Human rights reports on Kashmir

Kashmir: Death of expectations

Print edition : January 31, 2020

A soldier stands guard outside the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar on December 18, 2019, when it reopened for prayers. The mosque was shut on August 5. Photo: Mukhtar Khan/AP

A human rights group reports that in 2019 Kashmir saw a marked escalation in the scale of violence and the crackdown by security forces, while another warns that approval for militancy is growing in the Valley.

“The year 2019 will be remembered as a landmark year in the annals of J&K’s chequered history as the last vestiges of J&K’s limited autonomy were permanently revoked by the Government of India on August 5, 2019,” read the opening lines of the “Annual Human Rights Review 2019”, a report published by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a prominent human rights group in the erstwhile State, currently the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

As per the JKCCS report, there was a marked escalation in the scale of violence, encounters, illegal detention, and crackdown by security forces. Some 662 people were booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) to suppress any resistance or civilian uprising in response to the Centre’s decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution.

The report questioned the legitimacy of the government action, claiming that it was in violation of Article 1.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

The report delineates the “military siege” of the Kashmir Valley and chronicles reports of allegations of mass arrests, torture, killings, use of excessive force, harassment and intimidation.

As per the report, a total of 366 killings took place in different incidents of violence. “The year witnessed extrajudicial executions of at least 80 civilians in J&K, besides killings of 159 militants and 129 armed forces. Among 80 civilians killed in 2019, 12 are women,” it said.

Contradicting the government’s claims that no civilian was killed in the post-August 5 lockdown of the Valley, the report claimed it had documented at least six such killings. “While the Government of India has refused to acknowledge any civilian killing, the documented cases of killings by JKCCS and APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons) post August-5 at the hands of state forces state otherwise. JKCCS and APDP have been able to document at least six killings at the hands of the Indian armed forces following the abrogation of the Article 370 on August 5,” it said.

Of the 80 civilians killed, 19 were killed by the armed forces and 17 in shelling between Indian and Pakistani armed forces across the Line of Control. While 28 civilians were killed by unidentified gunmen, six were killed by militants and seven were killed in explosions. One person died after being allegedly hit by a stone and one person, a non-local, died in the crossfire between the armed forces and militants, the report said. It also said that at least 14 non-locals were killed by unidentified gunmen as targeted violence against non-local workers took place after the abrogation of Article 370.

As per the report, the aftermath of August 5 witnessed “serious cases of sexualised torture and gendered violence”. It said: “The Independent reported on September 1 a case of torture from Parigam area in Pulwama district in south Kashmir. Mohammad Yasin Bhat and 11 other men were detained during the cordon and search operation [CASO] and tortured. They were stripped naked and kept in a queue on the main road. All of them were electrocuted in their genitals. When the physical torture ended, they were made to lie face down on top of each other, in a pile. Many cases of gender-based violence were reported during cordon and search operations and night raids post August 5, some of which have been documented by JKCCS and APDP.”

The report also said atrocities were committed against juveniles. “In 2019, as in the past, children continued to be victims of state violence in J&K as 8 children were killed in various incidents of violence. Besides becoming victims of extrajudicial executions, children also faced illegal and unjust detention, ill-treatment, including torture, at the hands of armed forces during detention and fear of further reprisals,” the report said.

According to the report, there was an incident of violence against persons with disabilities. It said: “In 2019, there was one reported incident of a mentally challenged person in Kashmir shot at and injured by armed forces. In the data compiled by JKCCS and APDP, in the last 16 years i.e., from 2003 to 2019, at least 18 killings of persons with mental disabilities were witnessed in Jammu and Kashmir.”

The report gave a detailed account of the unfolding culture of CASOs and encounters and the use of pellet guns, which blinded over 1,000 people in the summer agitations of 2016.

“The use of pellet shotguns, first introduced in Kashmir in 2010, continued throughout 2019. The excessive use of force by the Indian armed forces, especially the firing of pellets and teargas shells, resulted in at least six deaths in 2019. This year four people died due to pellet injuries and three died due to inhalation of excessive tear and pepper gas,” the JKCC’s 2019 review said.

