After being a freedom fighting colony for centuries, India, since 1947, has assumed the role of a colonialist nation by annexing and occupying neighboring Jammu Kashmir. India has killed more Kashmiris in a few decades than what it may have lost under British rule for centuries. Over year of misrule in Jammu Kashmir, India have burnt its terror fingers in occupied Kashmir, once again, by targeting a n important freedom fighter leader whom Kashmiris respect as their own.
India’s terror strategy is facing serious blow in Kashmir as people stand together to oppose Indian yoke on their soil. Indian state terrorism has reached the climax point. The stage seems to be set for Indian regime to speedily consider surrendering sovereignty to Kashmiris. India should exit from Kashmir – Indexit.
Rising Kashmiri movement
Like many problems in South Asia, the roots of the Kashmir issue stretch back to the partition of British India in 1947. After an aborted attempt at remaining independent during the finals ears of British rule in the region, what was once the princely state of Jammu Kashmir was divided between the two new countries of India and Pakistan, with a de facto border known as the Line of Control. Later Pakistan gave a part of Azad Kashmir to China in exchange for the latter’s economic and military assistance.
Civilian uprisings are not uncommon in Kashmir as military imposes its iron will on the civilians.
In ruthless killing, India has overdone it, again, as its military occupying neighboring Jammu Kashmir has accelerated its attack spree, killing young people as freely as jungle beats do. In doing so, New Delhi has time and again expressed its hatred for Kashmiri Muslims, forcing now the Kashmiris demonstrating in streets protesting against the military killing of a young freedom fighting Muslim.
As India clamps down on Kashmir with an iron grip, it risks permanently losing the hearts and minds of the people. A popular civilian uprising is underway in Kashmir as India’s rule grows weak again.
Indian forces enjoy unprecedented freedom now to kill any Muslim of their choice and governor who represents central government and state government supporting Indian agenda in Kashmir over see the genocides of Kashmiri Muslims with secret orders for the same.
In three decades of armed oppression against the civilian population, supposedly a bid to win back trust in Kashmir, many women and girls have been raped and molested by Indian occupation soldiers. Sexual violence has been used as a channel to impose authority and fear upon the female population, while torture and killings are used to suppress their male counterparts.
While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a tour to Africa, Indian troops back in Kashmir were shooting at peaceful demonstrators who were out on streets after the killing of a popular rebel commander. In five days, 36 civilians have been killed by Indian forces and more than 1,500 injured, including 100 with eye injuries. A medical emergency has been declared while the Kashmir Valley remains under curfew.
Six years after he chose to take up arms against the state, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, 22, was shot dead by a joint party of Indian army and police in a brief gunfight in South Kashmir. Wani was a militant commander of Hizbul Mujahideen – an indigenous rebel outfit fighting for an independent Kashmir
Indian military knows Indian government and its corporate lords in the parliament and state assemblies, and their “trusted” media would shield, as their major responsibility, all its crimes against humanity perpetrated in Kashmir or India. So, Indian solders do not hesitate to kill any Muslims in Kashmir on false pretexts.
Last April, five Kashmiris were shot dead by Indian soldiers in India-controlled Kashmir, shortly after protests broke out in the aftermath of the molestation of a young girl by Indian occupation soldiers in Handwara near the capital city of Srinagar. The attempted sexual harassment, as usual, had gone largely unnoticed until the victim spoke to the media, but it was not the first time that a similar incident had occurred in the heavily militarized region.
People support freedom movement
At the outset one matter needs to be explained. Whosoever Indian government and media lords call terrorists are indeed Kashmir freedom fighters who seek sovereignty back from the occupiers. India might call the freedom fighting groups in Kashmir as terrorist outfits and ask USA and EU to kindly add them in their own terrorist lists and never support them. By doing so, India thinks the Kashmir issue is settled once for all in its favor. It might even consider stopping huge cash transfer to USA regularly for their support against Kashmir sovereignty.
It would be worthwhile right here to rewind the Indian freedom struggle when Nehru, Gandhi, others led the movement but for the British rulers they were terrorists punishable under law..
The government’s hold over the territory had strengthened not with positive attitude towards Kashmiris but with the help of mass killings in the early 1990s, and later, with the regional elections held in 1996. In the early 1990s, when India’s grip was weak and the rebels in 1993 had “achieved successes previously unimaginable” and “for the first time established liberated zones,” a government militia was instrumental in crushing popular dissent, leading to the fall of most rebel groups.
Currently, there is one group that is still fighting in Kashmir and continues to gain power: the indigenous Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, also known as the Hizb. In the last few years, the Hizb has managed to climb to the top in terms of popularity, and continues to successfully gain new recruits, who are being celebrated as righteous warriors by the general public.
