There appears an illustrative reminder in the top left corner of the front page of The Nation every day, updating the number of days that have passed since the Indian authorities imposed a strict lockdown in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) on August 5, last year. As I am writing these lines, this lockdown has entered the 230th consecutive day. Kashmiris have also launched a similar “curfew clock” campaign in London and New York to highlight the awful curfew imposed by the Modi’s government in the disputed Himalayan state after stripping it of its semi-autonomous constitutional status last year. India has also been maintaining a media and communication blackout in the valley ever since. Mobile and broadband internet services have yet not been fully restored. It is, no doubt, both unprecedented and the longest internet blackout imposed by a democracy in the world.

Pakistan has also launched a proactive diplomatic campaign primarily to sensitise the international community towards a grave humanitarian issue which essentially involves more than 70 million Kashmiris. A large section of the international media has been extensively covering these unfortunate events in IOK. But regrettably, the global community has yet not adequately responded to an inhumane lockdown imposed in the valley by India for such a long time. A few days ago, a tweet probably made by someone heartbroken just went viral in the country. The tweet reads: “Dear world, how is the lockdown going?” Though this tweet is ironic a bit in the context of current lockdown-like situation in the world in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, the statement, however, epitomises the miseries and sufferings of oppressed people in IOK who are under a strict lockdown for more than 7 months. Indeed, the so-called lockdown in the world following the coronavirus outbreak is not comparable with the current lockdown imposed by India in IOK. The latter is by all means more intense and inhuman than the former.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in the region is certainly a matter of serious concern for all South Asian countries. On March 15, a video-conference of SAARC member states was held to help them fight the coronavirus outbreak. IOK, being a neighbouring state of China, is more vulnerable to coronavirus than other country in the region. In case this virus spreads in the valley, Kashmiris would be in serious trouble since they are already going through the toughest times of their lives. They have already been incapacitated to live a normal life. They have no access to adequate health and sanitation facilities. Therefore, Special Assistant to Prime Minster on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, during the recent SAARC video-conference, called upon India to put an end to ongoing lockdown in the valley to enable Kashmiris cope with this undesirable development. “In view of the health emergency, it is imperative that all the restrictions in the disputed territory of Kashmir must be lifted immediately, opening up communication and movement would facilitate dissemination of information, allow distribution of medical supplies and enable containment and relief efforts to proceed unimpeded,” he maintained. The Indian media has severely criticised Dr Mirza for raising his voice for Kashmiris.

It is not the first time that a curfew has been enforced in IOK. In fact, imposing curfew, mostly for long durations, in the troubled valley has somehow become the most common tool employed by India to suppress Kashmiris for a few years. The primary objective of such harsh measures is to obviously stop Kashmiris from assembling and holding demonstrations against India and Indian atrocities in the valley. IOK remained under a 53-day curfew following the martyrdom of young Kashmiri ‘poster boy’ Burhan Wani in mid-2016. A curfew was again imposed throughout the valley following the martyrdom of another Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Sabzar Bhat in May 2017. According to a report in the Times of India, curfew and restrictions were imposed for 168 times in nine districts of Jammu and Kashmir in 2016 and 2017.

Over a period of time, the Kashmiri resistance movement has seemingly undergone a substantial transformation. The new resistance movement has sparked a series of mass protests and anti-India public demonstrations across the valley. It is not the conventional Hurriyat leadership but the Kashmiri youth which is the pivot of this movement. The martyred Kashmiri boys Burhan Wani and Sabzar Bhat are iconic symbols and role models for these Kashmiri youngsters. Holding street protests is a common activity, and social media is their most powerful weapon. Therefore, in addition to clamping a curfew, media blackout and suspension of mobile and internet services for varying periods are essentially part of the Indian strategy to impose a lockdown in IOK. Indian authorities have devised such a strategy to stop the Kashmiri youth from communicating and collaborating with each other through social media and mobile phones.

The Indian government has been finding it really hard to cope with the mass protests and anti-India public demonstrations that erupted in the troubled valley following the martyrdom of Burhan Wani in 2016. Firstly, it readily resorted to the use of excessive force against civilian protestors. Such actions ranged from using pellet guns to open indiscriminate fire on protesters at point-blank range. Simultaneously, it also started imposing prolonged restrictions on Kashmiris in the form of curfew and media blackout. Since the people of Kashmir out-rightly rejected the last year’s unilateral and arbitrary Indian move of revocation of special constitutional status of IOK, there was relatively a bigger and graver challenge for India to control and pacify a large segment of the civilian Kashmiri population which was all set to resist this undesirable Indian move by all means. So this time, the imposition of strict lockdown across the valley is the primary Indian strategy to suppress any anticipated opposition or resistance in the post-August 5 Kashmir.

In August last year, India unilaterally rendered Article 370 of its constitution “inoperative” resulting in abrogating the constitution of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. Later in October last year, 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. Thus, India just downgraded its constitutional status from a semi-autonomous state to an inferior state territory. Furthermore, If India succeeds in pacifying Kashmiris, it would try to absorb IOK constitutionally by declaring it one of its full-fledged states. It is really unfortunate that India, having denied Kashmiris their right to determine their political future for decades, is now going to take over their territory unlawfully, and against their will. The miserable Kashmiris are feeling betrayed and excluded.

IOK is currently heading towards a looming humanitarian crisis owing to prolonged lockdown and restrictions in the valley. It has really become difficult for Kashmiris to make both ends meet. They are no adequate education, civic and health facilities for them in the volatile valley. It is now incumbent upon the civilised world to intervene to rescue millions of Kashmiris who have been forced to live in “the world’s largest prison”.

The lockdowns and other Indian military strategies in IOK to suppress Kashmiris have been quite counterproductive. They have only given a substantial impetus to the ongoing resistance movement in the valley. It has become more of a mass movement than anything else by the participation of a considerable segment of the Kashmiri populace. It has also resulted in blurring the line between combatants and non-combatants in IOK. Therefore, most of the Kashmiris are now just militants or their supporters, protectors, sympathisers, or at least anti-India souls who no longer want Kashmir to be part of India. Indeed, we can divide them into pro-independence secessionists and pro-Pakistan annexationists. Kashmiris are currently in high spirits to secure their inherent civil and political rights. They now can’t be downed by any Indian lockdown or crackdown.