The Indian army has tortured one out of every six people living in the occupied province of Kashmir, yet the plight of Kashmiris is largely undocumented in mainstream American media outlets. While media attention increased on the region in 2010 during the outbreak of a Kashmiri intifada, where youths began to throw stones against Indian military and paramilitary troops, coverage and discussion of Kashmir has once again dropped off entirely. Why is this? I argue that the violence and torture in Kashmir is largely silenced because of India's economic importance to the U.S. and Pakistan's political importance in the War on Terror. The U.S. remains neutral in discussions of Kashmir, arguing that India and Pakistan need to come to a solution on their own. In this way, the U.S. can protect both its political and economic interests in the region.
The conflict in Kashmir can be traced back to the original partition of the Indian subcontinent in the late 1940s, as both India and Pakistan wanted the region within their political control. In 1948, both sides agreed to line of a ceasefire that left one-third of the region in Pakistani control and two-thirds of the region under Indian control. Since that time, this line of control has become a major contentious issue between both countries, leading to the militarization of the entire region. Religion plays a major role in the defining of the conflict, since many Muslim populations are forced to live under what they view to be Hindu rule in India.
Continual wars and skirmishes regarding the rule of Kashmir have plagued the province with unrest, but it was not until 1989 that the continuous uprisings broke out in the region against the Indian state's occupation. Since 1989, Kashmir has become the most densely militarized zone in the world, with one Indian solider on the ground for every 15 Kashmiri locals, via Pulse Media. Between 1989 and 2011, an estimated 70,000 Kashmiri civilians died from the occupation and 8,000 have been "disappeared" (more than those disappeared in Allende's Chile). In addition to killing and "disappearing" Kashmiri civilians, the Indian army engages in the systematic use of torture and sexual violence to maintain control over the local populace (Wikileaks, BBC).
The documentary The Torture Trail follows Kashmiri lawyer Parvez Imroz on his journey to document cases of torture within Kashmir. Parvez has been shot and security forces have attacked his family home, but that has not stopped him from continuing his mission to bring the Indian army to justice for its torture program. He has documented 1500 cases of people becoming impotent after their genitals were electrocuted and hundreds of cases regarding the systematic use of rape and sexual violence by the Indian army and its paramilitary forces. The most disturbing case of torture Parvez documented is the case of a 60-year-old Kashmiri man who was held in solitary confinement for a month and forced to eat his own flesh that was cut from his own body. The documentary also touches on the issue of the Indian army using rape against large numbers of women in Kashmir, but points out many women do not come forward to report these crimes.
At this point in the conflict, many Kashmiris simply want to gain political independence from both India and Pakistan. A petition letter calling for the end of the political occupation of Kashmir and the release of all Kashmiri political prisoners is now circulating on change.org. This letter calls for the release of all political prisoners held by the army, and for a "sincere and time bound political process that will lead to negotiations with genuine Kashmiri representatives for the future of Kashmir." While the world has focused its attention on the occupation of Palestinian lands and the occupation of Tibet, the discussion surrounding human rights violations in Kashmir continue to be silenced. Even many academics and scholars are unaware of the torture, disappearances and sexual violence that occur in Kashmir.
Let's end this silence around the suffering in Kashmir by sharing this blog, sharing the petition on change.org, or by telling your friends and family. Significant changes in the Indian army's policies towards Kashmiri civilians will not occur until more public awareness and outrage forces the Indian state to begin negotiations.