State crimes and impunity for insane “soldiers”
The armed rebellion against Indian arrogance and misrule in Kashmir started in the late 1980s. In these years of violence, around half a million soldiers in the region used extreme torture and targeted killings against civilians, with hundreds killed in some incidents. Estimates of the number of people killed in Kashmir range from 95,000 to 100,000. And number keeps rising as India continues targeting Kashmiris in fake encounters.
Force was again used in 2008 trying to silence the freedom movement of Kashmiris, when the political narrative in Kashmir took a different shape as youths took over the reins of public dissent and rebellion. Two mass uprisings in 2008 and 2010 showed the brutal face of Indian state machinery to those born during the 1990s, who had not seen such mass violence spearheaded by the state before. Robust military action attacking Kashmiri Muslims further strengthened the younger generation’s anti-India sentiments and brought about a fresh wave of dissent.
India’s draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which provides impunity to Indian soldiers for basically any action, and the Public Safety Act (PSA), which is used to imprison people without due process have been instrumental in crushing the recent popular dissent in the Valley but the résistance has only grown stronger many times.
The lack of political will to account for past and present actions of the security forces, including the state police, is fortified by legislation and aggravated by other obstacles to justice Change of government at the centre, if effected to end the present crisis in Kashmir, would not indeed solve the problem because the trouble India invited has reached the end point and not even Israeli terror goods could bring peace to strategic terror specialists in New Delhi. Amnesty International has been campaigning for the revocation of s the AFSPA and PSA – lawless laws meant for jungle regimes.
The criminal mindset of Indian government gets fully exposed when common people are shot dead by’ soldiers’ in Handwara, for example, and the state government expresses no regret over the killings, and also refuses order an investigation, while the federal government in New Delhi continues to maintain graveyard silence about state terrorism but blaming pro-freedom leaders for instigating the violence. At the core of weeks of violence was an underage girl, who was subjected to attempted sexual harassment and was also forced to refrain from speaking to the media while she was kept under police detention. Activists accused the police of a forced detention to protect the Indian “soldier” who had committed the act; there was no clear response from New Delhi. Government does not open its democratic mouth. The girl was released later. She demanded that an FIR must be filed against the accused soldiers and action be taken against the police officers involved in her detention.
Incidents like the one in Handwara are not the first of their kind such crimes are happening state wide. Men murders and women sexual violence conducted by the Indian forces have long been a mainstay tactic, with no one prosecuted to date. New Delhi and India media lords just shut their dirty mouths and cunning eyes.
On February 23, 1991, Indian soldiers had gone to the two villages for a cordon and search operation. As per various accounts, the soldiers tortured the men and raped the women. The 20-year-old injustice came to light again amidst the swelling public discontent of the last few years. In 2013, a group of women came together to file a public lawsuit that called for further investigations regarding the case. Months have passed since a local court ordered further investigations, but the police have taken no action.
Many of crimes committed in Kashmir by Indian forces come out only 25 years later and secret grave years reveal the death of Indian democracy and law.
Weakening of Indian terror hold
India has pooled all resources in Kashmir to contain and cripple the freedom movement and promote the military and Hindu interests in the valley.
The anti-India rebellion grows in Kashmir in a big organized way as an indigenous movement. Rebel, India says, have been using this strategy for the last few years, taking service rifles and other weapons from the police or paramilitary troops and using them. It also shows the rebels are mainly focusing on their particular areas, mostly in the south of the Kashmir Valley. But lately some attacks and rebel activities have happened in North Kashmir and Central Kashmir also. In the absence of any political solution in the form of sovereignty, the youth have become restless and their anger has intensified.
Today the world believes that the ongoing freedom struggle in the Kashmir Valley is a populist movement. The Indian Army has also started acknowledging the change in the Kashmiri situation. One of the senior military commanders in Northern India, Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda admitted that Indian soldiers occupying Kashmir have little hope of competing against the rebels for public sympathy and Indian forces finds the situation a big problem, a challenge for conducting anti-militant operations now. “Militarily, there’s not much more to do than we already have done … We’re losing the battle for a narrative.”
Growing anti-India sentiments and rapidly rising support for Pakistan among people in India-controlled Kashmir has badly damaged Indian claims and status.
The chief cleric of South Kashmir’s Ummat-i-Islami, Mirwaiz Qazi Yasir said: “symbols are more important and the new rebellion is a symbol,” he says. “Even if there are no resources with them , but still this is a symbol.” However, he acknowledges that “a long-term rebellion” will find it “hard to survive without resources.” India would count on this aspect but both China and Pakistan could help them with resources. .
