To the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer MP
Dear Mr. Starmer,
We are members of Kashmir Solidarity Movement, a UK-based organisation of Kashmiris committed to raising awareness of human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir, and the right to self-determination of the people of that region.
We are writing to express our deep concern and dismay at your recent statements on Kashmir; first in your 27 April letter to the Hindu Forum of Britain, then on 30 April in your joint statement with the unaffiliated group Labour Friends of India.
You refer implicitly to the revocation of Jammu & Kashmir’s autonomy as a ‘matter for the Indian parliament’. This is a profound misreading of the legal and historical record of a conflict that is international in nature, originating in British colonial rule, which set the stage for partition and Kashmir becoming a disputed region. J&K’s questionable accession to India was conditional on the state retaining its autonomy within the Indian Union, and on a plebiscite being held in which the people of the region would decide their political future. These conditions formed the basis for international recognition of India’s (provisional) presence in Kashmir, as expressed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 47.
The plebiscite required by UNSC 47 has never been held, and now the Indian government has removed J&K’s autonomy by abrogating Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. A370 enshrined the terms of accession and provided the sole constitutional justification for India’s presence in Kashmir. Its removal makes India an illegal occupier in the eyes of international law. To reduce this to a matter of Indian domestic politics is to erase the will and political aspirations of the people of Kashmir, who in spite of talk of Kashmir being a ‘bilateral’ dispute between India and Pakistan, are the most important agents – and sufferers – in this dispute.
In your statements you refer to your commitment and that of the Labour Party to human rights, yet you say nothing about the shocking and widely-reported increase in gross violations in Kashmir over the past year: mass arrests of political leaders; lawyers, trade unionists and ordinary people including minors; widespread torture; sexual violence; a complete communications blackout and clampdown on freedom of movement. The situation was so grave that Genocide Watch issued an alert for Indian-administered Kashmir.
Many of these restrictions remain in place, tightening the grip of the Indian security forces on what was already the most militarised zone in the world, where 800,000 soldiers and paramilitaries police a population of 8 million people. The rights violations of recent months are not unprecedented. They have been going on for decades. Human rights organisations estimate that up to 100,000 Kashmiris in Indian-administered Kashmir have been killed and many thousands more tortured; thousands have been forcibly disappeared; the Indian security forces have used rape as a weapon of war.
The people of Kashmir continue to pay a terrible price for demanding their internationally-recognised right to self-determination.
It was for this reason that last year’s Labour Party Conference passed an emergency motion affirming that ‘the people of Kashmir should be given the right of self-determination’, and requiring the leadership to use international fora to call for the restoration of basic human rights to the region. This motion reflected the internationalist values of the Party at its best, and arose from a groundswell of support and concern from Labour MPs, members and constituents.
The motion was subsequently framed as ‘anti-Indian’ by a number of Indian diaspora groups in the UK, some with well-documented links to the BJP, the far-right party ruling India. Your statements risk playing into a pernicious narrative, in which support for human rights is anathema if it conflicts with Indian interests, as narrowly-conceived by the BJP. For the Labour Party to elevate an unrepresentative set of views from the Hindu Forum of Britain will not avoid dividing ‘communities’. Rather it will further division by adopting the viewpoint on Kashmir of the BJP, who are currently driving India into religious intolerance and authoritarianism.
The UK is home to the largest Kashmiri diaspora in the world, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The suffering of their families and loved ones in Kashmir is theirs as well. Many are Labour members and supporters; some are Labour MPs and councillors. For them the spectacle of the Party’s newly-elected leader turning its back on its policy and principles is profoundly dispiriting.
For the Labour Party to truly claim to support principles of internationalism and human rights, it must stand in solidarity with the people of Jammu & Kashmir. As Kashmir Solidarity Movement, we therefore urge you, as Labour leader, to:
1. Retract your statements repositioning the Party’s stance on Kashmir from your April 30 joint press release with the unaffiliated group Labour Friends of India.
2. Reaffirm the Party’s support of human rights and self-determination for the people of Jammu & Kashmir, in accordance with the Party’s commitment to internationalism and human rights.
3. Meet with British Kashmiris from both sides of the Line of Control in order to hear and engage with their concerns.
4. Work with the UK government to bringing about multilateral engagement between India, Pakistan and the people of both sides of Jammu & Kashmir in order to secure a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Kashmir Solidarity Movement