The image of Farooq Ahmad Dar, a Kashmiri shawl weaver, bound as a human shield on the bumper of an Indian military jeep is an atrocious display of an army that has become well-accustomed to human rights violations. On April 9, Mr. Dar was detained for no cause whatsoever while on his way to a relative’s funeral, beaten by the Indian troops on hand, then tied to a military jeep and driven through at least 9 different Kashmiri villages. The Indian army use of Dar as a human shield was intended to stop protesting youth from throwing stones at soldiers, and constitutes a grave violation of humanitarian international law. After the image spread on social media, authorities in the region ended up filing a criminal complaint against the army for tying Mr. Dar to the jeep and parading him as a human shield in nine villages. We have to wait and see if anything comes out of the complaint, but previous complaints did not result in any charges, or very minor disciplinary steps had been taken, and I am afraid the same will happen in this case.
In an interview with the Indian press, Mr. Dar spoke about people’s reaction to seeing him driven tied up on the front of a military jeep: “When they saw me, they were afraid and angry… I saw people breaking into tears on seeing my state… My family wants me to see a doctor, but I am afraid of stepping out of our house,” he said. “When it’s evening, I see them in my thoughts, coming again to take me away. Again, they strap me to the jeep and make the rounds of the villages.”
The region that Mr. Dar comes from is in an area of Kashmir that historically expressed opposition to India’s Military presence and boycotted the recent elections in the area. However, Mr. Dar actually said, “I voted, and this is what I got in return.” He indicated that he opposed the separatists’ movement in the region but in his mind the action will only strengthen the ongoing resistance: “Do you think it will help India in Kashmir? No. It will give Kashmiris another reason to hate India.”
Mr. Dar’s encounter with the Indian military is not an isolated case, but rather a part and parcel of a long conflict that dates back to the immediate end of the British colonial rule in the region. Just like Palestine was subject to a colonially designed division, Kashmir has suffered the same type of treatment by the British, which has set in motion 70 years of conflict, evictions and take-overs of land, resettling populations, and constant and massive human rights violations. The attention paid to this conflict is very scant at best and, with few exceptions, it is a totally forgotten part of the world.
The recent Indian government escalation of violence in Kashmir is never noticed or reported beyond the Pakistani and Indian press and surely enough it is never mentioned in the Western evening news. Likewise, reports in Arab and Muslim press are scant on the subject and, with few exceptions, are relegated to brief mentionings if any. More alarmingly, the Indian Prime Minister is increasingly given lavish welcome and ceremonies across parts of the Arab and Muslim worlds that adds insult to injury. The excuses for the lack of attention are many but we rarely stop to consider the deepening crisis at hand and the wholesale violation of human rights. To their credit, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch did report the ongoing violations but their extensive research and evidence is collecting dusts at the U.N. headquarters in New York, Geneva and across many governmental foreign desks around the world.
India’s increasing influence and integration into the neoliberal global economy and the strengthening of its alliances with the United States, Europe, Israel and parts of the Arab and Muslim worlds contributes to the structural erasure of Kashmiri’s cause from the international community’s agenda. Similarly, the dependence of a number of Arab and Muslim countries on Indian labor and deepening economic and security links make the Kashmir issue an undesirable agenda item during diplomatic encounters. Furthermore, India’s dependence and oil imports from the Gulf States causes the intentional absence of Kashmir from the regional political and economic agenda. Labor, security, oil and market interests drive Arab and Muslim attention away from engagement with Kashmir and elevates strong relations with India above any other considerations.
The recent wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are often used as an excuse for the lack of attention. However, the total absence of coverage and concern pre-dates these most recent conflicts. On a personal level, I do take some responsibility for not giving the needed and sustained responsiveness to Kashmir and more so as a Palestinian who is keenly aware of the pain that comes from erasure and lack of attention. Kashmir stands as a forgotten cause and the suffering of Kashmiris does not register nor solicit a response from the Arab and Muslim world or the international community.
The Indian government has certainly deployed massive number of troops that are engaged in systematic repression and violent targeting of civilians. Death and destruction are vested upon the population on a daily basis, random arrests, raids on homes, business and properties and restrictions on movements that are equal to what Israel has in the Occupied Territories. Where is the outrage, calls for investigation, special envoys and international teams to express concern for the forgotten?
Among American Muslims, the cause of Kashmir does not get attention and only few organizations and leaders make it a point to bring it up in community or public gatherings. As a matter of fact, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi visited some U.S. cities and was given a rock star welcome, a number of American Muslim groups and leaders refused to endorse statements that spoke of atrocities in Gujarat and Kashmir. The interest to forge an American Muslim ecumenical deal was far more important for those who refused to join the principled efforts against the visit. I don’t want to imply that the problem was limited to U.S. rolling the red carpet for Modi’s visit, a number of Arab and Muslim countries extended a welcome to the Indian Prime minister that was unprecedented in scale and form. The time for local and transnational consciousness is upon us and indivisible standards of justice should not be sacrificed for a narrowly constructed ecumenical deal and India’s human rights violation in Kashimr should be an important item on the agenda.