Pakistan has always tried to show it as an indigenous movement and it is an indigenous to a large extent. “If Pakistan wants to help the movement here, they will have their own interests also. Some observers also believe that Pakistan has changed its approach too, from involving itself on the ground to becoming the political backbone for the Kashmir issue globally.
This endeavor to advocate on behalf of the Kashmiri people was evident at recent United Nations meetings, where Pakistan continuously raised the Kashmir issue, as well as in bilateral talks with India. As a result, India has declared that Pakistan is “needlessly” internationalizing the Kashmir issue. Recently, Indian strategic people ask the Modi government to invade and annex Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir for which Israel would readily extend military support. Now USA won’t support either Pakistan or Kashmir but has to side with Indian narrative, though might not offer military support.
The situation in Kashmir may look better compared now to the peaks of violence in the past, in the heart of the Valley, the rise of anti-India sentiment has weakened India’s control.
JK is being ruled by a coalition of People’s Democratic Party and the Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party with PDP CM and BJP deputy CM. BJP is pushing for its Hindutva agenda in the valley especially by promoting all Hindutva promotional activities. In order to rule the state, the PDP supports whatever the BJP wants to do in t Kashmir. The rich in PDP, National Conference, Congress and BJP are sharing the resource loot behind the coalition government. .
Further, anti-India forces are hugely motivated by the extreme force used against dissenting voices by the newly formed regional government. The new head of the region’s government, Mehbooba Mufti, recently said that there are only four bunkers of Indian forces in the Valley – a statement that highly angered the people, who have to face soldiers and police regularly in their daily lives. The regional government’s anti-dissent tactics combined with the disappearance of opportunities to construct a solid political solution to provide respite to the ordinary people in Kashmir has only made things worse.
Insane Indian oppression and Angry Kashmiris
Even mourning a so-called terrorist’s murder by military is seen as a major political statement in contemporary Kashmir, as thousands of people join funeral processions for fighting terror of Indian soldiers.
Meanwhile, while Indian core media continue target Kashmiri Muslims as terrorists, social media remain, controlled by Indian agencies also abuzz with people who idolize rebel commanders, like Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a 23-year-old Hizb commander in South Kashmir who has become the face of the new rebellion for sovereignty for Kashmir. The people’s acceptance of this rebellion has grown with the decline of any political process that can hope to empower them. Wani’s brother Khalid was among those killed by the soldiers, and this year, a cricket tournament was organized to remember him, with team titles dedicated to various rebels.
The change in Kashmiri mood against Indian occupational terror tactics to silence the freedom fighting Kashmiris, has its roots in the 2008 and 2010 mass uprisings in Kashmir, during which Indian troops and police, on instructions of Indian government (Home ministry) and JK governor mercilessly shot more than 200 teenagers dead on the streets. This has gradually led to major protests on a permanent basis, drawing in the younger generation, with people from all walks of life vehemently rejecting India’s continued rule in Kashmir.
From the army to the local government, the alarm bells are ringing, but no one in New Delhi is ready for a political solution to solve the long-standing issue. They don’t want to listen to anything anymore as enough is enough and they want all Indian boots are cleared of Kashmir valley forthwith and soverign handed over to Kashmiris. It is no more any formality from common Kashmiris but they are serious about protesting and can go to any extent to achieve their goals
The Modi government is now fully aware of the fact that informally told me that the new generation is angry.
Freedom leaders to fight till sovereignty
Resistance leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik has appealed to the Imams of the Mosques to lead Nimaz-e-Jinaza in absentia to the 40 young brave hearts who were snatched from us by the cruel and inhuman Indian forces and local police in the last week after the martyrdom of Hizb Commander Burhan Wani and his associates. They also appealed them to lead the protests against the brutalities of Indians in uniform. Leaders have condemned the use of brutal force against the protesters and compelling the traders and transporters not to support the ongoing struggle.
Leaders have affirmed their resolve to lead this movement to its logical end no matter how brutal and cruel Indian aggression may be. People have been assured not to panic but show steadfastness, dedication and discipline so that any of the ill intentions of the enemy are not allowed to derail our struggle for the goal of self-determination.
Leaders have assured the nation that they have been fighting the Indian aggression and brutalism for decades and now we are facing do or die situation which demands utmost discipline and determination. They further said that we will never succumb to any pressure as we believe ours is the just cause and we will fight to achieve it till our last breath. Commenting on the more troops from Delhi leaders said that not only three battalions even if India sends whole of its army to Kashmir we will fight them tooth and nail and like always this time also they will be defeated. Leaders further said it is a long and continuous struggle and we need to be prepared for a prolonged but definite phase now. They have appealed people not to fall prey to the nefarious designs of the Indian imperialism or their local stooges and follow the combined programme in letter and spirit.
