Modi’s Visit to IIOJK: Continued Denial of Kashmiri Rights

by Saba Ghulam Nabi

On March 7, 2024, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Srinagar Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. It was his first visit since the revocation of Article 370. Armed forces, surveillance tools, foot patrolling, and Marine Commandos were deployed in Srinagar to monitor Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, and the area was transformed into a fortified. The statement made by President BJP Ravinder Raina that “around 2 lakh people would attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally was proven false”. It was revealed that only government employees and pro-BJP parties had participated in the rally, while the local people had shown no interest. Moreover, many opposition leaders were placed under house arrest, and legitimate political parties were banned by Modi’s administration. Government employees, teachers, J&K Bank staffers, etc, were threatened to face consequences if they did not attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Srinagar. The employees were bound to gather as early as 4:30 am in freezing temperatures to be transported to the rally venue by buses. The heads of the departments were threatening disciplinary action against those who would not join. The examinations that were scheduled to take place were postponed including class X board exams.

Modi’s visit was not much different from his previous visit in 2018, where his promises of development and constitutional reforms for the people of IIOJK were never fulfilled. The BJP claims that its actions since 2019 have brought development and peace to Kashmir, with investment and tourists coming. However, the ground realities are different: systematic oppression under increasingly authoritarian laws is crushing democratic freedoms like free speech and political representation. Kashmir is now one of the most heavily militarized zones in the world. Most Kashmiris are too terrified to speak out publicly, fearing police actions for expressing criticism.

Journalists in Kashmir are facing harassment, interrogation, and confiscation of their devices. New laws restrict reporting, deleting critical coverage and reducing independent newspapers to government press releases. According to Amnesty International, “Since August 5, 2019, more than 27 senior journalists have been arrested and detained by the Indian authorities.” Many news outlets were also banned, like ‘Kashmir Walla’. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries reports that around 50,000 people lost their jobs after August 5, 2019, resulting in a 16.2% unemployment rate, which is more than double the Indian Union unemployment rate of 6.7%. Kashmiris are also facing their worst-ever power crisis. Modi’s policies are affecting farmers, traders, and businessmen in IIOJK. Apple, a significant cash crop product in Jammu and Kashmir, contributes nearly 10% to the Kashmir economy. Modi’s government reduced the import duty on Washington apples from 70% to 50%. This reduction has increased the challenges for Kashmiri farmers and had an effect on the production of Apple. The Indian government auctioned mineral extraction tenders in Kashmir online; this was a deliberate attempt to make sure that an overwhelming majority of these licenses were allotted to Indians and not to Kashmiris. The Ministry of Railways recently approved five railway lines one of them from Awantipora to rich Apple Shopian, the proposed project runs through scores of Apple orchards, the sole income of the villagers. The people are also protesting and demanding to relocate it as this project will lead to a major economic and environmental disaster. Over 200 mineral blocks in the Jhelum River and its tributaries were opened for mining, with an unprecedented 70% of the total mining contracts going to Indians. Non-local contractors bagged all 10 mining blocks in Srinagar, Baramulla, Budgam, and Pulwama districts, with Punjabi contractors securing the remaining three blocks on the Jhelum tributaries.

Back-to-back recruitment scams in IIOJK exposed the administration’s fake claims of zero corruption. The BJP is spoiling the future of Kashmiri youth. LG Manhoj Sehna stated “Until 2022, there was no concept of nightlife and multiplex cinemas. Today, youth spend time on the Jhelum front, and tourists enjoy cinemas and nightlife across Srinagar.” However, he did not mention the issues Kashmiri youth are facing. Specifically, 45% of Kashmir’s adult population (1.8 million) suffers from mental health issues, including depression (41%), anxiety (26%), and PTSD (19%). The scarcity of mental health resources, with only 41 psychiatrists serving a population of over 12.5 million, further exacerbates the crisis. Suicide attempts have also increased because of conflict. Instead of introducing cinemas, addressing mental health issues is more important. Modi’s claim that revoking Article 370 would bring economic prosperity to IIOJK has proven to be an illusion. The data compiled by “global digital rights group access now and the Keep It On coalition shows that of the 187 internet shutdowns recorded worldwide, 84 took place in India. Out of this, nearly 60% of India’s internet shutdowns last year occurred in IIOJK.” Kashmiris are subjected to Indian occupying authorities’ digital monitoring daily, at concrete bunker checkpoints, workplaces, universities, hospitals, and on social media.

After the revocation of Article 370, the people of Jammu and Ladakh were initially hopeful, as the BJP had made promises for development. However, since 2019, there has been little to no progress in terms of development, and people are facing prejudice at the commercial level. Now, the people of Jammu and Ladakh are protesting against the BJP in the region. This challenges the BJP’s claims that people are supportive of India and that the situation in IIOJK is normal. The People of IIOJK had an emotional connection with Article 370. Even those who celebrated its abrogation are now mourning its absence. The so-called development has been overshadowed by ongoing human rights violations and a stifling environment in IIOJK. Modi is suppressing the voices of the Kashmiri people by imposing draconian laws and unconstitutional acts, and after doing all this, the silence of suppressed people is called peace. To hide all of this and to show the world that there is normalcy and development in IIOJK, Modi launched the G20 submit.  The Indian government has pushed a series of laws and policies that are aimed at undermining the struggle of Kashmiris for the right to self-determination.

The recent visit of Modi to IIOJK has exposed a troubling reality, coercion, not consent, drives attendance, and employees were forced to attend rally under threat. His speech made no significant changes in the promised statehood, democratically elected government, job packages, power crisis relief, or major development projects. But this time Kashmiris knew that everything spoken at Bakshi Stadium was the showcase of the so-called benefits of illegal abrogation of Article 370, akin to putting salt to their wounds. Only puppets were raising slogans, and the individuals were not expressing anything despite their appearance at the rally because they were forced to be there. This visit is only meant to address and drum support amongst the BJP’s core constituency in the rest of India for the upcoming parliament elections.

“Indian government denying Kashmiris their inalienable right to self-determination for the last 77 years in contravention of international law, the UN Charter, and UNSC resolutions. Kashmiris made exemplary sacrifices in their legitimate struggle for freedom from India’s occupation.”

Political parties in IIOJK should unite to foil the BJP’s communal and polarizing agenda for the sake of the future of Kashmiri generations. If the parties do not get united, there will be no tomorrow for the coming generations. It is the right time to rise above party politics.

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