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Top UN Rights Experts Call Kashmir Blackout ‘Collective Punishment’


Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. A new report in Kashmir, which Modi has stripped of its political autonomy, suggests the crackdown in the region may hide abuses against civilians there.

As a communications shutdown is still depriving people in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley contact with the outside world, five eminent international human-rights advocates say that the Indian military chokehold may be obscuring continuing abuses against civilians, nearly three weeks after stripping the region of its political autonomy. Information has been slowly emerging.

“The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offense,” the advocates’ report said. They were concerned, they added, about allegations seeping from the valley about night raids on private homes, “leading to the arrest of young people.”

The report also addressed fears that mass arrests of politicians, journalists and any perceived critics seem to be growing, pointing to the possibility of enforced disappearances, since families do not know where their relatives might be.

The advocates warned that excessive force, including the use of live ammunition, is being turned on protestors when they venture into the streets. Tens of thousands of Kashmiris have been killed or have vanished since widespread protests and harsh military responses began in 1989.

Separately, other reports in the Indian media are beginning to appear about sexual crimes committed by Indian security forces — army troops, paramilitary formations and a national reserve police force now totaling hundreds of thousands, which have a long record of rape and other abuses of women and girls. The military has virtually total immunity against arrest and prosecution under antiterrorism laws.

Photographs smuggled from Kashmir show groups of angry women among the protesters. Other women are afraid even to go outdoors.

In the human-rights advocates’ report, released in Geneva on Aug. 23, the UN monitors called on the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, led by Hindu nationalists, to address the “disproportionate” restrictions imposed on Kashmiris. The nationalists disparage India’s secular democratic traditions and for a long time have sought to ‘Hinduize’ Kashmir. They have now canceled the Kashmiris’ constitutionally protected rights, prompting the protests; predictions of violence increase.

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The five independent rights monitors, whose report was prepared for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, are unsalaried specialists who are not UN officials. The experts are David Kaye, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Michel Forst, special rapporteur on the situation of human-rights defenders; Bernard Duhaime of the working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances; Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, special rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; and Agnès Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The Indian government’s moves to shut down Muslim Kashmir has meant that fuller credible reports of what may be happening in the valley could take time to emerge, although some journalists and concerned Kashmiri civilians are beginning to get out more, fragmented, information.

Ironically, one result has been that while waiting for concrete news and data to become available, some Indian journalists and commentators who have not bought the Modi government’s propaganda pitch that this will all be good for Kashmiris ultimately, are looking at the bigger picture of where India is heading politically.

Pamela Philipose is a distinguished journalist and author with experience in the mainstream media at The Times of India and The Indian Express, who later directed the Women’s Feature Service in Delhi for six years. The site was designed to enhance gender focus in news and commentary in India. She recently turned her attention to Kashmir in an essay on what the crisis revealed about two critical factors: the media and militarization under the Modi regime.

Analyzing how the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP)  under Modi and his hard-line interior minister, Amit Shah, strategized to end the safeguards for Kashmiris in Article 370 of the Indian constitution, she wrote: “Its lynchpin was the combination of military force and media manipulation, both conducted on an unprecedented scale. . . . The muzzled media and the unmuzzled gun have always coexisted in the dystopic landscape of Kashmir. On 5 August, however, there was a media gag so impenetrable, so sudden, so cynical, so ruthless, that an entire population was blindsided. . . . The impact of this climate of fear and mass muting on ordinary lives can well be imagined.”

In contrast to the media gag, she wrote, [there] “was the free flow of information, generated by the corporatized media, which supported, celebrated and eulogized the Modi government’s actions. This cynical complementarity of a shutdown of media content in J & K, and the exuberant proliferation of media content outside it, is nothing less than establishing the dominant, nationalist narrative at gunpoint.”

Her concluding thought: “Anything is possible. We are entering the territory of the Orwellian script: ‘You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.'”

Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.

Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”

Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.

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