Insane oppression of Kashmiri Muslims, both men and women, old and youth, by Indian occupation forces merit the urgent attention of UN, ICJ and OICC.
Yes, India is fast long Kashmir as Kashmiris, after the ghastly murder of their leader by the military, see Indian government as their enemy and they continue to seek the support of Pakistan. Unless India changes tactics — big brother India never changes its policies or tactics as it is aggressively arrogant – Kashmir will continue to slip away.
Time is ripe for Kashmiris to gain full and complete independence from India and establish a soverign Kashmir. India may let its military and police stay on in Kashmir until the soverign Kashmir government makes alternative security arrangement.
State terrorism tactics of India have worked devastatingly making the peace loving: Kashmiris to erupt naturally and violently protest against India’s prolonged Zionist occupation of Kashmir: India needs to consider Indexit!
World leader USA and other veto states must help the Kashmiris get speedy justice in the form of soverign Kashmir. They should advice their “anti-terror” companion India to leave Kashmir by opting for Indexit at long last, at least sympathetically.
Indian occupation forces have killed enough Kashmiri Muslims.
Status of Minorities in Pakistan
In February this year, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, posted a tweet condemning the Delhi riots and stated that anyone who targets the non-Muslim minorities in the country or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly. For all the resolute comments that Mr Khan has made for protection of minorities in Pakistan, the reality showcases a completely different scenario. The status of religious freedom is almost minimal, minorities have been unjustly prosecuted under the blasphemy laws and there have been targeted attacks on the non-Muslim citizens and defenders of human rights. This article aims to assess the condition of Minorities in the country and the unjust use of blasphemy laws as a tool of oppression.
Forced Conversions: A chronic problem
On October this year, Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl, was abducted right outside her house in Karachi. She was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to her abductor, a 44- year-old man. The police denied these claims and asserted that it had sufficient proof to prove that the girl converted and married off on her own volition. To make matters worse, the Sindh high court validated the marriage (even though the legal age is 18), and stated (based upon falsified documents) that Arzoo was old enough to make her own decisions. This case isn’t a one off and there have been multiple instances in the past where underage girls from minority religions have been abducted and forcefully married off after conversion. A few months ago, a Hindu teenage girl, Simran Kumari was abducted from Ghotki in Sindh and converted to Islam. She was also married off to her abductor and her parents were stopped from visiting because of them being ‘Kafirs’ . Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, and Ghotki are some of the districts that have had the highest number of such incidents and all of them come under the province of Sindh. These incidents are more than just ordinary cases of forced conversion, they are a reflection of deeper issues rooted in economic, social and cultural status of the minority communities.
Most of the minority communities have been traditionally engaged in jobs associated with low income such as daily wage labour and any scope of upward economic mobility is limited. Amar Guriro, a senior journalist states that many Hindu and Christian women convert due to their poor financial condition, and that Muslim men easily lure these women on the pretext of providing better financial and living conditions . But investigations in the past have revealed that economic hardship might be a factor in these incidents but it isn’t the only factor, and in most cases, the women yield to their abductors due to fear of their lives. There have been cases where after a woman is abducted from a village, large groups of Muslim men drive around the village with loudspeakers in their cars shouting “the victory of Islam”. The main reason behind this is to instil a psychological fear and ensure that the minority communities do not take legal recourse. It’s unfortunate that even if the victim’s family were to lodge a First Information Report, it would make no difference. The police, political representatives and the judiciary are usually in cahoots, and any form of protest would be at the cost of endangering their own lives. This is clearly seen in majority of the cases where the victim is usually below 18 years of age, even though as per a recent amendment to the penal code, the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years. The police play a huge part in providing forged documents as proof to the judges who readily accept it without questioning the legitimacy and let the accused go scot free.
