“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by rule of law...” — Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
EVERY human rights activist recalls with joy and satisfaction the victories scored by ordinary people across the world in their struggles to secure their human rights. These rights thus won have included freedom from colonial rule; freedom from fear and hunger; freedom from discrimination on the grounds of belief, race, colour, gender or social status; the right of every people to decide their own destiny; the right to self-governance; the right to own and dispose of resources; and above all, the right to peace.
But there have been situations when the international community and its human rights movement have failed to protect under any law the human rights of people who rebel against tyranny and oppression as a very last resort. The Kashmiri people’s rebellion against tyranny is one of the major cases that raises doubts in the minds of human rights activists regarding whether the slogans about the universality and indivisibility of human rights are valid for all vulnerable segments of humankind.
For several decades, the people of India-held Kashmir have been in a state of rebellion against tyranny and oppression, but the world has failed to ensure protection of their human rights under any law — national or international.
The international community’s failure to help the people of Kashmir has emboldened the Narendra Modi government to surpass all its predecessors in the use of naked force and various other forms of coercion to suppress their struggle for basic human rights. In addition to killing Kashmiri demonstrators by gunfire and torture in the security forces’ illegal cells, pellet guns have been used to blind children. Now cluster bombs are being used to terrorise the unarmed youth. An indefinite curfew in Srinagar and elsewhere has meant the whole population is starved and denied access to medical aid.
Why is the world indifferent to the Kashmiri people’s decades-long struggle for their rights?
The world has taken little notice of the near-total blackout of news from Kashmir. Shujaat Bokhari, the pride of South Asian journalism, was assassinated outside his office and there is no sign of the kind of outrage that has accompanied similar incidents of journalists’ killings elsewhere.
Can the international community deny that the people of Kashmir are fighting for their most fundamental human rights: the right to self-determination and freedom from tyranny and oppression? How can the international community ignore the fact that changes in Kashmir’s status introduced by the racist regime in New Delhi are aimed at helping its business elite gobble up Kashmir’s land and forests and thus deprive the Kashmiri people of the ownership of their natural resources?
Why is the world, at least a greater part of it, callously indifferent to the Kashmiri people’s decades-long struggle to realise their human rights? Earlier examples of similar lapses may offer an answer.
The story of Israel’s expansionist designs — supported by the capitalist powers — is known to every student of history. The Zionist state has been allowed, nay helped, by its patrons to not only get away with its fruits of aggression, but also alter the status of Jerusalem. The way the demography of occupied Arab lands has been (and is being) changed is one of the earliest cases that caused frustration among human rights activists. The lesson is that big powers’ interest overrides their professions of support to human rights.
Recall the big powers’ refusal to support the black South Africans’ fight against apartheid. Those who rebelled against tyranny received no sympathy. Instead, they were jailed under the Suppression of Communism Act, and the campaign against communism allowed no respect for human rights. The Third World plea for sanctions against South Africa’s racist rulers remained unheeded. The lesson was clear: big powers’ partners at the global level were free to abuse human rights.
Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya and the world’s failure to protect their rights are fresh in our minds. The human rights of the resourceless Rohingya were overlooked because certain big powers and some smaller fry had business relations with the regime.
Thus, it is possible that the leaders of the international community are so obsessed with ideas of profiting from relations with India that Modi can blackmail them into looking away from Kashmir.
It is also possible that the Kashmiris are not considered entitled to international support because their cause has been taken up by Pakistan that is still on FATF’s grey list, and the international jury is biased against it. But Pakistan’s interest in the unfinished Partition agenda, or the history of India-Pakistan wrangling including wars between them, cannot affect the just cause of the Kashmiri people. It would be a horrible miscarriage of justice if the people of Kashmir were denied their human rights only because the leaders of world opinion do not like their counsel.
Another reason for the world’s indifference towards the Kashmiri people’s plight could be the fallout of what is described as Islamophobia. While there may still be elements among the Kashmiri freedom fighters who base their politics on their religious identity, most of them gave up faith-based politics long ago. Now the change in Kashmir’s status undermines the rights and interests of all Kashmiri people and the division into religious groups created by inept rulers is crumbling as New Delhi faces a surge in Kashmiri nationalism.
Finally, international support to the Modi government’s operations in Kashmir amounts to legitimising genocide as a means of achieving political gains, a trend the entire human family must repel with its fullest force.
What the international community must realise is that dedication to human rights admits of no exceptions, none especially on the grounds of belief, race or geography. Failure to uphold the Kashmiri people’s struggle will not only increase their ordeal, but the international human rights movement will invite indictment for partisanship in approaching rights violations and destroying the dream of human rights for all members of the human family. It is too heavy a price to pay for supporting an as easily perishable combine as Modi’s Sangh Parivar.
Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2019