Not Just Kashmir: Demand of Autonomy All Over The World

People in Jammu and Kashmir are experiencing Eid under curfew with a complete blackout of communication for the eighth consecutive day. There have been many reports about the protests erupting all over Southern Kashmir.

Source: AP

While the valley is facing a heavy crackdown with the deployment of paramilitary forces by the Government of India, similar protests of self-identity and autonomy took place in another part of the world. The pro-democracy demonstrators of Hong Kong on Monday flooded into one of the busiest airports in the world which made the airport authorities cancel flights over protests.

Protesters attend a mass demonstration at Hong Kong airport Source: Reuters

The demand for self-rule and autonomy has always been there. Today in this piece we look at some of the regions and movements in the world which are demanding greater autonomy and freedom.

Hong Kong, China

The Hong Kong Autonomous Movement was formed amidst the rising awareness about Hong Kong’s constitutional rights of high autonomy, free from the interference of China.

Source: Reuters

Hong Kong, which was a former British colony, which was returned to China in 1997 under a policy known as “one country, two systems,” which promised the territory a high degree of autonomy. The policy has kept anonymity to Hong Kong’s civil service, independent courts, Press Freedom, open internet and other features that distinguish it from the Chinese mainland. The autonomy given to Hong Kong is known as the Basic Law, which will expire in 2047.  Basic Law, however, has been weakened as China’s Communist Party and its security apparatus increasingly interfering with Hong Kong.

Edward Leung, Source: AP

When pro-independence activist Edward Leung first declared his election slogan “Liberate Hong Kong; the revolution of our times” in 2016, few could relate to it or understand what it meant.

But over the past month, the rallying cry of the now-jailed student leader has become the most commonly heard chant in the city as long-running protests against an extradition bill have morphed into a full-blown anti-government movement.

The protests are intensifying day by day. On Sunday, Police officers in Hong Kong stormed enclosed railway stations, firing tear gas in an effort to force out protesters.

Tamil Eelam, Sri Lanka

The growing intensity of communal riots in Sri Lanka is most dramatically evident in the appearance of a movement seeking a separate Tamil state on the island.  Take a look at Sri Lanka’s ethnic contents; Sinhala Buddhists are the majority, making up 74.9 percent of the population; Tamils are at 11.9 percent and Muslims represent 9.3 percent of the population. Sri Lanka provides an example of the difficulties in maintaining a participatory democratic political system in a society marked by deep ethnic divisions.

Former LTTE chief Vellupillai Prabakaran, Source: PTI

After a 26-year military campaign, the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, bringing the civil war to an end. For over 25 years, the war caused significant hardships for the population, environment and the economy of the country, with an initial estimated 80,000–100,000 people killed during its course.

In 2013, the UN panel estimated additional deaths during the last phase of the war: “Around 40,000 died while other independent reports estimated the number of civilians dead to exceed 100,000.” Tamils were hunted down, burned alive in cars, stripped naked and women were raped. Over the course of seven days, a lot of people were killed.

Tamil Liberation Fighters, Source: Reuters

Most of Sri Lanka’s minorities now feel exasperated and disappointed with the current government’s lack of a clear stance and its inability to protect them. The recent anti-Muslim violence has worried ethnic minorities who feel they may no longer have a home in the place they were born.

Balochistan, Pakistan

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest, but least developed province, which is home to over 13 million people, mostly Balochis. The roots of the conflict, like India’s Kashmir issue, go back to the country’s independence.

Balochistan Liberation Army fighter, Source: Reuters

The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is a Baloch nationalist militant secessionist organization. The stated goals of the organization included the establishment of an independent state of Balochistan separate from Pakistan and Iran. However, Jumma Khan Marri, the founder of BLA ended his opposition and pledged allegiance to Pakistan on 17 February 2018.

The BLA had claimed responsibility for the systematic ethnic genocide of Punjabis, Pashtuns, and Sindhis in Balochistan as well as blowing up of gas pipelines. Local Balochs have also been targeted by the separatist groups in the province.

In 2006, the BLA was declared to be a terrorist organization by the Pakistani and British governments. However, the insurgency led by the Baloch separatists in the province is on its last leg. Baloch separatists have been losing their leaders and they have been unable to fill their ranks. There is also currently ongoing infighting between the different tribal groups. The last insurgent leader, Balach Marri, was able to keep the different insurgent groups united. However, after his death in Afghanistan, infighting broke out between various insurgent groups.

