India is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to perpetrate human rights violations on the other side of the Asia’s Berlin Wall (LoC)

Syed Tahir Rashdi
The United Nations has called for an immediate global ceasefire to “put armed conflict in lockdown” and
focus on protecting the most vulnerable from the spread of COVID-19. Yet tragically, there are cases
around the world where violations have occurred. Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir has been
under a “10-month digital and physical lockdown” since last Aug. 5 when India imposed a military
lockdown to scrap the region’s limited autonomy. Tens of thousands have been placed under

quarantine. J&K reported its first case in mid March when a woman from downtown Srinagar who had
just returned from Umrah (a shorter pilgrimage to Mecca) was found to be COVID-19 positive. Although
she has since recovered, the number of cases accelerated after a religious leader from the city’s uptown
area was diagnosed with the virus. He, along with an unspecified number of clerics, had returned from
attending a Tablighi Jamaat gathering in New Delhi and visited some mosques in Kashmir. He later died
and four of his contacts were also found to be infected. After enforcing a total communications blackout
across the Valley following the withdrawal of Article 370 last August, the Indian government has yet to
restore high-speed mobile internet for the general population. It took the government six months after
the August move to open up 2G internet and seven months to restore fixed-line internet, but it has yet
to restart 4G services. Similarly, access to social media has also only recently been restored. Citing the
potential “misuse” of high-speed internet, the government has justified the ban on 4G on security
grounds, saying it is “in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state
and for maintaining public order.” However, the continued internet restrictions have denied the
population of Kashmir easy access to necessary information on how to combat the spread of COVID-19.
With only 2G speeds, it remains a time-consuming process for doctors to download important
guidelines, such as from the World Health Organization, on preventing the spread of the virus, while
conducting appointments over video is all but impossible. Further, for the section of society that cannot
read or write, videos are essential for information sharing, but these cannot be streamed with
restrictions on internet speeds. There are implications beyond healthcare as well, with the continued
internet restrictions impacting students who need to attend classes online or those who need to work
from home. But even as the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus continues to rise in
J&K, the residual restrictions from the post-Article 370 shutdown continue to be in place, negatively
impacting the pandemic response as well as intensifying the existing conflict. Ongoing developments in
Kashmir include a crackdown on Kashmiri journalists, rising policing powers and enhanced curfew
measures. These actions suggest that the Indian government may be exploiting the pandemic to
accelerate its settler-colonial ambitions in the disputed territory.

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