Today marks one year since the Indian Government abrogated Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and divided it into two federally governed territories.
Following this decision, millions of Kashmiris were forced into a state of lockdown and an information blackout, leaving phone lines cut and access to the internet suspended. In the past 365 days, thousands of Kashmiris have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, including many children. Hundreds remain incarcerated.
Just as some of these debilitating restrictions were eased, an intensified lockdown was re-enforced in March to combat the spread of coronavirus in the region. While the pandemic has forced the rest of the world to address discrimination and inequality, the Indian Government has chosen to use it as an excuse to double down on its repression of Kashmir and accelerate large-scale demographic change to the Muslim-majority region through the introduction of the domicile law.
The actions of Narendra Modi’s nationalist Government have not only affected the people of Kashmir but thousands of Muslims in India. In December last year, his Government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act which provided a path to citizenship for all migrant minorities except Muslims. It is clear that this autocratic and nationalist Government is set on marginalising and oppressing Muslims no matter where they live.
While we fight for an end to the oppressive lockdown in Kashmir, it is vital we also look to the future and strive to bring an end this decades-long conflict. A vicious cycle of violence has engulfed this region for far too long, causing unknown pain and suffering. We must urgently look to rebuild out of this conflict.
Political leaders in Kashmir, Pakistan, and India must step up to this immense challenge if peace is to be achieved. The international community needs to stop sitting on its hands and actively work to support the journey to peace and the Kashmiri’s right to self-determination. As for the UK – our Government must first recognise that this is not a bilateral issue, to call it such is to remove the voice of the Kashmiris altogether. This is an internationally recognised dispute, which has robbed millions of their basic human rights and continues to inflict untold suffering.
The suffering of Kashmir and its people is an issue particularly close to my heart – my mother was born there, and I still have close ties to the region. The ongoing human rights abuses and suffering experienced by the people of Kashmir is deeply distressing to watch and a source of great sorrow and anger not just to myself and my constituents, but to Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris in the UK and around the world. I cannot be a silent bystander.
I have a responsibility, as do we all, to be the voice for the voiceless Kashmiris, and I will continue to speak out until the Kashmiri people are free from suffering and able to realise their right to self-determination.