Baloch Leader Jumma Khan Marri, Source: AP

The insurgents were unable to replace him. Similarly, Baloch separatist follows Marxism. However, the Marxism ideology died across the world and there are no other ideologies to succeed it. So the founding father of Baloch separatist is dead. Moreover, attacks on pro-government leaders and politicians who are willing to take part in the election have also contributed to the decline in separatist appeal.

It is also believed that the majority of Baloch don’t support separatist groups. They support political parties who use the legislature to address their grievances. Experts also claim that most of the nationalist in the province had come to believe that they could fight for their political right within Pakistan.

Kurdistan, Turkey

Source: AFP

The Kurdish–Turkish conflict is an armed conflict between the Republic of Turkey and various Kurdish insurgent groups, which have demanded separation from Turkey to create an independent Kurdistan or to have autonomy and greater political and cultural rights for Kurds inside the Republic of Turkey.

The conflict has cost the economy of Turkey an estimated $300 to 450 billion, mostly military costs. Turkey depopulated and destroyed rural settlements on a large scale, resulting in massive resettlement of a rural Kurdish population in urban areas and leading to development and re-design of population settlement schemes across the countryside. Turkish settlement and re-settlement policies during the 1990s period were influenced by two different forces – the desire to expand administration to rural areas and an alternative view of urbanization, allegedly producing “Turkishness”.

Kurdish Fighters, source: Reuters

Both Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have committed numerous human rights abuses during the conflict. According to a report, in addition to the 35,000 people killed in military campaigns, 17,500 were assassinated between 1984, when the conflict began, and 1998. An additional 1,000 people were reportedly assassinated in the first nine months of 1999. According to the Turkish press, the authors of these crimes, none of whom have been arrested, belong to groups of mercenaries working either directly or indirectly for the security agencies.

Catalonia, Spain

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona to protest against the Supreme Court trial of 12 separatist leaders who are facing charges for their involvement in the illegal independence referendum on October 1, 2017, and the unilateral declaration of independence that was passed in parliament a few weeks later. According to estimates from the Civil Guard, it was the biggest pro-independence demonstration in the region.

Source: AFP

Catalan nationalists have regained control of the region after a new government was sworn in. The ceremony marks the end of a period of direct rule in Catalonia by Spain’s central government. The region had its autonomy suspended for almost seven months by Madrid after a failed independence drive.

Opponents of Catalan independence have accused the movement of racism or elitism, and argue that the majority of the Catalan public does not support independence. In an op-ed for the Guardian Aurora Nacarino-Brabo and Jorge San Miguel Lobeto, two political scientists affiliated with the anti-independence Ciutadans party disputed the claim that Catalonia has been oppressed or excluded from Spanish politics. They argued that the independence movement is “neither inclusive nor progressive”, and criticized nationalists for excluding the Spanish speaking population of Catalonia, and resorting to what they argue are appeals to ethnicity. These criticisms of ethnic-based appeals and exclusion of Spanish speakers have been echoed by other politicians and public figures opposed to independence, such as former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González, and the leader of Ciutadans in Catalonia Inés Arrimadas.

Source: Reuters

Members of the Catalan independence movement have strongly denied their movement is xenophobic or supremacist and define it as “an inclusive independence movement in which neither the origin nor the language is important”. In addition, independence supporters usually allege most far-right and xenophobic groups in Catalonia support Spanish nationalism and usually participate in unionist demonstrations.

Xinjing (Uighurs), China

China is reportedly locking down one million people, mostly ethnic Uighurs, in internment camps in Xinjiang. Rights groups and former inmates describe them as “concentration camps” where mainly Muslim Uighurs and other minorities are being forcefully assimilated into China’s majority ethnic Han society.

Source: Reuters

China has stepped up its brutality against the primarily-Muslim Uyghurs through heavily-fenced camps where parents are apparently separated from children, satellite imagery shows. More than 20 countries have written to top United Nations human rights officials condemning China’s treatment of Uighur and other minorities in the western Xinjiang region. China, which is officially atheist in keeping with the communist ideology, has justified its much-condemned mass internment camps as “vocational training” centres that help keep terrorism at bay.

Uighur Boy in Xinjiang, source: Al Jazeera

 Looking into the records, one thing that lands into clarity is that not many Governments have taken fair decisions in order to maintain the ethnic diversity in the country. That leaves us wondering is that how fairly are the constitutions required to be reframed and by whom? If the Government cannot, the courts cannot, and the authorities cannot, then who can? All the lawmakers around the need to be versed enough with the requirements of the citizens and maintenance of the country at the same time.

Harshita Malik
Harshita Malik

Trained in journalism, fights for gender and human rights issues. Open to talks and criticism. Believes in individual wishes and opinions. A mediocre reader of non-fiction.

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