In this article, we will focus on human rights abuses – including mass killings – carried out in Kashmir by forces with the support of the Indian government, with special focus on the campaign launched in 1990. This is not an attempt to take sides or make light of the atrocities carried out by forces supported by the Pakistani government in this conflict zone. We have simply elected to focus on the Indian-controlled forces in this specific article, and more precisely the campaign which started in 1990 when emergency rule was instituted in Kashmir.
After the end of British Colonial rule in India in 1947, internal conflicts along religious and ethnic lines led to the formation of two separate states: India, which takes up the bulk of the Indian subcontinent, and Pakistan in the north, where the population is predominantly Muslim. (Back then, Pakistan consisted of two regions: West Pakistan and East Pakistan. After another bloody conflict, East Pakistan became the sovereign state Bangladesh in the early 1970s.)
When the two sovereign states India and Pakistan were established, the region Kashmir emerged as a point of contention between the two, as its local ruler Maharajah Hari Singh refused to accede to either nation.
In August 1947, Kashmir was invaded by Pakistani tribesmen in conjunction with an uprising by Muslims living in western Kashmir. This prompted Maharajah Singh to ask India´s Prime Minister Nehru for help. Nehru agreed to help, but only if Kashmir acceded to India. In October 1947, the maharajah agreed to India´s demands, but on the condition that Kashmir would be allowed to keep its own constitution.
The Indian armed forces drew the Pakistani forces back to the western third of Kashmir, but not out of Kashmir completely.
What eventually emerged was this situation:
- The western-third of Kashmir was under the control of Muslim-dominated Pakistan, who proclaimed it Azad Kashmir (“Free Kashmir”).
- The Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir became known as the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The population of the outlying Jammu region was mainly Hindu and Sikh.
- A corner of Kashmir called Aksai Chin was claimed and occupied by China. (This border dispute eventually led to a short but bloody war between China and India in 1962.)
The United Nations brokered a ceasefire between Indian and Pakistan in 1949, but the Kashmir conflict gave rise to two more wars between two countries; one in 1965 and one in 1971.
In the state of Jammu & Kashmir, discontent with Indian interference led to the formation of the militant Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in 1964.
As of 2021, the multi-fold of conflicts in the Kashmir region has still not been resolved nor de-escalated. Many observers actually point to Kashmir as one of the most likely starting-points for a nuclear war, as India has nuclear weapons and Pakistan is widely regarded as “nuclear-weapons capable”.
For sources and more information, see:
- Human Rights Watch, “India’s Secret Army in Kashmir”, May 1996, Vol. 8, No. 4 C. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1996/India2.htm
- Michael Kolodner, “Violence as Policy in the Occupations of Palestine, Kashmir, and Northern Ireland” [Master’s thesis, Amherst College, 1996].
Indian emergency rule in Kashmir from 1990
As mentioned above, the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was formed in 1964 as a channel for widespread discontent with Indian interference and reduced local autonomy in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
In the 1990s, emergency rule was instituted in Indian-controlled Kashmir and the Indian government embarked on a campaign of extra-judicial killings and disappearances of suspected JKLF militants. The campaign revolved around crackdowns, where all the men of a neighbourhood or village were ordered to assemble and stand in front of anonymous informers who themselves were hidden under hoods. A man pointed out by such an informer would be taken away for interrogation, and this interrogation would often involve torture. There are also reports of men being taken away and shot without interrogation. (Source: Human Rights Watch, “India’s Secret Army in Kashmir”, May 1996, Vol. 8, No. 4 C.)
It should be noted that JKLF gave up its armed struggle in 1994, but the situation remained tense as anti-Indian militant activism organized by Pakistan filled the void. These new groups were chiefly guerillas based along the Pakistani border and supported by the Pakistani regime. Eventually, these groups became notorious for their terrorist attacks, including gendercidal terrorism. It would not be wrong to describe the situation as a proxy-war between Indian and Pakistan, rather than a situation where “freedom fighters” on either side is opposing a tyrannical government.
The Indian government has repeatedly sought to distance themselves from the extra-judicial killings in Kashmir. From 1995 an onwards, the government largely opted to outsource the jobs to third-party groups which were armed, trained and assisted by official Indian security forces, and carried out orders given by Indian security officers. Some of these groups consisted of or included former JKLF members that had surrendered or been captured. (Source: Human Rights Watch, “India’s Secret Army in Kashmir”, May 1996, Vol. 8, No. 4 C.)
