Last month, the deadliest suicide bombing in decades struck Indian-occupied Kashmir. Then, India crossed the Line of Control to conduct a retaliatory airstrike in Pakistan. This escalation of tensions between the two countries has been unprecedented in the past three decades. However, while this geopolitical dynamic between the two nuclear-armed countries should certainly raise alarm, Kashmir has been plagued by pressing human rights concerns for decades, which have not received the same level of international outcry. Estimates suggest that at least 47,000 people have died in the violence since 1947, with many more disappearances.
News coverage of the recent events in Kashmir has largely bought into nationalist narratives on both sides, which neglect the full historical context of the crisis. The New York Times wrote that Kashmir was left in an undetermined state after the 1947 partition, and currently India controls much of Kashmir while Pakistan has a smaller portion. While this is not factually incorrect, positing Kashmir as a mere bargaining chip between the two countries totally erases the history of indigenous self-determination impulses. At the time of independence, even the Hindu Maharaja who ruled over the Muslim-majority province wanted to remain neutral. He signed the treaty of accession to India only after an invasion by Pakistani troops left him cornered.
The New York Times further notes that Kashmir has seen “decades of violence from militants seeking independence.” Because they live in one of the most heavily militarized zones in the world, Kashmiris resisting occupation have become labeled militants regardless of context. This social categorization perpetuates India’s nationalist narrative that Kashmir is, in fact, a part of India, and dissenters are simply terrorists with no legitimate claims. De-emphasizing and neglecting the nature of occupation in Kashmir paints a totally different image of the conflict to the rest of the world. Furthermore, the emphasis placed on terrorism has decidedly diminished the coverage of atrocities against Kashmiris and Muslims in the rest of India, where hundreds have been arrested as Prime Minister Modi placates his Hindu nationalist base just ahead of general elections.
The erasure of human rights violations in South Asia is reflective of the fact that the region is often marginalized in academic circles and news cycles. At Tufts, South Asian area studies within the international relations major are lumped together with the Middle East. As Arabic and Middle Eastern studies are currently trending and politically relevant, interest in South Asia throughout the ‘West’ has largely become relegated to South Asian students. In journalism, a combination of the U.S.’s close alliances with India and Pakistan and an emphasis on terrorist groups in South Asia in Afghanistan has come at the expense of understanding state dynamics and the experiences of citizens alike.
The ‘crisis’ in Kashmir did not begin last week. The crisis began with military occupations and systematic human rights violations, which have been occurring since 1947. We have the collective responsibility of making ourselves aware of these atrocities, and the Kashmiri people deserve our outrage and action despite being marginalized and dismissed in the mainstream media.