The blasphemy laws in Pakistan pose another set of problems for the minorities, and are one of the strictest in the Islamic world. They were inherited from the former colonial rulers back when Pakistan was a part of India and a British colony. During the reign of the military government headed by General Zia-ul-Haq, few other clauses were added to these laws which criminalised certain acts such as insulting Islam’s Prophet, speaking against the holy Quran or using derogatory language against important religious scholars. According to the data given by National Commission for Justice and Peace, there were a total of 1540 blasphemy cases which came up till 2018 and out of those 1540 cases about 50% cases had a non Muslim as the accused even when they constituted very small share of the total population . The Ahmadiyya’s, a Muslim minority, are the worst affected by these laws. The Ahmadiyya community is a sect of Islam which has its roots in India and was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Unfortunately, the Ahmadiyya community faces a lot discrimination world over and is generally regarded as non-Muslim in most of the Islamic countries. According to the second amendment in Pakistan’s constitution, the Ahmadis are considered as non-Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Ahmadis have had repeated allegations of blasphemy against them due to the fact that their religious beliefs contradict the verses in the Quran and are therefore equal to speaking against it. This is completely ironical to the fact that Pakistan’s constitution clearly states that each and every single religious community has the right to profess, propagate and practise their religion. For the other minority religions, the blasphemy laws act as a means of seeking revenge or showing dominance for the majority Sunni Muslims. In May 2019, Ramesh Kumar Malhi, a Hindu veterinary doctor, was accused of wrapping medicines in the pages containing verses of Quran because of which his clinic and a few other shops belonging to the Hindu community were burned down . Similarly, in 2018, a 25-year-old Christian man was accused of sending blasphemous texts because of which Muslim mobs raided the houses of Christians living in the area and threatened to set their houses on fire. In both the incidents, the police filed no cases against the offending mobs. In most of the cases, it is important to note that the reason for charging someone with blasphemy is usually due some other personal conflict entirely unrelated to the charge of blasphemy and is usually used as a means to extract revenge.
These blasphemy laws represent the sorry state of freedom of speech in the country. The idea that anything with regards to religion is sacred and cannot be contested leads to the formation of dogmatic opinions. While it is understandable that the blasphemy laws only apply to statements meant to defame a religion, but since these laws come under the purview of the Federal Shariat Court to determine what is Islamic or un-Islamic, even well-intentioned constructive criticism is considered blasphemous. John Stuart Mill, one of the most influential thinkers of classical liberalism, in his book ‘On Liberty’ talks about the role of freedom of speech and expression. He says “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”. The reasoning behind this is to show how important it is to allow divergent views to be spoken about clearly, and even if there is disagreement about the truthfulness of a particular view or opinion, there’s always a possibility that it might contain a certain element of truth. The inability of a country to tolerate divergent views is representative of its insecurity towards criticism and change. This eventually leads to its downfall as even the most common and rational arguments are sometimes suppressed.
Subpar Standard of Living
While the cases above represent some of the worst atrocities against minorities in Pakistan, their everyday lives don’t provide a very bright picture either. There has been discrimination in the past with regards to employment, such that sanitation work or daily wage labour work was restricted to non-Muslims only. Even with regards to education, there have been reports where the students from the minority religions have faced religious slurs or have been plainly discriminated by the teachers. Some of the textbooks portray the minorities in a negative light and completely negate their existence when recounting the history of the country, this reinforces an anti-minority mindset within the young adults and prevents the minorities from enrolling in educational institutions which restricts their social and economic upward mobility. In general, at least in the rural areas, non-Muslims have faced violence and many have lost their lives too. There have been numerous cases where houses of Hindus and Christians have been burnt down, their men, women and children killed or forced to leave the village. Temples and Churches have been destroyed in many areas, such that only a handful remain. A survey by the Pakistan All Hindu Rights Movement showed that out of a total of 428 temples that were present in the country during independence only 20 remain today.
While the government of Pakistan refuses to do anything, human rights lawyers and non governmental organisations present a ray of hope. In the past, journalists, activists and human rights lawyers have actively taken up cases of forced conversion, religious violence and misgovernance. This has made justice an achievable reality, even if it is only for a handful of cases. But the downside to this is that by saving the lives of others, the activists and lawyers have put their own lives at risk. There have been many instances where activists and journalists have received threats and backlash from religious extremists, some have even lost their lives. On 5thJune a journalist who had been criticising the government and the military was abducted in Lahore and detained without any proper warrant . Similarly, a co founder of an NGO working for the rights of young women was randomly detained and put on an exit control list, restricting her ability to travel overseas.
Imran Khan’s inability to take firm action against the oppression of minorities in Pakistan is an indication of their worsening condition in the country. His ostrich approach makes him preach about the inexistent tolerance that Pakistan has for non-Muslims on various
International forums. It would be wise for him to first start taking constructive steps to improve the situation in his own country before concerning himself with the issues of his next-door neighbour. The tough balancing act that Mr Khan has tried to play between supporting a tolerant Pakistan and the Islamic clerics at the same time has clearly failed. Zahid Hussain, an analyst and author states that Imran Khan, right from the time that he came to power, did want a tolerant Pakistan, but not at the cost of losing support of certain extremist elements. The problem is, instead of carefully balancing the two, he empowered the extremists, nullifying any bit of chance there was for improving the condition of minorities.
Theorizing The teesta River Water Dispute
Teesta River originates in the Himalayas and flows through the states of Sikkim and West Bengal to merge with Jamuna in Bangladesh (Brahmaputra in Assam). The river drains nearly 95 per cent of the state of Sikkim. It covers 3,225 square kilometres across the districts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal before entering into Bangladesh. It is the fourth longest transboundary river of Bangladesh that flows down from India.
