Corona in Kashmir

Published in Dawn– cover photograph by Press Trust of India

As a symbol of cruelty, the Nazis have it all: hate, fear and fanaticism. The genocide of the Jewish people was driven by all three, but also by epidemic typhus, a disease that often follows war. This was a boon for the Nazis, who used typhus prevention as a ploy to ramp up the death toll.

“Jews were labelled disease carriers and a public health risk to justify the creation of ghettos,” one scholar writes. Typhus also led to quarantine, disinfection and “delousing baths” — code for gas chambers. In the end, the victims “were left in a diseased environment, and doomed to die”.

Today, the Hindutva project, long inspired by European fascism, borrows directly from the source. To be Muslim in India is a rolling horror show: the state is following up on New Delhi’s pogroms with the cry of ‘corona jihad’. Whereas Muslims were being set on fire earlier in the year, they are now being assaulted with cricket bats and run out of neighbourhoods as ‘virus spreaders’. While Yogi Adityanath, the psychopathic monk that heads Uttar Pradesh, slaps Tableeghi Jamaat members with the National Security Act, fellow saffron dud Raj Thackeray goes one further. “They should be shot,” he says.

In occupied Kashmir in particular, the coronavirus has been a blessing for the Fourth Reich. It’s been eight months since India went from occupying Kashmir to annexing it, and as many months since its people were put in cages. But after Covid-19, the Modi regime, per its fawning press, looks to be pushing its final solution.

Lest it be thought that Delhi is motivated by the Kashmiris’ safety, medical infrastructure is falling apart. The Kashmir Valley has 97 ventilators for seven million people, a ratio rightly remarked to be “even lower than besieged Gaza”. Kashmiris on the way to hospital have been fired at. Videos and photographs of police brutality — of citizens lined up in chowks and beaten with lathis in Jammu city — are being circulated.

All this comes at a time when Kashmir needs access to health services more than ever. Already reeling from one of the largest mass blindings in history, its people now face a pandemic. Doctors also point to a full-blown psychological crisis, with spikes in depression, anxiety and psychotic events. Owing to the longest-running cyber shutdown in the world, low-speed internet has also meant doctors can’t download urgent medical guidance, videoconference with patients, or check scans.

When it comes to Indian oppression, however, it’s business as usual: ‘counterinsurgency operations’ continue despite corona. Where once the bodies of Kashmir’s murdered young men would be handed over to their families, they are now brought to Srinagar, sampled for DNA, and buried in secret. The occupation claims social distancing; that large funerals might spread the virus. Yet even those families that want to bury their boys quietly are told the same, because the real reason was never Covid-19. “When we are preventing funerals, we are preventing youth from joining militants,” one police officer told a Kashmir-based journalist. “Once he’s a militant, he will be killed. Therefore, we are actually saving lives.”

Kashmiri bodies, oppressed in life, are now stolen in death. They are also being denied a fair trial: JKLF leader Yasin Malik has been implicated in a string of 30-year-old cases, pursued at blinding speed. A judicial murder is feared and must be prevented.

Even on the other end of the spectrum, India-held Kashmir’s ex-chief ministers, detained for months, are just now being released. There can be little sympathy for the houses of Abdullah and Mufti: as career quislings that oversaw the mass rape and slaughter of their own people, their deal with the devil in Delhi was bound to come crashing down sooner than later. One can only hope the pain they inflicted on Kashmiris is never visited on them.

In the midst of such terror, there’s little time to lose. India’s response to corona in Kashmir violates international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Modi’s annexation has also unwittingly internationalised this crisis like never before, and grounded the solution ever further in UN resolutions — advocated by world bodies, White House hopefuls in the US, and Labour leaders in Britain.

Most unprecedented of all, the report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recommended the Human Rights Council establish a commission of inquiry into human rights violations. The COI is one of the UN’s highest-level probes, reserved for war zones and humanitarian crises like Syria and Libya. To call for its setup marks a decisive shift in international opinion, and transforms India’s ‘bilateral conflict’ into a global crisis.

Pakistan must make sure that momentum carries over to the finish line: self-determination for the Kashmiri people, and an end to this long nightmare.

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