Citizens’ group demands human rights protection in Kashmir
A citizens’ group report titled “Why Are People Protesting in Kashmir?” released in New Delhi on May 11 provides extensive evidence of government complicity in and disregard of serious human-rights violations in Indian Kashmir since July 9, 2016.
In November last year, 25 eminent citizens visited the Kashmir Valley over a period of 10 days to understand the situation there after the wanton killing by security forces of three militants including Burhan Wani on July 8.
The citizens’ group included representatives of people’s movements, rights activists, women’s and youth organizations, filmmakers, writers and journalists from different parts of India.
The team visited all 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley region and met families of those killed by the Indian Army, central and state paramilitary forces, and special police units. They met families of those who had disappeared or been jailed. They met with the grievously injured, including those blinded by pellet gunfire and other weapons from July 8 onward.
The team met with lawyers, trading and business communities, government employees and unions, civil-society organizations, political organizations and others.
The main findings of the citizens’ group were the following.
1. While the human-rights violations in Kashmir since the killing on July 8 of Burhan Wani and two others were serious, early 2017 had witnessed increased violence by the Indian Army and the central and state police organizations. The situation therefore called for serious attention.
2. Unarmed protests after July 8 were met with sustained attacks by the Indian Army, Jammu & Kashmir police and paramilitary forces with the use of pellet guns, PAVA incapacitant spray and firearms. Several unarmed civilians were killed by armed forces even absent of protests and demonstrations. Deaths and injuries caused by pellet guns included blindings and long-term ophthalmic damage. J&K police lodged counter-charges against the victims of unjustified murder, calling them “anti-nationals”. These government actions amounted to violation of the right to life.
3. Those citizens who pursued legal remedies to identify the army, J&K police and paramilitary personnel who had immunity under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1990 (AFSPA), even when they killed innocents, became targets of repeated arrests, intimidation, torture and raids on their homes. These government actions amounted to criminal intimidation and have served as a deterrent to many families from pursuing the course of justice.
4. Many of those arrested under the J&K Public Security Act of 1978 had no prima facie cases against them. In all the cases under the PSA, government counsels merely sought to delay them using various legal excuses. Those who won their cases were promptly rearrested on the basis of fresh police reports. Even minor persons were arrested under the PSA. These government actions amounted to violation of the principles of natural justice.
5. Families of arrested persons were subjected to grievous custodial torture by government interrogators in police stations and jails, indicating the level of impunity enjoyed by the Indian Army under the AFSPA and the state police under the PSA. Further, multiple wings of the intelligence agencies were active, causing fear, mistrust and suspicion among the people.
6. In towns and villages where killings by the security forces had taken place, there followed a cycle of searches and seizures and indiscriminate firings, including at funerals and memorial meetings. In many cases, the Indian Army, the J&K police and the paramilitary forces broke windows and destroyed household goods, livestock and food rations. In several cases, the armed forces destroyed local electricity transformers or substations, causing hardship to the entire village or locality. This government action amounts to collective punishment of the villagers. Women spoke of being subjected to violence and molestation along with verbal abuse. Paramedics in the government health systems reported significant increases in miscarriages. These government actions amounted to violation of every law and international covenant aimed at protecting women from sexual and other forms of violence.
7. Extraordinary efforts were made by doctors, paramedics, nurses and others in response to the huge number of cases of those injured in police and military actions; many doctors were harassed by intelligence personnel to reveal the identity of patients. Many other atrocities took place in hospitals. Pharmacies and kitchens set up by caring citizens to save lives were disbanded by the armed forces. in one case a doctor involved in such a humanitarian effort was arrested and held for many days. These government actions against emergency relief workers and health professionals violated international conventions and India’s own commitment to United Nations treaties.
8. Mosques were closed by authorities across the Kashmir Valley, including the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar and in Shopian. These government actions violated the right to freedom of religion.
9. A ban on Internet and mobile-telephone services, raids at newspaper offices, shutting down of newspapers and a blanket ban on one paper violate the right to freedom of speech and internationally accepted norms of the freedom of the press.
10. Targeting of state government employees, summary dismissals, denial of salaries, show-cause notices, and so forth amounted to denial of the right to freedom of association.
11. The affirmative response to calls for strikes issued by the Hurriyat Conference indicated people’s resistance to the wrongs of the Indian state.
12. Kashmiri people have demanded political resolution of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan and recognition of the sustained effort of the Kashmiri people to assert their right to self-determination. The failure of the Indian state and every government since independence to address the political sentiments of the Kashmiri people has caused hurt and resentment.
13. The Bharatiya Janata Party government in New Delhi and the BJP-dominated coalition government in Srinagar have failed to initiate a dialogue with the people of Kashmir and their representatives.
14. The BJP government in New Delhi has sought to create a warlike situation with Pakistan along the borders of J&K and employed the alleged Uri attack to build a Hindu majoritarian sentiment against Kashmir, Pakistan and those of the Islamic faith.
15. A Kashmiri speaker has noted that the previous Indian teams that had visited Kashmir had looked at the problem only from India’s perspective, not from that of the Kashmiris. He demanded a debate on the issues of military occupation and self-determination of the Kashmiris.
In conclusion, the citizens’ group report stated that the BJP government in New Delhi and the BJP-dominated coalition government in Srinagar were engaged in actions that amounted to a complete violation of universally accepted human and democratic rights and the provisions of the Constitution of India that they claimed to be implementing.
Distressingly, some senior members of the BJP government in New Delhi have often made inflammatory and provocative statements against the people of Kashmir. Regrettably, the parliamentary opposition has lacked the political courage and will to call for accountability on the part of the government of India.
The important 75-page citizens’ group report demanded the following.
- Recognize the Kashmir dispute and accept that its resolution can only come through a political solution and not through military intervention and denial of all democratic and human rights.
- Withdraw the army and other paramilitary forces from civilian areas of Jammu & Kashmir.
- Repeal the J&K Public Safety Act of 1978 and the AFSPA (J&K) Special Powers Act of 1990.
- Release all political prisoners and in particular all prisoners arrested under the J&K Public Safety Act.
- Grant access to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for a fact-finding mission in J&K.
- Establish a judicial tribunal under the Supreme Court of India to examine all cases of extrajudicial executions including that of Burhan Wani.
- Enter an open and transparent dialogue without preconditions with all sections of Kashmiri peoples and their representatives to bring about a resolution of the Kashmir dispute that recognizes the aspirations of the people to determine their own destiny through recognizably democratic means.
The report is a final wake-up call for the Narendra Modi-led government of India. Its unwillingness to initiate a dialogue process with the Kashmiri people has led to an explosive situation.