In Bangladesh, Teesta River covers 9,667 square kilometres with an estimated population of 9.15 million as in 2011.1 According to the estimates provided by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics 2012, 21 million people are directly or indirectly dependent upon the river water for their livelihoods in Bangladesh. It covers nearly 14 per cent out of the total area under cultivation in Bangladesh.
This river has been a point of contention between India and Bangladesh since 1950s and 1960s when India and former East Pakistan began discussing proposed projects on the river. Immediately after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River Commission was set up to carry forward the talks over the sharing of river waters in 1972.
The Teesta barrage, hydropower projects and dam constructions over Teesta in India has led to a disturbance in the flow of river water downstream, i.e., in Bangladesh. Though the hydropower projects and dam constructions are also being carried by the Bangladesh government on its side of the river.
Bangladesh, that gets lesser share than that of India of the Teesta River water, claims for an equitable share which is unacceptable to the state of West Bengal. Negotiations over the same have been going on since 1983. The matter is still over the table with an unresolved dispute.
A significant amount of Teesta’s water flows only during wet season i.e., between June and September, leaving scant flow during the dry season i.e., October to April/May which paves way to the issue of equitable sharing during lean season. The 50-50 allocation of the river water could have been agreed to but it was opposed by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee, who claims that it would be unfair to West Bengal since it would adversely impact the water-flow available in the state.
The stakeholders here are not just the Indian state and the Bangladesh government but since water is a state subject, the Indian state of West Bengal is a large party to the matter whereas Sikkim has highly been ignored (which is also a point of highlight for the critics).
Bangladesh claims that an equal water sharing is essential for them since their basin dependence is higher than that of India’s and also, that the downstream nature of Bangladesh makes them vulnerable since any construction by India affects the water flow available to them. Apart from the farmers getting adversely affected, the inadequate flow of water has also created siltation. Thus, these are reasons enough to get India’s attention towards this issue.
However, West Bengal’s concerns can also not be ignored which states that Teesta has dried up due to which an acute drinking water problem has been caused apart from another issue which states less availability of water for irrigation needs.
In 1983, an ad hoc arrangement was made between India and Bangladesh wherein both agreed to share 75 per cent of river water with India using 39 per cent and Bangladesh 36 per cent. The remaining 25 per cent was to be distributed after some further studies. In 1997, a Joint Committee of Experts was formed to examine the matter. It took until 2004 for a Joint Technical Group to be formed which drafted an interim agreement for the sharing of the river water during the lean season. However, in 2005, the JTG admitted its inability to come up with a solution.
In 2005 itself, the Joint River Commission stated that the river will not be able to meet the needs of both the countries during the lean seasons, hence, any agreement that is made will have to be based upon shared sacrifices. In 2010, the two countries agreed to resolve the matter expeditiously and drafted some principles for the sharing of river water during the lean season.
In 2011, the agreement was to be signed during the visit of the then Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, it fell through when the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee protested against the proposed allocation of 50 per cent of the river’s water to Bangladesh.
Since then there have been bilateral discussions on the dispute between the two countries but they have been unable to reach upon a mutually agreed agreement. Something that has been continued to be a major sore point within the bilateral relations of India and Bangladesh!
Teesta barrage, whose construction started in the late 1970s, is the largest irrigation project of the entire eastern region. It aims at utilizing the potential of Teesta River in hydropower generation, irrigation, navigation, and flood moderation. India, being the upper riparian country, controls the flow of the river water into Bangladesh from the Teesta barrage. Even Bangladesh has constructed a barrage downstream that provides water for agriculture and irrigation to the drought prone areas of northern Bangladesh.
Bangladesh argues that the construction of Teesta barrage has drastically reduced the availability of water downstream, especially, in the dry season. On the other hand, it’s not just Bangladesh that is facing such issues, India is facing such issues as well. A reduced availability of groundwater due to underground tunnelling has been witnessed which has impacted agricultural productions and livelihoods in the region. The drying up of natural springs and local water resources, the matter which also needs to be addressed, has resulted in growing scarcity of drinking water. An increasing number of landslides have also been witnessed in the mountainous regions of Sikkim.
Development of hydropower projects and the construction of dams are majorly held responsible for all such issues. It has been a growing concern in India and something that the environmentalists, scientist, social activists have all cautioned against. Changes in the river, which have largely been due to the dams being constructed on the Teesta are being witnessed, including frequent changes in the course of the river, delta formation, high rates of siltation, increased erosion, and siltation of agricultural land in the areas surrounded by the river.
