As a prominent Labour Kashmiri activist, the party has lost me forever.

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Author: Aleesha Khaliq
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Keir Starmer’s weak response to rising fascism in India and the human rights abuses of Kashmiris means that I can never support Labour again.

What’s happening in Kashmir?

On the 5th August 2019, the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and the region (after 72 years of violent oppression) was plunged into a lockdown with communications shut down and a media blackout to hide the grotesque human rights abuses.

The situation was so severe that Genocide Watch released an alert over Kashmir as 738,000 Indian troops entered what is already the most militarized zone in the world. Kashmir is more militarized than Gaza or Yemen. From the rise of Hindutva fascism to the media blackout, there are many indications of impending genocide in Kashmir.

Kashmiris are being raped, murdered, abused, tortured, and kids are disappearing as they’re taken in the night by soldiers. For every 11 Kashmiris, there’s one soldier.

There are nearly 6,000 unmarked graves in Kashmir, 8,000 disappearances, and 215,000 children are orphans.

After leaving the Labour Party, I decided to use some of the money to sponsor a Kashmiri orphan.

How does Labour fit into the situation?

While the suffering of Kashmir under brutal lockdown was just beginning, Labour hosted its annual party conference. There, a motion was passed which stated the disputed territory was experiencing a humanitarian crisis, demanding that the people of Kashmir be given the right to self-determination. It called for international monitors to be allowed into the region.

Several months later, after BJP interference in British politics and BJP fascists urging British-Indians to vote Conservative at the December election, Labour shifted its policy on Kashmir and Ian Lavery in his letter wrote: “Kashmir is a bilateral issue for Pakistan and India”.

I voiced my anger at this response but stayed in the party as Corbyn remained headstrong in condemning the human rights violations in Kashmir.

What are we facing today?

Today, Keir Starmer released a statement saying that he’s “committed to working closely with Labour Friends of India to rebuild trust with the community.”

“We must not allow issues of the sub-continent to divide communities here. Any constitutional issues are a matter for the Indian parliament, and Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully,” he added.

He further said that a Labour government under him will build even stronger relations with India. Which means stronger than the relationship the current Conservative government has with Modi.

As one of Labour’s most prominent (Kashmiri) activists who advocated for the party for five years, I never thought that my people would be safer under a Tory government than a Labour government.

Kashmir is not an internal issue. Kashmir was an issue created during partition, a direct result of British colonialism in the Indian subcontinent, and Kashmiris have been facing brutal oppression ever since, simply for wanting their right to self-determination. Britain is now turning a blind eye to the very situation it created, and when human rights are being violated, this becomes an international issue. Starmer’s response is insulting.

Even Donald Trump recognizes this as an international issue and has agreed to mediate the situation in Kashmir. He has spoken to both Prime Ministers Imran Khan and Modi about the escalated situation.

In fact, Trump has offered to help eight times over the issue of Kashmir, saying to Imran Khan: “If we can help, we certainly will be helping.”

How can it be that Donald Trump can recognize the severity of the issue of Kashmir and Keir Starmer, a human rights lawyer, can’t?

If Starmer wants to get real about championing causes, being moral, and winning an election, he must stop appeasing the fascist Modi who, prior to becoming Prime Minister, was banned from the UK and the USA for his role in the Gujarat massacre of Muslims.

Starmer’s comments come at a time where Muslims across India are being blamed for COVID-19 infections and are being refused treatment. Muslims across India are being attacked, arrested, and discriminated against (such as in the citizenship amendment bill).

As a former Labour member who dedicated so much of my time to fighting for the party I once believed was moral and just, the fact that Labour cannot stand with my people at a time where children are being blinded by pellet guns means that I cannot vote for the party again.

My family roots are from Pakistan administered Kashmir and my surviving grandparents tell me the horrors of partition and Kashmir. My grandparents will never get to have a say on their land because they didn’t get their plebiscite, and Starmer is happy to turn his back on the human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir. Him strengthening his links with Labour Friends of India and not condemning the rise of Hindutva nationalism tells Kashmiris and South Asian Muslims that we do not belong in the party we once called home.

The vast majority of British Pakistanis here in the UK are from Azad Kashmir and they populate cities such as Bradford, Birmingham, Derby, and towns like Oldham due to post-war labour. If the Labour Party wants to get serious about winning back the north, losing Kashmiri voters in those cities is only going to ensure electoral obliteration for them.

For me, the rights of my people come before any political party allegiance. Starmer’s Labour, in such a short time, is already stained with institutional racism, islamophobia, and now he has thrown Kashmiris under the bus.