By Anand Menon
A group comprising mainly students from IHEID marched from Maison de La Paix to Place des Nations last Thursday, October 3. Under the hashtag #KashmirUnderSiege, the demonstration was held to mark two months of the military siege and communications blockade imposed by the Indian government on the people of Jammu and Kashmir. In doing so, Geneva joined major metropolitan cities such as London and New York, as centres of solidarity to advocate for the fundamental rights of Kashmiris.
According to Surya Ghildiyal, member of the Understanding Kashmir Initiative of the Institute, “Historically, Kashmiris have been oppressed.” The most recent bout of violence in the disputed region began in early August this year, when an additional 38,000 troops were sent in by the Indian government to the world’s most militarized zone, educational institutions were shut down and tourists made to leave, ostensibly for security purposes. On August 5, the Home Minister announced in Indian Parliament that Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution would be revoked, thereby removing the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir and bringing it under the direct authority of the Central Government. Consequently, communication lines were snapped, while internet and mobile services have been indefinitely suspended. In addition, regional political leaders have been placed under house arrest. Constitutional experts continue to debate the validity of the move. While Prime Minister Modi continually insists that normalcy will be restored in Kashmir, people remain skeptical. Most recently, a team that had visited the state in late September reported excesses on the part of the Indian Army, amounting to torture of civilians.
The demonstration held in front of the UN Office of Geneva echoed this sentiment. The most oft-repeated slogan was that calling for Azaadi – freedom not just in terms of fundamental rights but also, freedom from the oppressive Indian regime and everything it stands for. Chants called out Modi for carrying out actions of human rights violations with such impunity, and the two-faced nature of Indian democracy that was blatantly exposed. Sharib A. Ali, an anthropology student from Bern, was of the view that such movements were an important means of showing dissent to the government. Coming all the way from Lucerne to join the demonstration, he says protests of this kind are important since “the moment one stops talking about an issue, it tends to be forgotten.”
To conclude, protestors gave speeches expressing their solidarity with the people of Kashmir and condemning several acts of the Indian state. In many ways, despite its focus on Kashmir, the protest was part of a larger movement to empathize with minorities both in India and abroad who were under occupation of one kind or another. As of now, the disputed Himalayan territory continues to remain under a punishing blockade, and it remains to be seen when the subjugated people will be given at least an iota of freedom.
All photographs taken by Amrita Bhatia and Harvey Parafina