By Khalid Hasan | Daily Times, August 14, 2008
WASHINGTON: A large number of United States and European academics, writers, artists and human rights workers have written a letter to the Geneva-based United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Justice Navanethem Pillay, asking him to take immediate steps to ease the plight of the beleaguered Kashmiris of the Indian-held valley and the Muslims of Jammu who are being subjected to ethnic cleansing.
The signatories, who include Prof Angana Chatterjee from California, point out that the profound humanitarian crisis is continuing in the Kashmir Valley on account of the ongoing blockade of the Srinagar-Jammu highway by religious nationalist groups from India. This has resulted in severe shortages in the Kashmir Valley of food and vital provisions. Petrol and essential medical rations, including blood, are in critically short supply. So is newsprint, while communication services and infrastructure are severely disrupted. The situation in Jammu, where the Muslim minority is facing violence on a scale that can be described as “ethnic cleansing”, is alarming. The Government of India and the military and paramilitary forces have shown themselves unable and/or unwilling to take any effective action, either to end the blockade or to stop the violence against Muslims in Jammu. Meanwhile, military and paramilitary forces have opened fire on counter-demonstrators in Kashmir, using live bullets and mortar.
The letter notes that about 95-97 percent of the population of the Valley is Muslim, which has made Indian-held Kashmir the target of increasingly aggressive campaigns by Hindu nationalist groups since 1947, despite guarantees of autonomy written into the Indian Constitution. The Government of India has failed to take measures to prevent these campaigns, consisting of marches and demonstrations, and culminating in the current blockade. To a population suffering the effects of 19 years of armed conflict, the economic crisis caused by the blockade comes as the last straw. The signatories recommend that the Government of India should immediately end the economic blockade and ensure that goods and services, including emergency medical and food supplies, can move in both directions along the Srinagar-Jammu border. The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road should be opened, as it would ensure that the current crisis situation is not repeated. It will also be a step forward in the peace process. Immediate action should be taken to stop the violence against the Muslim minority in Jammu and bring those responsible to justice. There should be an end to ongoing human rights abuses by Indian forces and pro-India militias, something repeatedly promised by the Indian prime minister. Steps should be taken top hold the Indian state accountable under the provisions established by the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, the constitution of India, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international laws and conventions.