The Amnesty International India launched on Thursday a global campaign in a bid to highlight the human cost of a month-long lockdown in India-administered Kashmir.
In a statement on its website, the human rights monitor termed the “draconian” communication blackout in Kashmir an “outrageous, protracted assault” on the civil liberties of the people of Kashmir.
The launching of the #LetKashmirSpeak campaign coincided with a month of communication blackout. It asked for immediate lifting of the lockdown.
While landline telephones have been announced to be restored, it said, they will fall woefully short in facilitating communication for the 8 million people of Kashmir.
“The blackout has now been a month old and cannot be prolonged any further by the Indian government as it has grossly impacted the daily lives of [the] Kashmiri people, their emotional and mental well-being, medical care, as well as their access to basic necessities and emergency services. It is tearing families apart,” said Aakar Patel, the head of Amnesty International India.
“While the region of Jammu has begun to see easing of the lockdown in many districts, most of Kashmir still remains under a severe communication blackout. Depriving an entire population of their right to freedom of expression, opinion and movement for an indefinite period is akin to taking the region back to the dark ages.”
The human rights monitor noted that sketchy reports coming out of the region have highlighted unattended medical emergencies, mass arrests, children and youth being picked up in the middle of the night, torture of civilians, and an indiscriminate use of tear gas, rubber bullets and pellet guns at protestors.
“This adds to the heightening of tensions and feelings of insecurity at a time when families are unable to contact each other and ensure their wellbeing,” the statement read.
It said the attempts to restrict the freedom of press have further compounded the effect of the communication blackout.
“This excessive censure has not only affected the public’s right to know and threatened basic freedom of expression norms, but also put the lives of journalists, health practitioners and service providers at risk,” the human rights monitor said further.
“Given the chronic impunity for abuses committed by security forces in the past in Kashmir and a lack of unconditional and unconstrained access to the news from the valley, the situation calls for lifting of the communications blackout without any further delay and to listen and engage with the people of Kashmir,” Patel said.
“This is no more a clampdown on just the communication systems of Kashmir, but a clampdown on the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris.”
New Delhi controversially revoked on August 5 the autonomous status of the part of Jammu and Kashmir it controls. Hours before its move, India curtailed movement and shut down phones and the internet, bringing in hundreds of thousands of troops to the occupied Himalayan territory.
Tensions between Pakistan and India flared up after the move. Several Indian and Pakistani soldiers have since been killed in skirmishes along the heavily militarized Line of Control.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence from Britain in 1947.
They have fought two of their wars over the disputed Himalayan territory.