On the night of September 24th, Kashmiri lawyer and activist, Babar Qadri, was shot dead in his home by two gunmen posing as potential clients. Qadri had been a controversial figure in India and Pakistan for several years as his outspoken views on human rights violations that occurred in Jammu and Kashmir made him the target of several terror groups. In fact, several threats had been made upon his life for his public discontent with the Indian government’s increased autonomy in the Kashmiri region. His death was mourned by the entire community, as the local police forces had failed to protect the life of yet another citizen, in spite of his multiple complaints indicating that his life had been threatened.
Qadri was a fierce lawyer who advocated for the youth in his community by protesting their petty arrests and representing them in court. He was widely respected for his dedication to the wellbeing of the Kashmiri people. Qadri’s time at the Jammu and Kashmir High Court revolved around human right issues and juvenile justice, making him an extremely popular figure in the community. Prior to his death, Qadri had made several complaints and tweets regarding threats to his life that were posted to online terror forums, accusing him and other activists of working as part of an agency and participating in conspiracy. Qadri rejected these claims and expressed his concern over the issue.
Babar Qadri’s death signified a far greater change in Indian politics than the well-known incompetency of local police forces. The Indian government cares more about silencing its minority population and furthering its policy goals than it cares about protecting human life. Constitutional retrogression took a particular stronghold in Indian politics post the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the BJP’s nationalistic ties infiltrated both policy and culture. With the revoking of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in August of 2019, Kashmiri citizens have experienced a drastic decrease in their freedoms while local governments were forced to relinquish a significant amount of autonomy. The Article granted a special status to Kashmir, in which the Indian government recognized the unique nature of the region and catered to its highly diverse population by granting limited autonomy. When this article was revoked, local leaders were taken into custody, a communications blackout ensued, curfews were imposed, and media outlets were stifled. The world’s largest democracy was denying its citizens of basic freedoms and failing to provide adequate information to the rest of the world.
Qadri’s death falls in a long line of silencing voices of dissent to Indian democracy. Previous threats made by terrorist groups against other journalists and activists were also ignored by local police forces that reveal serious cases of administrative incompetency and systemic oppression. Basic pillars of democracy, such as economic and political freedoms, are missing and government transparency is at an all-time low. Why isn’t this democratic erosion more threatening? The Indian Parliamentary Democracy stands as an emblem of the success and grandeur of large-scale democracies that can function even with massive populations. It is, perhaps, one of our only examples as to what a future democracy with a burgeoning population would look like. The international community commends democratic governments for maintaining human rights values even in the midst of perpetual security threats. However, India seems to be relieved of this burden—continually justifying its various human rights violations against its minority populations in the pursuit of anti-terror policy. If the world’s largest democracy is so quick to abandon its commitment to democratic principles, what implications does this pose for the rest of the world?
Since August 2019, the situation in Kashmir remains crucial. Kashmiri’s former Chief Minister, Mehboob Mufti, was placed under house arrest for 14 months following the removal of partial autonomy, only to be released this week. The region is plagued with heightened violence, as federal troops rely on aggressive methods to suppress dissent and protests. Both Indian and Pakistani governments flood the region with their soldiers, making it more and more difficult for local residents to live their day-to-day lives. To solely consider the situation of Kashmir as an aftermath of partition is to minimize the implications of the human rights violations committed by one of the world’s largest governments. While post-colonial, religious tensions provide insight into the behavior of the respective governments, increased authoritarianism and minimized human rights do not indicate the success of a flourishing democracy and should not be disregarded for any reason. However, the region of Jammu and Kashmir holds one of the largest Muslim populations in India, who represent a religious minority. This explains the government’s efforts to silence the minority population in favor of their own policy goals. India’s commitment to partisanship and asserting dominance over Pakistan and its own Muslim population has been a long-standing facet of oppressive Hindu nationalist regimes. While both governments work to actively disenfranchise their minority populations, India’s particularly large Muslim population, especially in areas like Jammu and Kashmir, makes them vulnerable to human rights violations and abuses by the government.
India deserves global condemnation for its actions in Kashmir until it agrees to provide its minority citizens with the same freedoms that are granted to all Indians and the human rights that are granted to all people. The actions that transpired in Kashmir are alarming because of the implications that they pose for the rest of the world. A commitment to democracy requires that basic freedoms are maintained and protected for all citizens over a long period of time and should not be subject to the policy endeavors of the ruling party. India’s justification for the oppression of its own minority population may serve as a dangerous example for withering democracies all over the world who wish to further their autonomy or assert control over a minority population without suffering international repercussions.