“8,156 detained post-August 2019”: What happened in UK parliament’s Kashmir debate?

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More than 8,000 people were detained in the aftermath of 5 August 2019, when New Delhi ended Kashmir’s limited-autonomy, the Indian government has formed British parliamentarians.

According to the sources, The Kashmir Walla has learnt that the Indian authorities sent a detailed report on Jammu and Kashmir to the British MPs, who this week held a debate on the situation in the erstwhile state.

The Indian government’s report explains the “positive developments” that took place post-August 2019.

The document, however, reveals that 8,156 people were detained in the aftermath of 5 August 2019 as a crippling lockdown was imposed in the region and the authorities detained the entire political structure including pro-freedom leaders as well as its unionists.

The Government of Indian told the British parliamentarians that most of those detained have now been released. It also said that 677 were booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a law that allows detention without trial for two years, of which 397 have been released.

The Indian government also defended the detention of journalists by saying that “deliberate attempts by certain persons to disturb the peace and vitiate the atmosphere in the garb of journalism were booked under the law of the land”.

The report was sent to the British parliamentarians, who, on Wednesday, discussed the situation in Kashmir that had arisen in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution. The debate motion was moved by Sarah Owen, the Labour MP from Luton North.

In her opening remarks, Owen said that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government “stripped Kashmir of its autonomy and statehood in August 2019, he also cancelled Kashmiris’ rights to land and jobs.”

Owen added that along with the loss of rights “came the loss of dreams for so many”. “It has also laid bare the true motivation for such removal of freedoms for the entire world to see, yet say nothing about, and, in most cases, unfortunately, do nothing about as well,” she told the participants in the debate.

However, India has strongly objected to the debate and the remarks made in it by the UK MPs. The High Commission of India in London, in a statement, said: “Regarding the reference to ‘Kashmir’ in the title: the need is felt to differentiate between the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India, and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (when the erstwhile princely state of Kashmir legally acceded to India in October 1947, this part was forcibly and illegally occupied by Pakistan).”

It also called the allegations of human rights violations like “torture during detention”, “airing torture through loudspeakers”, “custodial deaths”, “enforced disappearance”, “collective punishment of Kashmiris”, “use of civilians as human shield”, “forced labour”, “molestation”, and “sexual harassment of women”, in Jammu and Kashmir as “Pakistan-sponsored baseless and malicious propaganda consistent with its long-standing strategy on Jammu and Kashmir by using proxies.”

Most of the MPs, who represent a large number of Kashmiri diaspora in their constituencies, spoke critical of the BJP government.

James Daly, the conservative MP from Bury North, informed the House that he has “a long list of human rights abuses, things such as detention without trial. There are people in Kashmir who have been waiting 15 years for a trial. There is not a word from the international community in respect of that.”

Daly accused the Indian government of torture as commonplace, “and young people are disappearing, yet we do not see that on television screens in the western world, we do not see it on the BBC. Quite rightly, we recently saw coverage of the issues in Hong Kong and other places. Kashmiris are people who we represent, they are our friends, and this issue affects their daily lives. We must take a stand.”

However, taking an opposing line than his fellow MPs, Barry Gardiner, the Labour MP from Brent North, raised concerns about the human rights violations in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. He said that the political situation had changed and the issue of Kashmir was to be resolved by India and Pakistan bilaterally.

“Despite further conflicts in 1965, the Simla agreement was signed in 1972, when both countries committed to resolving all differences bilaterally and peacefully,” said Gardiner. “That is what they should do, and it is what UK policy is and should be: to let them resolve their differences without political interference from either side.”

John Spellar, the Labour MP from Warley, was not convinced enough. He called the current crisis as “deliberately instigated by the Indian authorities with their rewriting of the long-standing constitution, which has been left by parties of different stripes in India before. That has undermined the autonomy of Kashmir.”

Spellar also targetted the BJP government over “the change to property law, [which is] to try to change the facts on the ground in Kashmir, fundamentally by changing the population and therefore trying to secure a different outcome from a possible referendum.”

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