Indian war crimes in Kashmir must end now

Indian war crimes in Kashmir must end now
Comment: India is engaged in multiple types of war crimes denounced by international humanitarian law.
6 min read
05 Apr, 2018
In Shopian, Kashmir, Indian forces shot dead 13 militants and four Kashmiri civilians [Getty]
Last Friday, Israeli forces shot dead 17 Palestinians protesting the illegal Israeli occupation of their lands.

A few days later, April descended on Kashmir, and brought the killing of 18 Kashmiris by Indian armed forces in Shopian district.

In comparison to Palestine and the wider Middle East, Kashmir is not so rich in resources, and holds little geopolitical importance beyond its borders. Perhaps as a result, the plight of the Kashmiri people appears more rarely in international media, drawing only intermittent outrage.

But India is engaged in every kind of war crimes denounced by international humanitarian law.

Indian forces employ inhumane tactics on an everyday basis. The narrative of "violation of human rights" in Kashmir disguises what are essentially war crimes in an asymmetric war between 700,000 Indian forces, and 10 million unarmed people, among whom a few hundred have taken up arms.

The Geneva Convention, commonly known as war laws, provide a framework of conduct for international states during war. India remains a signatory to the above laws, yet its forces have committed mass rape, killed civilians and destroyed the bodies of armed fighters in Kashmir.

It has also used forms of collective punishment, such as curfews during the 2008, 2010 and 2016 uprisings, and mass arrests under the Public Safety Act. 

The Indian state denies freedom of speech by targeting journalists, many of whom have been killed in the line of duty. Internet access has been blocked more than 31 times in the last four years and continues to be the first port of call for the state government in case of protests.

Medical neutrality

On 1 April, as Indian forces killed 13 armed fighters and four civilians in three separate encounters, hundreds were injured as people thronged around the flashpoints. The injured while being taken to hospitals had to face a double disaster, when armed forces deployed on roads disallowed movement of ambulances. One ambulance driver was deliberately stopped from taking his patient to hospital.

  The lack of international outrage and media coverage is of serious concern to Kashmiris  

The next day, medical staff at the district hospital in Shopian protested against the armed forces who had fired teargas shells at the staff and people in the hospital. Doctors testified that the blood bank was deliberately targeted.

This however, is nothing new. During the 2016 uprising after the killing of popular rebel commander Burhan Wani, around 150 ambulances were damaged in action throughout the valley. Another ambulance driver was also shot at.

Last Sunday too, the valley's hospital faced a crisis as the number of patients ballooned. Among hundreds of injured, 41 had been hit by pellets and were facing imminent partial or total blindness, in a continuation of what one Kashmiri writer termed, the Indian state's perpetration of the world's first mass blinding.

Medical neutrality is an internationally recognised component of humanitarian law, and is clearly detailed under the Geneva Convention. Offences include harming medical staff, equipment, hospitals and ambulances.

  The Indian state denies freedom of speech by targeting journalists  

But medical institutions and staff have become the primary targets by Indian forces aiming to worsen the situation for dissenting Kashmiris.

Civilian killings

Statistics of civilians killed from 2008 - the year of first mass uprising in recent times - reveals the tragic truth about the armed conflict in Kashmir.

The human rights review reports released by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) provides the following data on civilians killed: 153 in 2008, 99 in 2009, 167 in 2010, 56 in 2011, 35 in 2012, 48 in 2013, 53 in 2014, 55 in 2015, 145 in 2016 and 81 in 2017.

In 2018, current records state 41 civilians killed so far. These figures indicate that a slow and painful genocide is in progress in the valley.

  Some reports suggest that civilians are killed while protesting armed with nothing but stones  

Some reports suggest that civilians are killed while protesting armed with nothing but stones. Others are targeted by armed forces who claim that they are unintentionally hit by "stray bullets" in encounters. This is conventionally termed as "collateral damage", a euphemism for murder in the military lexicon.

The use of Kashmiri civilians as human shields in these encounters has also been a part of the army's counterinsurgency operations since 1990s.

Indian forces, while cordoning off the encounter sites, send civilians to plant IED devices inside the place where armed fighters are present. Rarely do people used as shields survive such a dangerous situation. In the twin Shopian clashes, civilians were killed when used as a shield by the army. 

During India's parliamentary elections in 2017, Farooq Ahmad Dar, a local from Budgam district, was tied to the bonnet of a jeep by Major Leetul Gogoi of the Indian army, and paraded throughout the locality. He was used as a human shield to dissuade people from protesting and boycotting the elections that Kashmiris have always considered as enforced.

Collective conscience

Indian public opinion remains deafeningly silent over the actions of its national forces, and the public faith entrusted in the army is telling. There appears to be no Indian outrage at all over these war crimes, with some calling for a more ruthless approach towards Kashmiris.

Tshirts printed with the famous sight of Farooq Dar tied to the jeep are selling like hotcakes online in India. The image is captioned: "Indian Army saving your ass, whether you like it or not!". The entrepreneur behind this idea is none other than Tejinder Pal Bagga, the spokesman of Bharatiya Janta Party which is in power in India, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Read more: India's hardline approach in Kashmir won't work. It never has

One might well wonder how the government of the "world's largest democracy" could allow such an overt glorification of a war crime to happen.

But as the facts are there to confirm, that same government gave Major Leetul Gogoi an award for doing such a commendable job in tackling Kashmiri protesters, arguing that "in such war zones a soldier must be allowed to act as he sees fit".

The glorification of Farooq Dar as a human shield did not end there.

A recent Bollywood movie has portrayed the incident in one of its scenes. As expected, it did not raise an eyebrow in Indian society. Bollywood movies portrayal of Kashmir has always been about manufactured binaries of a "bad Kashmiri Muslim terrorist" and a "good Indian army officer", with some love story overpowering the brutal conflict.

But India will not be held accountable for its war crimes, because firstly, the treaties are not legally binding, and secondly, India's national interest holds precedence over the political rights of Kashmiris.

But the lack of international outrage and media coverage is of serious concern to Kashmiris who, despite living in one of the most militarised zones on earth, find themselves alienated by global civil society.