The report also said that as the Centre continued with the policy of “operation all out”, which has been going on in Kashmir since 2017, severe injuries and destruction of civilian property were caused. A total of 87 encounters took place in Jammu and Kashmir, in which 150 militants and 29 personnel from the armed forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police were killed.

Excesses on civilians

The report also focusses on the fallout of CASOs, often the source of excesses done on civilians. According to it, in 2019, at least 195 CASOs were conducted in Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in the killing of 159 militants. As per the report, the frequent instances of CASOs “led to multiple human rights violations of the civilian population, including harassment, molestation, detention and use of excessive and indiscriminate force”.

It further said: “According to the data compiled by JKCCS and APDP, at least 87 encounters took place between Indian armed forces and the militants following CASOs in the year 2019. During CASOs, vandalism and destruction of civilian properties was reported throughout the year.”

Giving a detailed picture of motivated attack on civilian property by the security forces, the report said: “In the first quarter of 2019, at least 18 cases of destruction of civilian properties were reported in Jammu and Kashmir, in the next three months of April, May and June, fewer instances of destruction of civilian properties began to be reported, due to unknown reasons.”

It added: “Due to the restrictions and communication blockade enforced on August 5 by the authorities, the allegations of destruction and vandalism of civilian properties by armed forces during night raids were not reported. However, while surveying several areas in many districts of Kashmir Valley, people generally complained of destruction and vandalism of civilian property by [armed] forces personnel. JKCCS and APDP documented several cases of vandalism and destruction of civilian properties at the hands of armed forces.”

The report criticised the government over its failure to come out with a clear number of PSA cases. “While the Government of India claimed in Parliament on November 20 that ‘5,161 persons were detained since August 5 out of whom 609 were under detention while rest were released’, there is no clear statement on how many were booked under PSA,” it said.

The JKCCS, through independent efforts and investigation, came up with a rough estimate of detentions made under the PSA. As per data obtained by the JKCCS and the APDP through the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Registry, as many as 662 fresh habeas corpus petitions challenging detentions under the PSA were registered in 2019, of which 412 were registered after August 5.

Focussing on the culture of illegal detentions and the random use of the PSA to stifle dissent, the JKCCS fact-finding team found that in 2019, judicial processes did not result in adjudication of any human rights violation cases, either leading to prosecution of any perpetrators or ordering any serious inquiries into the human rights violations.

“The orders of the Jammu Kashmir High Court have been subservient to the Executive, even in the cases where preventive detention orders were quashed, the police on their own reasoning determined whether the detainee has to be released or re-arrested in another detention order,” the team said.

The JKCCS report gives an elaborate narration of the situation unfolding in the aftermath of the Centre’s August 5 action and the curtailment of people’s basic human rights and press freedom. “In 2019, several restrictions were put in place on the pretext of maintaining law and order and in the name of ‘national security’. Restrictions on movement and assembly were imposed nine times this year until July 31, under Section 144, CrPC [Code of Criminal Procedure], in different areas of J&K. In the morning of August 5, a strict curfew was imposed in J&K, including Ladakh,” it said.

It added: “While curfew was lifted from Ladakh and Jammu regions after a few days, it remained in effect in Kashmir for a longer period of time and was lifted in a phased manner. But the restrictions under Section 144 continued. Pertinently, the State authorities invoke Section 144 to stop people from assembling for press conferences, seminars, book/report releases, etc. Permissions from government (district magistrates) prior to organising any event are required.”

On Section 144, the report said: “The intention of Section 144 was to provide ‘temporary’ provisions to ensure the maintenance of public order and safety in urgent and grave circumstances. However, since 1989, Section 144 has been permanently in place in Kashmir. The permanent imposition of Section 144 is a clear violation of fundamental rights and manifests how India has imposed a permanent state of emergency in J&K.”

