Harjit Kaur: From Jammu & Kashmir To Delhi, The Erosion Of Democracy In India

Yesterday, as the world watched the farmers of India participate in the world’s largest tractor protest, Modi again enacted an internet blackout - this time in Delhi, the nation’s capital

Harjit Kaur
January 27, 2021 | 3 min. read

As we witness one of the largest protests in history unfold, and the state-sponsored violence unleashed to stop it, we cannot forget what is happening in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and the lessons it provides about present-day India. 

Narendra Modi, as the leader of the far-right and Hindu nationalist BJP Party, is no stranger to ignoring and even rampantly violating human rights and the democratic process in order to execute his political power. 

In August of 2019, Modi’s government changed the constitutional and legal status of the former state of J&K, one of only two non-Hindu majority states in India, in two principal ways. First by scrapping Article 370 and Article 35-A of the Indian Constitution and then, secondly, geographically splitting J&K into two separate Union Territories (UTs) - putting the region under more direct control from the central government. 

Like the farmers’ bills, the legal and constitutional changes of J&K were made without parliamentary debate and without participation and input from those it impacted the most - local politicians, leaders, and citizens. 

Modi immediately deployed thousands of troops to J&K, enacted a mandatory curfew, placed Kashmiri politicians and leaders under house arrest, and cut internet, phone, and cable communications in the region to silence anticipated protests. He stated that the blackout was necessary to maintain law and order as the government affected new change in the regions. 

However, human rights activists, reporters, and citizens of J&K all proclaimed this was a human rights violation and a draconian way to shatter any democratic dissent.

This narrative continues to be denied by the Indian Government, but the fact that foreign dignitaries from the US and the European Union were denied access states otherwise. The few foreign dignitaries allowed access to J&K are subjected to a very tight security protocol and only allowed to visit areas selected by the Indian Government. 

Yesterday, as the world watched the farmers of India participate in the world’s largest tractor protest, Modi again enacted an internet blackout - this time in Delhi, the nation’s capital. 

The irony of this systematic silencing of dissent on Republic Day is not lost on the citizens of J&K, who know first-hand how little regard the government has for human rights, transparency, and democracy. 

Media and internet blackouts systematically suppress factual discourse, aid in widely disseminating Godi media’s propaganda, and allow for the rampant violation of human rights of protestors and activists, all with complete impunity under a blanket of secrecy. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we remain vigilant and continue to amplify the voices of the farmers so the government does not succeed in silencing the movement. 

As they did in J&K, the BJP - through its members, the media, and IT Cell - have begun to vilify and demonize religious minorities and are stripping local movements of any agency. The protesting farmers, largely Sikhs from Punjab, have been labeled everything  from “misguided illiterate pawns of international separatists” to “terrorists.” 

These same government actors, especially the media, will ignore the story that the actual streets of Delhi tell; a peaceful tractor rally marred by police abuse, children from all walks of life getting a free education, medical care being provided to all, and displaced communities no longer going to sleep hungry on the cold streets.

However, against all odds, including a bitterly cold winter, farmers have stood united and strong in their resolve to see this protest through until all three bills are repealed in their entirety. If the citizens of J&K were given the opportunity to exercise their constitutional and democratic rights to peacefully protest, without media and internet blackouts at the outset, maybe the revolution we are seeing on the streets of Delhi would have started last year in the streets of Srinagar in J&K. 

The farmers' protests have united the marginalized peoples of India and those who reside in the diaspora in this watershed moment. Remaining unified will be of utmost importance as Modi continues to roll out his fascist Hindutva agenda, which not only seeks to eradicate ideas contrary to those held by the BJP and RSS but also religious identities - as seen by the government's treatment of J&K, the Sikhs of Punjab, the Naga People, Dalits, and others that do not align with the Hindu Rashtra ideology being pandered by the State.

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Harjit Kaur is a civil rights and gender justice attorney based in the United States. You can find her on Twitter at @Harjit__Kaur.


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