On the morning of August 5th, 2019, 8 million residents of Kashmir awoke to severed cellphone, landline, internet, and cable television services. Days before, 40,000 Indian troops were deployed into Kashmir, in addition to the hundreds of thousands already stationed in the region. Tourists, non-resident students, and Hindu pilgrims were forced to leave. Kashmiris knew that something catastrophic lay in the near future. And something catastrophic did: on August 6th, the BJP, India’s ruling Hindu-nationalist party, revoked Article 370, stripping Kashmir of the autonomous status it had held since 1954. News outlets across the globe rushed to cover the flashpoint crisis, with Aljazeera going so far as to release a page that offered daily updates on the situation.
In mid-August, the UN Security Council convened over Kashmir, a topic that they had avoided discussing since 1971. The outcome of this long-overdue discussion? Not much. Over 120 days later, the catastrophe continues, yet the media and humanitarian coverage wane. Independent reports find that around 13,000 boys have been detained since August. Schools, colleges, shops, and malls remain largely closed, and those that have opened struggle to operate. The internet blackout stretches on to its fifth month. However, the phrase “normalcy returns to Kashmir” swirls through headlines, replacing alarm bells with apathy. For a brief moment in September, the discourse surrounding India’s aggression in Kashmir featured the question of genocide. Now, pundits would declare the suggestion to be absurd. Indeed, no mass killing occurred. The lack of official and comprehensive figures on arrests and detainments confound claims of forcible transfer and separation. Are Pakistan’s warnings of genocide merely a product of decades of geopolitical rivalry and hostility towards India? Is the Kashmir crisis a bilateral issue? Would intervention violate national sovereignty? More questions circulate than answers. The compass of morality points nowhere. We will take comfort in this alleged return to normalcy. We will shield ourselves from responsibility by wallowing in our doubts. We will tell ourselves that intervention would be unwarranted.
Furthermore, if history tells us anything, we would be wrong. US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau urged the US government to take action as the Armenian genocide unfolded. The US refused to intervene, citing its desire to respect Turkey’s sovereignty and remain neutral. The US and UK had been comprehensively briefed on Nazi extermination of European Jews as early as 1942, yet took no military action until 1945. In 1994, the US not only refused to assist in humanitarian de-escalation efforts in Rwanda, but instead led efforts to actively remove UN peacekeepers stationed in Rwanda, blocked authorization of UN reinforcements, shied away from the term “genocide,” and allowed radio broadcasts inciting genocide against Tutsis to continue airing while possessing technology that could jam them.
To be clear, the crisis in Kashmir is not a genocide. Not yet. Nevertheless, it should not need to be for the UN and other international actors to take action. Beyond Rebecca Hamilton’s assertion in the “G Word Paradox” that branding a situation as “genocide” triggers no immediate response, Kashmir’s decades-long profound vulnerability should be enough to compel states to act. The territorial dispute between India and Pakistan has forced the region into an existential limbo that leaves them beholden to the whims of both state powers, each of whom claims Kashmir fully as their own. While the internet blackout imposed this August constitutes the most extensive, Kashmir has experienced 53 internet shutdowns in 2019 alone, and more in 2018. Pakistan-administered Kashmir has been functionally integrated into Pakistan (a move that many say is supported by the Kashmiris), while India’s abrogation of Article 370 in India-Administered Kashmir constitutes a flashpoint in a series of gradual tightenings of India’s hold. In fact, since 1989, over 67,000 Kashmiris have been killed. Modi continues to hide behind a framework of interpretive denial, claiming that India’s aggression will promote economic prosperity and curb extremism. The international community may temporarily take solace in these nicely-packaged justifications of human rights violations, yet this present inaction may stretch into another stain on the fabric of modernity. Those who lived during it will say that they wish they had known. Those who will learn about it will call it an aberration. Moreover, the Angel of History will perceive it as a “single catastrophe which keeps piling.” Kashmir has always been vulnerable, but now its vulnerability has reached a flashpoint. We can shield ourselves in doubt and denial, or we can take action before the crisis in Kashmir escalates to the point of no return.
Tala Alfoqaha is a third-year student at the University of Minnesota double majoring in Mathematics and Global Studies with a regional focus in the Middle East and a thematic focus in human rights and social justice. In 2019, she was awarded the Human Rights Program’s Don Fraser Fellowship, and spent a summer interning at The Advocates for Human Rights in their International Justice program. She currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of The Wake Magazine, a student-run publication, and in her capacity as a student hopes to further pursue studies of mass-violence and ethnic cleansing, with a particular interest in the present-day implications of settler-colonialism on indigenous populations.