Muneefa Nazir, a 6-year-old Kashmiri girl, was on her way to home with her uncle on a motorbike on August 12 last year when they were stopped by the Indian paramilitary troopers in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Occupied Kashmir. In no time, the troopers resorted to using slurs and abusive language against them for no reason. Upon her uncle’s objections to these slurs, one furious Indian trooper callously shot a marble stone with his slingshot at Muneefa which hit her, damaging her right eye. The picture of this innocent Kashmiri girl, standing outside her home in Srinagar, has appeared in numerous newspapers around the world following this year’s Pulitzer Prize announcement. This image was part of the series of photographs by the Kashmir-based Associated Press photographers which won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. This image simultaneously depicts the plight of a hapless little Kashmiri girl as well as the ugly face of Indian occupation on the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir.

Photojournalists Dar Yasin, Mukhtar Khan and Channi Anand work for the Associated Press (AP) in IOK. They have been awarded this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for their excellent coverage of the siege in Kashmir since the Indian government stripped the region of its autonomy last year. It is indeed a moment of pride for the entire journalist fraternity in IOK which has persevered to perform its professional duties in the face of heavy press censorship and communication blackout imposed by the government. They have been heroically keeping the outside world informed about Indian oppressions and inhumane restrictions imposed in IOK at the time when the Indian government has tried its level best to hoodwink the international community by brushing these atrocities under the carpet.

Reporters without Borders has ranked India 142 out of 180 countries in its annual Press Freedom Index. India has dropped two places on this index largely due to a communication blackout in IOK. It has called the region a “vast open prison”. Similarly, the International Press Institute has termed IOK as one of the “world’s most repressive spots for the press”. A large number of Kashmiri journalists have been arrested and detained for their involvement in ‘anti-state activities’ under various black laws such as Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and Public Safety Act etc.

Last week, Indian troops martyred four Kashmiri freedom fighters, including one of the top Hizbal Mujahideen commanders, Riyaz Naikoo. The death of this Kashmiri fighter has sparked violent protests across the valley where 14 people have been injured. India has imposed further restrictions in response. It has already taken similar measures following the death of other Hizbul Mujahideen leaders like Burhan Wani and Sabzar Bhat. In fact, imposing such restrictions in the troubled valley, mostly for long durations, has become the most common tool employed by India to suppress Kashmiris.

India unilaterally rendered Article 370 of its constitution “inoperative” resulting in abrogation of the constitution of the State of Jammu & Kashmir in August last year. Later in October, the Indian parliament passed The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019 whereby the Indian-held Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories (Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh), to be governed directly by the Central Government of India. India not only treacherously deprived the state of J&K of its special constitutional status but also bifurcated it. These Indian moves have just resulted in downgrading the constitutional status of IOK from a semi-autonomous state to an inferior state territory under central subjugation.

India has also introduced another law to confer permanent resident status on individuals in the valley. The J&K Civil Service Reorganisation (Adaptation of State Laws) Order 2020 defines a domiciled person as one who has resided for a period of 15 years in IOK or has studied for a period of 7 years and appeared in class 10 or 12 examination in any educational institution in the ‘union territory of J& K’. Under this law, the children of the officials of central government, the employees of autonomous bodies, public sector banks, and central universities, who have served in J& K for 10 years, will also be eligible for the permanent residence status. It is ironic that the Indian government has just relaxed the preconditions for granting a permanent resident status in IOK while introducing a strict naturalisation regime for stripping individuals of their citizenship in India.

Article 35-A of the defunct Constitution of State of J& K was primarily aimed at preserving the ethnic homogeneity of the state of J&K by resisting any undesirable change in the demographic composition in the volatile valley. Having scrapped Article 35-A, India is now attempting to introduce its desired demographic model in the only Muslim majority state in India. Therefore, Kashmiri Muslims currently fear that they would be transformed into a minority community in their own state. Also, they would not be able to get independence from Indian occupation even if a referendum were held in the future.

Over a period of time, India has devised and employed a number of legal, military and political tools to consolidate and give legal cover to its illegal occupation of Kashmir. It enacted and enforced various laws, generally dubbed as “black laws”, in IOK to suppress Kashmiris. There is an Indian soldier for every 10 civilians in IOK. India has started imposing long-drawn lockdowns in the valley, with communications blackout. Indian security forces have also been using pellet guns against the Kashmiri protestors.

Indian forces have been involved in massive human right violations across Indian-held Kashmir. The use of pellet guns has caused eye injuries in more than 6000 people. As per data available with Indian agencies, at least 413 people lost their lives in various acts of violence across the valley in 2018, which is also the bloodiest year in a decade for Kashmir. According to some estimates, more than 70 thousand Kashmiris have been killed in Indian-held Kashmir since 1989.

One of the Pulitzer Prize-winning images this year depicts a masked Kashmiri protester jumping on the bonnet of an armoured vehicle as he throws stones at it during a protest in Srinagar. The image epitomises the unwavering resolve of Kashmiri people to throw off the Indian yoke. The long Indian subjugation of Kashmiris has turned IOK into a simmering volcano which would erupt at any time beyond Indian control or capacity. India must always expect to face a violent backlash in the troubled valley.