Availability of water for irrigation is a key issue, particularly for West Bengal, as highlighted by local communities. It is estimated that the availability of water for irrigation be reduced due to the series of proposed dams since every hydropower project is estimated to absorb at least 5 per cent of the river’s running water.
Similar is the situation with Bangladesh as well where farmers are being forced to rely on tube wells to pump underground water which has resulted in increased cost of production and also, reduced areas under cultivation. In many areas, increased siltation of riverbed has caused widening of the river which has resulted in bank erosion and flooding.
The Perspective Of Institutional Economics
The dispute is still hanging somewhere unable to find itself a reasonable solution. It is not just about the point of contention regarding the sharing of water, that how much water should India consume or how much of it should Bangladesh take away from the river, but it is also about the environmental concerns and the way it is impacting the humans. Maybe, if India takes up the discussions regarding sharing of some of the benefits that it would gain from its hydropower projects, it could happen that the dispute might be solved, but that would not solve the environmental concerns altogether.
Environmental economics, a strand of economics, offers one such solution which talks about using a price signal in waiving off a particular dispute. But in order to do that, you need to own that particular resource which is not possible in the case of a river. The market, thus, cannot allocate the resource using a price signal since there are no specified property rights, therefore, none of the state can boast of ownership. The lack of property rights disables either of the state to be able to sell it or rather, in this matter, be able to negotiate a settlement using a ‘price’ signal on the basis of cost-benefit analysis. Similarly, one state cannot also exclude the other state from using the river water since it’s a common environmental resource for both the states.
This indicates towards the presence of externalities that happens when there are lack of property rights and people utilize their utility not considering what additional/negative utility others may get from it. In such a problem, institutional economics, another branch of economics, has some solution to offer. Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist talks about common pool resources that people have managed successfully for generations. She says that these resources should be managed in communities where people can collectively come and decide and set up some rules that should match the local conditions since different regions have different ecosystems.
Here, in the context of the Teesta River dispute, the major thing that is missing is the ‘people’ and their participation in forming a consensus over the usage of river water. The local communities are the major stakeholders of the river water and it is them who are being majorly effected but they have been kept away and everything has just boiled down to politics and the bilateral equations between the two states. This leads us to understand the issue from the lenses of political ecology.
Political Ecology And Its Links With The Dispute
Political ecology is that branch of geography that emerges from ‘critical geography’ and makes this basic point that physical environment in which we live in is not just natural but is characterized by a constant human intervention making it a ‘built’ environment. And since we live in such environment which is partly and very deeply influenced by human beings themselves, social and human processes should be right at the centre of our analysis.
Political ecology fundamentally connects questions of environment with questions of political processes and political power, something that is clearly visible in the dispute in discussion. It also draws insights from political economy, particularly, Marxian political economy to draw this connection between environmental issues, political power, and political and social processes.
David Harvey, one of the renowned scholars of political ecology, talks about the phenomenon of ‘Accumulation by Dispossession.’ This phenomenon talks about the existing social relations between the capitalist class and the farmers/working class. This talks about how the farmers are being left with no other option than to lose their lands and become a victim at the hands of the industrial development.
Here, in the context of Teesta River dispute, something similar is happening. On one hand, while the government and a section of civil society is happy with the expected benefits of the hydropower project like employment, energy sufficiency, new revenues, on the other hand, local communities, environmentalists, scientists, and activists are concerned about social, cultural, and environmental aspects of these projects. More such projects are proposed, more the economic and industrial development but only at the cost of environmental development and also, at the cost of the livelihoods of the local communities!
The politics of the two countries, their asymmetric relations, and their urge to economic and industrial development has costed the local communities their livelihoods. For the authorities concerned, it’s about their political ego, their incapability of meeting the local needs through the existing water share, but holistically, this matter is not just about that. Undoubtedly, it continues to be dominated by political procedures but what matters the most are the local communities who are suffering on both the sides of the borders. It is these people who are losing their livelihoods, lands, and the allied opportunities but have been kept away from the major procedure of decision making. The sufferers are none but the environment itself whose course is being decided by the humans and also, the humans – but only the ones that are dependent upon the same environment for their livelihood opportunities. Rest that remains is the politics!
As Sri Lanka struggles with Chinese debt-trap, Maldives moves closer to the Quad
The Indian Ocean’s geopolitical currents have witnessed drastic transformation this year, particularly in the past three months, with India shedding the exclusive right of its sphere of influence over the Indian Ocean, by allowing the United States in its own backyard. Washington and New Delhi seems to have entered into what few analysts call a ‘soft alliance’.
Sri Lanka and Maldives are strategically located in the northern section of the Indian Ocean, and have long been historically, culturally, and geopolitically under India’s sphere of influence. But, things are beginning to change as Chinese debt-trap looms over these islands.
