A report published by the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir has found that 18 months after the abrogation of the state’s special status, human rights violations are still prevalent in the state. Public and civilian safety continues to be compromised to combat counterinsurgency through illegal detention, arbitrary arrests and denial of freedom of expression. A report by MANYA SAINI.
HE Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, an independent body recently published a report noting the violation of rights in the state between August 2020 to January 2021. It found that people in the Union Territory continue to suffer from abductions by militants, assassinations, and custodial killings and inadequate remedial measures.
The forum, co-chaired by former Supreme Court judge, Madan B. Lokur and former J&K interlocutor Radha Kumar found that statutory bodies established to redress grievance related to humans rights, women and child rights, as well as the right to information have not been reinstated yet.
The second report observed that almost every violation that it had found flagged in its first report, between August 2019-July 2020, continues in Kashmir. This includes denial of the right to a fair and free trial alongside vitiation of protections such as habeas corpus and prevention of illegal detention. Further, it alleges grievous misuse of the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to throttle dissent.
The report in its findings alleges that there is a “near-total alienation” of the people in Kashmir from the central government and other states of the country. The same also exists in Jammu but not to the same extent, due to comparatively less civilian cost of insurgency, as well as economic and educational losses. As per the report, counterinsurgency concerns are prioritised by the government over the welfare of the people.
In Kashmir, it notes a marked increase in fatalities of both civilians as well the armed forces in the last year. Instances of IED blasts, cross-border shelling and grenade attacks have also risen steadily. Several local political leaders remain detained or arrested, the latest being the Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (PDP) youth president Waheed ur Rehman Para.
The report has also taken objection to the recent pellet-firing, lathi charge and the use of tear gas on civilians during Muharram processions, calling them “entirely avoidable.” It has cited negligence saying, “Adequate planning by the administration in cooperation with Shia leaders could have ensured sanitary measures were taken without banning the processions.” It alleges that in any circumstance, the decision of the authorities to arrest 50 people participating was excessive.
Public assembly continues to be banned under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (CrPC). It also claims that the Jammu and Kashmir administration during the district development polls has added a new category of ‘protective’ detention.
Citing these reasons as contributing factors, the report concluded that the “rates of militant recruitment, which had fallen, have started to rise again, rendering 2020 as the year with the second-highest militant recruitment in a decade.”
A Region of Neglect
As per the report, Kashmir suffers from rampant unemployment, at 16.6 percent, it is nearly twice in comparison with the rest of the country. The already limited healthcare facilities have gotten steadily worse amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A child’s right to a trauma-free environment is regularly ignored in the region.
Even as local and regional media functioned with little independence, they have been further eroded with the implementation of the much-criticised new media policy which has “led to the disempanelment of about 20 media outlets.”
This includes Rising Kashmir, whose editor, Shujaat Bukhari was assassinated in 2018 by a terror outfit. It has demanded criminal and civil action against armed forces, police personnel and paramilitary forces guilty of attacking journalists with an intent to intimidate and hamper free press. Media houses over the period have struggled with several economic, administrative and logistical problems amid targeting and assault.
The 18-month ban on 4G internet services by the government in Kashmir has added to the suffering of the people, causing trauma and stress, and impacting public health. It states that the restrictions were in violation of the “rights to health and medical care under the Indian, and Jammu and Kashmir, constitutions.”
The recommendations made by the Forum in the report include the release of people who were put in preventive detention after August 4, 2019. Further, it has asked that PSA be repealed alongside all legislation that allows preventive arrests. The report has urged that the Army’s additional directorate for human rights be given the freedom to investigate alleged human rights violations, such as the Hokersar deaths. It has also asked for the removal of all restrictions on the freedom of representation and expression, including, the withdrawal of unsubstantiated charges against local leaders, journalists and activists.
(Manya Saini is a student at the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Pune, and an intern with The Leaflet.)