KCL Kashmir Solidarity: Student Unreachable

On Wednesday the 13th of August, King’s College London’s Kashmir Solidarity Movement posted a distressing status on its Facebook page. According to the post and at the time of writing, the Co-President of the society, Muhammad Daniyal Ubaidullah, has not been heard from since Kashmir’s lockdown on Monday, the 5th of August.

This status arrived in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. The post, which deems the move by the Indian Government “unconstitutional” and “totalitarian,” reads: “We hope and pray that this is just a result of the Indian government shutting down the telecommunication services in Kashmir, as opposed to anything more serious.

“We, as a society, have no way of finding out if our comrade is safe.

“We demand Kings College London to release a statement on this and use their status as a leading World university to push the issue of the human rights abuses in Kashmir to the forefront.”

Other London universities have also spoken out, with UCL’s Pakistan Society and SOAS’s India Society condemning the measure taken by the Government of India.

What measure was taken by the Indian Government and why is it important?

On the 5th of August, the Government of India (GOI) announced the repeal of Article 370 of the Constitution. Article 370 granted special rights to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), including autonomy in law-making, defining their own fundamental rights and the right to their own flag and constitution. Citizens of India residing in other states were not allowed to buy land in J&K, nor were they subject to the same laws.

The Presidential Order declaring the removal of Article 370 was followed by the introduction of the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act, which divided the State of J&K into two Union Territories – the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh. According to the GOI, this move is meant to further integrate the region into India, bringing with it increased socio-economic development.

Simultaneous to the removal of the contentious Article was a Government-issued lockdown in Kashmir. Within two weeks, over 35,000 Indian troops were deployed to J&K, making the total number of armed personnel almost half a million strong in the world’s most militarised region. Section 144 of the Indian Constitution was enforced, which forbade public gatherings, imposed a curfew and caused educational institutions to remain shut. Tourists were made to leave the Valley and Amarnath pilgrims (of Hindu religion) were evacuated. Most importantly, internet and telephone services were disbanded and more than 500 local leaders – including Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – were placed under house arrest without any cause.

Furthermore, despite the GOI denying any violence or dissent in Kashmir, multiple demonstrations were covered by international media channels, some with as many as 10,000 protesters. According to them, tear gas and pellet guns were used against protestors, injuring hundreds of civilians, including children as young as eight.

Tweets by Mehbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, prior to the communication blackout

The abrogation of Article 370 has sparked debates all over the world. Those against the decision claim that the Instrument of Accession – which was the single document based on which Kashmir joined India in 1947 – was conditional to Article 370 being upheld. According to them, by its abrogation, key terms of the bilateral treaty have been breached, leaving Kashmir with no remaining legal basis for being a part of India. In contrast, those in favour of the decision believe that Article 370 was a draconian and temporary provision that should never have been a part of the Indian Constitution in the first place.

The Indian Constitution does state that Article 370 is “temporary.” However, it specifies that the Article can only be modified with the consent of the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir. Interestingly, Kashmir’s Assembly has been dissolved for over a year. This allowed the Central Government to impose federal rule in the region last June, which implied that instead of seeking the consent of the Constituent Assembly, it now had to consult only the Governor of the State (who is appointed by the Centre). The Presidential Order could thus be passed swiftly and with minimal obstruction.

India remains divided over the Government’s decision. While some rejoiced the move on the grounds that it will bring unification and development to the disputed region, others condemned it for being unconstitutional and fascist due to lack of a plebiscite. Some moved petitions to the Supreme Court, considering the fact that in its 2017 SARFAESI verdict, it was held that “despite the headnote of Article 370, it is not a temporary provision.” However, the Court dismissed six of the petitions challenging the Government’s measure on the grounds that they were defective and meaningless. Addressing the plea filed against the communication blackout by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, the Supreme Court refused to interfere and said it would give more time to the Centre to lift the restrictions.

Reaction of the international community

Activists around the world have condemned India’s handling of the situation in Kashmir, with many urging the UN to intervene amid claims of excessive human rights violations in the region.

Tweet by Amnesty International following the removal of Article 370

On the 16th of August, the UN Security Council held a rare closed-door meeting regarding the situation in Kashmir, despite Secretary General António Guterres initially invoking the 1972 Shimla Agreement – which states that India and Pakistan must solve all their disputes through bilateral dialogue – in response to Pakistan’s request for a review of the situation. The meeting, whose topic of discussion was the first of its kind since 1965, ended without an outcome or official statement. Sources said that an “overwhelming” number of members (four out of five of the permanent members) stressed the need for peaceful dispute resolution through bilateral discussions between India and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has openly condemned India’s move. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has reached out to the international community in an attempt to internationalise the issue and garner support. In an act of solidarity with Kashmir, the country observed 15th August – India’s Independence Day – as a Black Day, with its ruling party, Tehreek-e-Insaf, organising a massive protest outside the Indian embassy in Islamabad. Similar protests and counter-protests broke out outside the Indian High Commission in London.

Tweet by Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan condemning India’s move

China has issued two separate responses, saying that while the reorganisation of Ladakh into a Union Territory is “unacceptable,” the issue “should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreement.”

In contrast, the USA, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, France and the U.K. have advocated for bilateral discussions and refused to intervene, with the UAE going as far as to deem the move “an internal matter of India.”

What does this mean for students?

With a lack of international pressure, Kashmir remains on lockdown for the seventh consecutive week. Students all across the globe have been unable to reach their family and peers.

According to the Indian Government, restrictions will be alleviated on a day-to-day basis. Until then, no one is allowed to enter or exit the region. All lines of communication remain shut. At the time of writing, it is unsure whether students like Mr. Ubaidullah, who have with them the prayers of their peers, will be able return to their educational institutions for the upcoming academic year.

King’s has not yet released a statement on the issue.

Edit: Mr. Ubaidullah made it back to London on the 20th of September 2019.

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