Letter to UN: India’s handling of Covid-19 pandemic and its implications in Jammu & Kashmir

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Re: India’s handling of Covid-19 pandemic and its implications in Jammu & Kashmir

Mr. António Guterres and Mr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,

Kashmir Global Council (KGC), a US based political advocacy group, would like to urge your offices to intervene and pay close attention to the region of Jammu & Kashmir as the situation of the global COVID-19 pandemic deteriorates drastically throughout India.

As the world is watching with sadness and horror the new wave of Covid-19 unfold across India, your offices must ask the Indian government to urgently take all measures to protect the vulnerable people of Jammu & Kashmir who are living in one of the most militarized zones in the world. The central government in India has been directly ruling Jammu & Kashmir since 2018 when it dismissed the local government. Subsequently in 2019, India took away the region’s statehood and imposed Indian laws.

In our letter to your offices last year (dated 20 March 2020), we made you aware of the severe restrictions on mobile internet communications that India had imposed during the peak of the pandemic contrary to WHO guidelines (from 17 March 2020 WHO Situation Report) recommending all countries to allow its citizens to be informed so that they can take appropriate measures to protect themselves.

Since 2019, India has detained hundreds of Kashmiri political prisoners under its draconian laws that allow arbitrary detention. Many Kashmiri political activists are still languishing in jails throughout India. Earlier this month, the Tihar Jail in New Delhi, which houses many Kashmiri political prisoners, had a Covid-19 outbreak that affected hundreds of inmates, including fatalities[1].

India must act now to reduce the fatal prospects of Covid-19 spreading across its prisons. Many governments have taken preventive action to reduce their prison populations. For example, Iran released 85,000 prisoners, while several jurisdictions in the United States of America have also released prisoners[2]. Your offices must implore India to do the same with regards to Kashmiri political prisoners.

At the same time, India must be asked to immediately halt all mass gatherings, rallies, and religious festivals, including the upcoming Amarnath pilgrimage in Jammu & Kashmir which brings in up to 600,000 devotees from India[3]. Nearly a million people recently attended the Kumbh Mela religious festival in northern India which is documented to have contributed to the new wave that India is struggling to grapple with[4].

We are very concerned that if India allows the Amarnath pilgrimage to take place in Jammu & Kashmir, it will create an unprecedented surge of Covid-19 cases and crumble the region’s already fragile and vulnerable health infrastructure. India’s attempt to project normalcy in the troubled region of Jammu & Kashmir through tourism initiatives and cultural festivals has so far led to a new surge in Covid-19 cases in the region[5]. All these activities endanger the vulnerable population of Jammu & Kashmir.

WHO and UN must ask Indian government to release Kashmiri political prisoners from overcrowded Indian jails to prevent the spread of Covid-19, stop the Amarnath religious pilgrimage in Jammu & Kashmir, and comply with all best practices recommended by the WHO. Indian government must act seriously and without expediency to comply with the duties that it has under international law to protect the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

Farooq Siddiqi
President, Kashmir Global Council

[1] https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/delhi-news/after-4-die-of-covid-19-tihar-asks-govt-to-allow-release-of-inmates-on-parole-101619734794079.html

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51947802

[3] https://www.dw.com/en/covid-india-to-allow-amarnath-pilgrimage-despite-surge-in-cases/a-57341771

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56770460

[5] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/tourism-trumps-covid-19-concerns-in-kashmir/2203075