The Quad grouping, consisting of India, Japan, the United States and Australia, has demonstrated its collective military might in the maritime sphere of India with the recently concluded annual Malabar naval exercise. It also led to the emergence of new dynamics of cooperation in previously reticent areas, built upon confidence in each other’s abilities and consciousness of where it stands in the newly unravelling geopolitical equation.
India’s new strategic comfort with bringing in partners from the Quad partners lying external to the Indian Ocean Region, namely the US and Japan into its long-held exclusive sphere of influence signals a tilt in strategic imperatives for New Delhi in favour of the US that too in an evolving cold war-like situation involving Washington and Beijing with different set of countries rallying behind each side.
India has recently welcomed the US-Maldives Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in September, this year. The following month saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Male where he announced Washington’s intent to open an embassy soon.
Less than three months after the defence pact with Washington, Male signed a new agreement with Tokyo this month, for availing a Japanese grant of $7.6 million to strengthen the archipelago’s Coast Guard capacities, in a second major pact with a Quad member.
New Delhi’s newfound willingness to work with external actors in the Indian Ocean is a sign of strategic comfort stemming out from realist foreign policy considerations to expand its circle of friends and coalition partners in its own backyard against a common and more powerful adversary, Beijing, with which it also have decades-long tensions in the Himalayan frontiers.
Even though both these two countries succumbed to disproportionately superior Chinese economic might since the past one decade, it seems Maldives has somehow managed to come out of its dangerous level of dependency on China since Ibrahim Mohammed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party assumed presidency of the island nation two years back in November 2018.
The Sri Lankan economy went into a tailspin since the civil war ended in 2009. The country’s exchequer was badly in need of financial support to sustain itself. It was also the time when Beijing just began to project its military and economic power in its neighbourhood and beyond as the flamboyant 2008 Beijing Olympics concluded.
The island of Sri Lanka soon acquired new geoeconomic significance when President Xi Jinping launched the most ambitious infrastructure project of this century in 2013, the Belt and Road Infrastructure, connecting three continents with the Indian Ocean as its epicenter of vitality.
With BRI, a tangled web of debt-trap rapidly began to loom over Sri Lanka as Beijing pumped-in investments into the war-battered island with malicious intentions.
The story of handover of Hambantota port, strategically located in the southern tip of Sri Lankan coast, to China for a 99-year lease in 2017, and the Colombo Port City project being built with Chinese assistance are just examples of how economic leverage gained geopolitically advantageous positions for Beijing overlooking the Indian Ocean. These assets are going to play a significant role in the connectivity of BRI’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ aspect.
Chinese-led projects are built and managed by Chinese workers themselves as they do in any other part of the world, naturally bringing presence of Chinese personnel to the areas where it operates.
The BRI, however, enhances Sri Lanka’s significance in what theorists call the String of Pearls, wherein Beijing attempts to encircle India by a series of ports and maritime installations under its control in the Indian Ocean such as the overseas military base in Djibouti, Gwadar in Pakistan, and the ports in Bay of Bengal under Chinese influence hosted by either Bangladesh or Myanmar. Chinese submarine presence is also a new reality, particularly in areas surrounding the Malacca Straits.
All these factors naturally brought New Delhi closer to Washington to formulate a ‘collective strategy’ against the expansionist tendencies manifested by Chinese behaviour. At the same time, India has been taking proactive steps in its individual capacity to boost ties with other island and littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), like Mauritius and Seychelles where India’s listening posts to monitor sea-lanes also operate.
The Indian Navy has always been the first responder to any HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) situations in the IOR which earned significant soft power and respect for India in the countries of the region. This vision has been immortalized in India’s maritime doctrine for regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean, SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region), that was unveiled in 2015.
With the entry of the US, which already has its presence in the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia lying mid-way of the ocean, that too with India’s approval, and France in Reunion in the western Indian Ocean, the geostrategic picture of IOR is beginning to change.
Maldives stands as a good example of how to overcome Chinese dominating agenda by boosting cooperation among democracies. But, the Abdullah Yameen-era nightmare of Chinese debt burden is still far from over. In fact, Sri Lanka too is well aware of the Chinese trap from which it yearns to decouple itself. But, Colombo is left with limited options or alternatives to do so.
The renewed Indo-US strategic cooperation, if not translated into offering a viable solution to the debt-trap conundrum, Sri Lanka might irreversibly evolve into another extension of Beijing’s legs in the Indian Ocean threatening the sovereignty of democracies in the region.
Recent steps in the strategic realm are welcome, but the Indo-Pacific democracies, particularly India and the US, should cooperate with these two key island states more in the economic realm as well, if possible near to the extent of Beijing as a collective move.
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