As international protests continue over Israeli airstrikes that have killed at least 212 Palestinians in Gaza — including dozens of children — police arrested a graffiti artist in another one of the world’s conflict flashpoints after he expressed solidarity with victims through a mural that went viral online.
Kashmiri artist Mudasir Gul, who lives in the capital city of the Indian-administered territory, told VICE World News that police held him without charge for three days after an image of his “We Are Palestine” mural was shared widely on social media. He also said he was made to paint over it.
Gul said that police warned him and others detained, “They said, ‘graffiti, burning flags, and raising slogans is illegal in Kashmir’. The police told us, ‘You are ruining your careers’.”
In addition to the artist, some 20 Kashmiris were arrested for protesting amid the dramatic escalation between Israel and its Palestinian Territories. At least 10 Israelis have been killed since the start of the weeklong hostilities.
Before the arrests, Indian police issued a statement warning against any pro-Palestinian demonstrations and “irresponsible” social media activity that results in violence or breaches COVID-19 protocols. A cleric whose recorded sermon supporting Palestinians was shared thousands of times on different social media platforms was also among those detained, according to a police source, though officials claimed he violated COVID-19 rules. Authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the cases.
Living in what has been described as the world’s most militarized zone, many Kashmiris in India’s predominantly Muslim state have long identified with Palestinians under occupation. Protests in solidarity with Palestinians have been held annually in Ramadan for decades, and a Kashmiri teenager was killed during the 2014 demonstrations against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
But the parallels between Palestinians and Kashmiris have grown in recent years.
In 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government scrapped the decades-old special status or limited autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir state. The status ensured only Kashmir citizens could own land in the region that has been contested by both Pakistan and India since 1947. Last year, the Modi government passed a controversial land law that made it legal for all Indian citizens to buy land in the disputed region.
“Since both have the same history where natives are sought to be ‘marginalised with settlements’ from outside, they see a parallel in each other's experience,” Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a law professor and author of the book, Kashmir: Palestine in the Making, told VICE World News.
For decades, the Indian government’s Public Safety Act has also given authorities expansive powers in Kashmir to detain people it suspects of posing a threat to national security without trial for up to two years. Many prominent Kashmiri politicians are currently in Indian jails facing Public Safety Act charges.
Gul has never been arrested before. In fact, he said the region’s police force gave him an award when he was 23 in an art competition. But for most, the experience is common.
“Getting arrested is so normal in Kashmir that no one bothered to answer the question why they were detained for three days without trial?” Habeel Iqbal, a human rights lawyer in Kashmir, told VICE World News.
Mir Hilal, a local journalist, said Kashmiris “feel the dispossession that Palestinians feel.” He added that COVID-19 restrictions have been used to curb dissent because authorities know there is “bottled up anger in Kashmir and it can erupt any time.”
Gul was released on Monday, but the cleric, whose name is Sarjan Barkati, is still under arrest.
The former chief minister of the state Mehbooba Mufti criticised the arrests on Twitter, “Kashmir is an open air prison where people’s thoughts are being monitored and they are punished for it. There is no outlet left to express one’s opinion and this is a deliberate attempt to push Kashmiris to the wall.”
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