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Return of 4G internet is not the real story in occupied Kashmir

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Indian soldiers, Kashmir, 2012. Image credit: flowcomm/Flickr

February 5 was Kashmir Solidarity Day, with an international focus that further exposed India's settler-colonization and brutal military occupation that has effectively imprisoned eight million people behind a communication siege and the veil of COVID-19.

On the same day, India announced it had ended an 18-month-long ban on high-speed mobile internet service in occupied Kashmir.

Canadian news sources -- including CBC, CTV, City News and others -- along with news outlets around the world, picked up an Associated Press story reporting that India was restoring 4G mobile internet in the region after 550 days.

On the surface it seemed the news of 4G restoration might have been related to India's communication block, which was implemented as part of the government's crackdown on farm protests.

Earlier in the week when pop star Rihanna tweeted "why aren't we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest" to her 101 million followers, the tweet received reaction from India's home affairs minister, who tweeted that "India's sovereignty cannot be compromised. External forces can be spectators but not participants."

Internet service in Kashmir

All communications in the military-occupied region were suspended in August 2019 when India unilaterally abrogated the special status of Kashmir and Jammu. In early 2020, 2G internet services were restored.

Slowing down the internet to 2G has had a direct impact on health-care professionals' ability to access much-needed online information during the pandemic. In spite of various international bodies -- including Amnesty International, scholars and the Indian Supreme Court -- asking for the restoration of 4G services in occupied Kashmir to mitigate COVID-19 risks, the Indian government refused to comply.

Media silent about illegal settler-colonization

 Over the last few months over 3.3 million domicile certificates have been issued by the occupying power to its own settler population. The mainstream media has been silent.

This followed the introduction of the domicile law on March 31, 2020, which allowed non-Kashmiris to acquire property and settle in the state.

Since Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally disputed territory, the new domicile law, which entails forced transfer of populations and settlement, is in contravention of international law.

This population transfer is prohibited by Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and condemned by the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.

Under Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, all high contracting parties, which includes Canada, are required to take action to ensure respect for the convention "in all circumstances." 

With the introduction of the domicile policies, the Indigenous population of the region is under threat, and one step closer to genocide.

In 2019, Genocide Watch issued a "Genocide Alert" for Kashmir. It stated that "Genocide Watch's ten stages of the genocidal process are […] far advanced" in the region.  The group called "upon the United Nations and its members to warn India not to commit genocide in Kashmir."

Within a few months the government of India has shifted the demographics in the occupied region to being one-quarter non-Indigenous settlers. To put this in context, a similar shift has happened over a half century in the occupied West Bank of Palestine with less than one million settlers, also resulting in a population that is about one-quarter non-Indigenous. This has resulted in many United Nations resolutions and much attention. In just a matter of months, India's colonization of Kashmir has made a similar demographic change.

The mainstream media has been largely silent about India's aggressive and illegal settler-colonization and associated demographic shift.

rabble.ca joined with 25 Canadian civil society organizations for a public forum on October 22, 2020  to address Canada's policy in regard to Kashmir.

Missing piece in 4G announcement

While on the surface, the restoration of 4G internet in occupied Kashmir seems like positive news, it raises some questions, including: why now, and why would mainstream media pick up on this specific development?

A day before the Associated Press story came an announcement that a program had begun to recruit cyber volunteers from among Indian citizens to patrol and flag social media posts on "radicalization," "anti-national activities" and other items of interest to the government.

The Wire reported that:

"Free speech activists and lawyers are worried that the scheme will put more curbs on the freedom of expression in Kashmir, legitimize vigilantism and create more divisions in an already polarized society."

This comes as Bloomberg reports that "a hacking group with ties to the Indian military adopted a pair of mobile surveillance tools to spy on geopolitical targets."

Meanwhile, it seems that 4G did not arrive seamlessly, with some regions continuing to see slow internet speeds, according to a Twitter thread by journalist Yusuf Jameel.

Canada remains silent about India's colonization

Despite thousands of letters sent to the Canadian government, including to opposition parties, since August 2019, there has been minimal response.

Three parliamentary petitions were presented in the fall -- one by Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi, another by NDP MP Scott Duvall, and the third by Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu. This was the first time in over 15 years that India's occupation of Kashmir was mentioned in the Canadian Parliament.

The government's response stated that "Canada continues to encourage meaningful consultations with affected local communities and shares the aspiration that all communities in the region can live in peace, security and dignity." This would imply consultation with the illegal settlers as much as the Indigenous people of Kashmir.

Canada played a key role in crafting and getting the United Nations Security Council Resolution 47 (1948) in place, through Canada's UN representative Andrew McNaughton, who was president of the UN Security Council at the time. This resolution promised the people of Kashmir a plebiscite to determine their own future. 

The demographic shift underway will negate the promise made by the international community over seven decades ago.

Of course, given Canada's own historic and current Indigenous relations on Turtle Island, why would we expect more on the international stage? As we saw with Canada's failure to secure its bid for a United Nations Security Council seat in June 2020, the international community is well aware that Canada accepts the smoke and mirrors of the catch phrase "peace, security and dignity" while remaining silent about the human rights and international law violations of its friends like India and Israel.

Karen Rodman is the director of Just Peace Advocates, an international human rights organization based in Canada. She was part of a human rights delegation in 2019 to Azad, Jammu and Kashmir.

To learn more, watch the October 22, 2020 webinar Canada's Silence on Indian-occupied Kashmir. To take action you can write to the Canadian government.

Image credit: flowcomm/Flickr

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