India is using the pandemic to intensify its crackdown in Kashmir

As the world remains consumed with containing the coronavirus pandemic and the severe economic fallout, India has spotted an opportunity for another round of repression against the population of Kashmir, which had already been reeling from the harsh aftereffects of last year’s six-month-long military lockdown.Support our journalism. Subscribe today.

By initiating gunfights with guerrilla fighters, jailing people for going to buy food and medicine, bringing charges against journalists, and beating doctors, paramedics and municipal workers, India is tightening its grip on Kashmir, seizing on pandemic measures to prevent a surge of resistance to its rule.ADnull

In August of last year, the nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked a special status for Kashmir that gave it greater autonomy as India’s only majority-Muslim state.

The residents of Kashmir are no strangers to life under restrictions. But today we are under siege. The streets and alleys of the capital, Srinagar, have been barricaded with coils of concertina wire and stone-filled oil drums, a crushing reminder of the long loss of freedom and dignity for the people of Kashmir. The trademark machismo of armed troopers in the street has given the pandemic lockdown a peculiarly surreal feel. It’s as if the virus is a tangible being and there is a hunt underway to catch it. Once they catch it, perhaps they would haul it to one of the torture chambers and make it disappear there, as the authorities have done with many locals.

India is used to responding with brutal force in Kashmir. Last year, after the government stripped it of its special status, the region came under a strict clampdown and the authorities cut off phone and Internet services (the longest Internet shutdown in the world’s largest so-called democracy), closed businesses, schools and universities, and left Kashmiris in limbo, confined to their homes. By changing the status, the Hindu right-wing government enabled Indian citizens to purchase property and settle down in the Himalayan region. The native inhabitants of Kashmir see an insidious plan in the annexation. They fear India seeks to alter the demographic makeup and turn Kashmir from being the Muslim-dominated state to the one where Hinduism could become the predominant faith.


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