Article: Plight of Kashmir’s forgotten refugees

An article by Laura Schuurmans:

Thursday, May 15, 2014 – In January 1948, the then Indian Premier Jawahar Lal Nehru brought the Kashmir question to the United Nations Security Council. The resolution by the Security Counci l bound both India and Pakistan to grant the people of Jammu and Kashmir a plebiscite for determining the future of their disputed territory.

A month later, UN proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating that all citizens of the world uphold the inalienable right to freedom, justice and peace. More than sixty years later and in spite of UN resolutions, Kashmiris in the Indian occupied territory have not been granted the right to vote in a referendum.

Ironically, international community’s commitment to the people of Kashmir has also waned over the decades. The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has not only jeopardized regional peace and security, the Kashmiris per se have become the core victim of the conflict and they have mostly been forgotten.

Few people around the world are aware of the suffering of Kashmiri refugees who fled from Indian Occupied Kashmir around the globe during late 1980s and early 1990s. To date, Pakistan is has been offering refuge to more than 7,000 families roughly comprising 35,000persons in and around Muzaffarabad. Those Kashmiris mostly arrived from Kupwara and Baramulla district and they fled in fears of persecution by Indian security forces after allegedly being accused of siding with the “militants.”

Kashmiri families were often left with no choice but to abandon their farmhouses, livestock and to leave behind close relatives in search for safety and survival. Many of the refugees including women and children became the subject of beatings, torture and even sexual assault by Indian occupying forces.

In the midst of the night, families fled bare feet through dense forests, over land mine fields crossing the Line of Control towards Pakistan. Some escapes only lasted a few hours but others took days to reaching Pakistan. There have been accounts of some young women who left their family homes at night alone, to be reunited with their husband who had earlier escaped persecution. Although some families have settled down and have fully integrated into mainstream society, the majority continues to live under harsh conditions in refugee camps. Many of the refugees including a new generation of children have been dealing with serious psychological disorders, traumas and also physical disability.

While the local government has made efforts to alleviate some of the suffering of the Kashmiri refugees, financial restraints have caused some obstacles in achieving their objectives. Today, many of the refugees are yearning to go home to the other side of the Line of Control for re-uniting with relatives whom they have not seen for decades. Others are looking for improved living conditions. Unanimously all Kashmiri refugees are still waiting for the UN sponsored plebiscite.

The international community has not hesitated to condemn the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, or to point a finger at the occupying forces that have forced the Palestinians out of their ancestral homeland. Presently, the predicament of the Syrian refugees has been the prime focus of international media attention. These are great human tragedies but these pale in comparison to the loss of humanity in Kashmir at the hands of proclaimed largest democracy on earth.

Having said this, be it politicians, international aid organizations, or U.N. sponsored agencies, hardly anyone has taken serious interest into the plight of the Kashmiris to alleviate some of their suffering and to improve the overall living conditions of the Kashmiri refugees in and around Muzaffarabad.

While the international community has not only turned a blind eye to Indian human rights abuses in the occupied territories of the disputed Kashmir region, it has entirely disregarded the implementation of the basic UN Resolutions for a referendum in Kashmir.

Moreover, if the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country” why the Kashmiri refugees cannot go home? Indian authorities even blocked the telephone lines from Azad Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian side of the Line of Control. The people of Kashmir evidently need help, and they need large scale assistance be it on the humanitarian front, to receive political and diplomatic support, or be it financial assistance to building schools, health centers, housing and basic infrastructure.

There is a long road towards Azadi (liberation) in Kashmir, and that ultimately road of Kashmiri freedom cannot be accomplished alone without support of the international community.

As long as the West continues to neglect the plight of the Kashmiri refugees including all Kashmiri citizens and those scattered elsewhere in this world, their long road to Azadi will continue to be faced with numerous of hurdles that will prevent their dreams from coming true. Kashmir’s plight could have been avoided if the international community had been committed in taking serious interest in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region just like they did in East Timor, Sudan and other conflict ridden regions.After all, it was the UN that approved both the resolutions on Kashmir and also the Universal Declaration on Human Rights to make this world a more peaceful place. Regretfully, those who have been advocating freedom, justice and peace are also the ones who have silently closed their eyes, who have looked the other way, and who shamelessly have distanced themselves from the beautiful people of Kashmir.