to conduct a comprehensive, independent, international investigation” into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir. The report also criticised Pakistan for detaining prominent separatist leaders in Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir.
India has always rejected the reports of human rights abuse in Kashmir, often defending its actions by accusing Pakistan of supporting ‘terrorism’ in Kashmir.
As a result, Kashmiris continue to be exposed to violence from both state and non-state actors while surviving all the odds in the world’s most militarised zone.