On the issue of press freedom, the report said that in 2019, the media continued to be at the receiving end of pressure, intimidation and harassment by the authorities, with “several incidents of beating and thrashing of journalists. Besides physical assaults, journalists in 2019 also faced reprisals for filing stories on contentious issues.”

The report also accused the government of assaulting religious rights and freedom of civilians in Kashmir, stating that “the government trampled [on the] people’s right of religious freedom under the disguise of maintaining peace and order”.

As per the JKCCS report, in 2019, “no prayers were allowed in the historic Jamia Masjid for 24 Fridays. The Jamia Masjid was kept under complete lockdown from August 5 to December 18, for 19 consecutive weeks. During the month of Ramadhan, congregational prayers on two Fridays were not allowed. The centuries-old tradition of Khoja Digar, a special prayer held at Naqshband Sahab shrine in old Srinagar City, was disallowed for the first time this year on November 2.”

It added: “On the occasion of Eid Milad, which is traditionally celebrated in Kashmir by thousands of people observing night-long prayers in Hazratbal shrine, only a small gathering of people was allowed as restrictions were put in place to prevent people from reaching to the shrine and assembling in large congregation.”

CCG Report on Kashmir

A fact-finding team of the Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG), chaired by former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, captured the prevailing mood and sentiment in the Valley in “CCG report on Kashmir, 2019”.

It said: “There was both gloom and anger in the air and there was no outlet for sharing their emotional anguish with the people of the Valley as it was locked up and communications shut down. ‘Why have you created an atmosphere where everyone must support you and anyone who does not agree with you is designated an enemy?’ a Kashmiri asked.”

The report quoted people as saying that even those who used to say that the future of Kashmir lies with India were unable to say so now.

“Indians are seen as liars and Narendra Modi and Amit Shah as dacoits. People feel at one level that it is good that those who were with India are in jail. They laughed at Farooq Abdullah and thought he had got his just deserts (for supporting India) when he was arrested under the PSA, claimed a social activist,” it said.

It concluded that the sullen silence in Kashmir pointed to a “death of expectations”.

“There was fear, apprehension and bewilderment amongst the Kashmiris mixed with a great deal of anger. Bewildered Kashmiris asked, ‘What does India want from us? What are your expectations from us? As for us, any expectation from India is dead.’ A Kashmiri journalist pointed out how serious it could be when an entire society gives up hope for a better future: ‘When people stop protesting and accept virtual death quietly, then it is not only death of expectations but also the death of the State’,” the CCG report said. It also delved into the important question of whether the mass disillusionment and anger in Kashmir will translate into a popular backlash.

As per the CCG team’s observations, “While no one seemed to have a clear answer to this question, there was apprehension about how the situation might unfold. There were those who said that it is quite possible that nothing might happen immediately but warned, ‘Don’t take the surface calm as acceptance of the situation. Things can change quite suddenly in Kashmir.’ Others said that Kashmiris are known to take time to understand the situation, assess their own capability to take on the state and then they look for an opportunity. Yet some others suggested that because the entire situation was unexpected, people also had to be creative in their response.”

On the possibility of the Centre propping up a pliant alternative political dispensation, the CCG report said: “It seemed that the Central government was trying to put together an alternative to the jailed mainstream political leaders by putting together a rag-tag group of panches, sarpanches, members of NGOs sponsored by the Army and ‘informers’ networks’. However, it did not seem to be reaching anywhere.... While people seemed to be waiting for a new leadership, it was unlikely that they would accept an imposed set of leaders like the motley crowd being put together by the government.”

The report concluded that there was growing approval for militant uprising in the Valley. “Approval of militancy is going up at a time when Pakistan is not interested in promoting an armed struggle in Kashmir, caught up as it is in compliance with FATF (Financial Action Task Force) guidelines on preventing money laundering and terror financing. ‘The mood here is for suicide vests. Even members of elite families want to join the militancy. They say that now they can expect nothing from India as it can give them nothing,’ a Kashmiri claimed,” the report said.

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