In 1999, Human Rights Watch reported that due to the nature of these operations, it was very difficult to accurately estimate the total number of killings, but that according to human rights groups in the state and in India, thousands of summary executions had already taken place since the campaign started. (Source: Human Rights Watch, “Behind the Kashmir Conflict”, July 1999. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/kashmir/summary.htm)
In addition to the killings orchestrated by Indian security forces, men also disappeared after being arrested by police or paramilitary forces loyal to India, which leaves the families in a limbo where they do not know if the disappeared man is dead or alive. The ages of the disappeared men ranged from juveniles to the elderly, so this was not a situation where only men of military age were at risk. The disappearances were also not limited to a certain group, i.e. the intelligentsia. Both blue-collar and white-collar men were disappearing, including manual labourers, teachers, lawyers, and businessmen. (Source: Amnesty International. ‘If they are dead, tell us’ – “Disappearances” in Jammu and Kashmir. March 2, 1999. Index Number: ASA 20/002/1999)
Estimating the number of disappearances is notoriously difficult, since families feared – and fear – reprisals if they bring attention to their case, e.g. by reaching out to lawyers or human rights groups.
According to Human Rights Watch, torture (including sexual torture) was a strategy routinely employed by all the security forces operating in Kashmir. This practise was well known by the authorities in both Srinagar and New Dehli, but no serious efforts were made to put an end to it.
In the 1990s, medical doctors working in Kashmir got used to seeing torture-induced kidney failure, a condition which is often fatal. When the body is exposed to severe beatings, the injured muscles can release more toxins than what the kidneys can handle. The same condition can be brought on by serious electric shocks.
“Those who have received treatment for torture-induced renal problems have been mostly young males but have included some older men. (…) Human Rights Watch is not aware of a single prosecution in a case of the torture or summary execution of a detainee in the ten years since the conflict began.” (Source: Human Rights Watch, “Behind the Kashmir Conflict”, July 1999.)
Rape and other forms of sexual torture
While males have been the chief targets for the round-ups, extra-judicial killings and mysterious disappearances described above, female relatives of suspected militants or dissidents have been the chief victims of sexual torture as part of the campaign. According to Human Rights Watch, this abuse has been carried out not only by the third-party paramilitary forces, but also directly by Indian security forces.
“In the past, the Indian government has made public a number of prosecutions of members of security forces for rape. However, even these cases amount to no more than a handful; many other incidents of rape have never been prosecuted, and reports of rape and other sexual assaults in Kashmir persist.” (Source: Human Rights Watch, “Behind the Kashmir Conflict”, July 1999.)
One resident of the village of Marmal told Human Rights Watch that in October 1998, the army conducted a sweep of nearly two dozen villages in the area and abducted many local women.
“They are looking for the militants, but they are unable to find any. So they harass the local population (…) Our womenfolk are taken into the army camp, all separately. (…) They come back after two or three days. They are very shy then, and don’t want to talk about what has happened to them. The army has pressured them not to speak about what happened.” (Source: Human Rights Watch, “Behind the Kashmir Conflict”, July 1999.)
The other side
As mentioned in the ingress, the scope of this article is extra-judicial killings and certain other human rights violations carried out by Indian-backed forces in Kashmir.
For a more complete understanding of the situation in Kashmir, it is important to understand that atrocities have been carried out by both sides, adding fuel to a fire that is ravaging the region and forcing ordinary civilians to live under horrifying conditions.
Anyone interested in learning more about gendercidal attacks carried out by Muslim (and allegedly Pakistan-backed) militants in the Kashmir region can for instance read Cecilia Dugger´s New York Times article from March 21, 2000. It highlights how in March 2000, one the of the so-far largest gendercidal massacres in the conflict took place in the village of Chattinsinghpura. “Indian police officials said the massacre, which took place on Monday night about 9 p.m., was carried out by dozens of Muslim militants. They descended on the largely Sikh village of Chattinsinghpura about 40 miles south of the summer capital of Srinagar, ordered people from their homes, then executed the men. Thirty-four men perished on the spot and two more died later at a hospital.” (Source: Celia Dugger, “36 Massacred in India, as Clinton Begins Visit”, The New York Times, March 21, 2000.)