Mr Ravi Kiran Jain - President
Dr V. Suresh - General Secretary
· PUCL appeals that the Government of India urgently listen to the people of J&K, initiate dialogue and restore peace
· Withdraw the police state: Restore freedom and democracy in the region
Part A: Overview
It has been over a year since 5th August 2019, when Amit Shah, the Union Home Minister abruptly introduced a Constitutional Amendment in the Indian Parliament abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution, invalidating the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir and splitting the state into the two centrally governed Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. Simultaneously, Article 35-A, which provided demographic safeguards for residents of J&K, was revoked. The official justification was that the abolition of Article 370 would herald the dawn of a new era in Kashmir bringing peace, security and development.
One year after the undemocratic move, the situation in Kashmir is far from being peaceful, secure and normal. Instead what prevails is a deep sense of alienation and suffused anger at being treated in an undignified, cavalier and brutal manner by the Centre and its security forces. All along, attempts were made to silence the people of J&K by throwing a stifling security blanket accompanied by a statewide lockdown. The hard and muscular policy followed by the Indian Government began by transporting over 38,000 fully armed troops on 04th August 2019, the eve of the takeover, to enforce very severe and crippling lockdown, involving the closure of all economic and business activities, total internet shutdowns, detention of hundreds of leaders of Kashmir based political parties, organisations and groups including former CMs and Ministers (barring, of course, members of the ruling BJP party), closure of all educational institutions and enforcing a complete curfew type situation stretched over many months. The killings of civilians, militants and that of army personnel, continued unabated, Cordoning, search and destroy operations were at their peak. Many of the democratic and citizenship rights that the Constitution grants to citizens were brazenly denied to them.
The control by the Government of India through its administrators and security forces resulted in a lockdown in every sphere of life, which continues even today. The physical lockdown resulted in disruption to access to education, health and other basic needs, including religious spaces. A complete internet shut down – the world’s longest – was imposed; it took more than six months for telephone lines to be restored. Restoration of restricted internet services – that too only 2G – took even longer making provision of 4G and 5G facilities a distant dream for the Kashmiris. Access to information is tightly controlled, including newspapers and access curtailed only to a curated list of websites. The J & K media has not been able to operate freely and independently with policing of media content apart from the lack of internet impacting the profession completely.
The indiscriminate imposition of Section 144, CrPC which violates people's basic rights of assembly, meeting, association and expression has ensured that democratic articulation of people’s grievances is not possible. Most importantly, the widespread use of the draconian J&K Public Safety Act and the mass use of UAPA and other laws leading to the continued detention of 3 Ex-chief ministers, political leaders lawyers, journalists and others, has effectively silenced democratic voices, preventing the voicing of dissent.
The continued lockdown stretching over the entire year has had a hugely damaging and disastrous impact on the economy of the State. Almost all the major industries in the state, including tourism and handicrafts sector, have suffered blows pushing individual enterprises into loss, loan defaults, closure and consequent loss of lakhs of jobs.
The lockdown has meant that students across the entire State, both in schools and colleges, have been very seriously affected, adding to the burden of students and parents both in terms of scholastic learning as also in employability.
Unfortunately, the judiciary too has remained silent. Apart from the lower courts, the Constitutional courts - the High Court of J & K, and sadly even the Supreme Court, have refused to intervene in habeas corpus petitions, illegal detentions - including that of children, and restoration of 4 G services, apart from keeping the issues of the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution pending adjudication. In effect, the courts have abdicated their constitutional responsibility of safeguarding the constitutionally mandated rights of citizens by referring in many cases, issues raised before the apex court to Government Committees or the J&K High Court to look into.
The disappointment at all levels, first by the Parliament, then the judiciary, and finally the national media highlights the complete collapse of institutional structures to safeguard the constitutionally mandated rights of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, resulting in the build-up of a strong sense of alienation amongst the Kashmiri people, from the Indian state and people.
Part B: The Human Rights Violation in the last one year
To what extent has the government’s claim of bringing `peace, security and development’ to the region been realised, a year after the abrogation of Art. 370 on 5th August, 2020? A factual appraisal of the ground situation in the Valley indicates that the situation a year later is a far cry from normalcy, peace and development.
According to the JKCCS report, between January to June 2020, there have been at least 229 killings in different incidents of violence which included the killings of at least 32 civilians in J&K, besides killings of 143 alleged militants and 54 armed forces personnel. Children and women continued to be victims of violence in J&K as 3 children and 2 women were killed in the first half of 2020. While total killings have dipped in the first half-year, the number of alleged “militants” being killed is on the increase, which is a worrying trend as it shows that more youth are taking on to armed struggle, who are mostly from within the Kashmir Valley.
According to the datasheet put out by the South Asian Terrorism Portal more than 153 alleged militants were killed of which 120 were youth from the Indian side of the Kashmir valley apart from the prosecution and the arrest of more than 250 ‘over-ground workers’ who constitute their logistics lifeline. (Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir).
However, as stated by the report of the Forum For Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir that the instances of attempted and estimated net infiltration have both seen a substantial rise. Cease-fire violations escalated sharply from 449 in 2016 to 3,168 in 2019.
Cordon and Search Operations (CASOs) and Cordon and Destroy Operations (CADO’s)
Post-August 2019, the security forces intensified both Cordon and Search Operations (CASOs) and Cordon and Destroy Operations (CADO’s) which resulted in at least 57 encounters between the Indian armed forces and the militants following CASOs. (JKCCS six-monthly report, 2020). According to the report of the `Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir’, the CASOs were conducted every single day from the beginning of June 2020 to around mid-July – exacerbating the pain and suffering that the people of Kashmir have endured over three long decades.
Damage to Properties
In J&K, the destruction of civilian properties by armed forces personnel during encounters or while dealing with the protestors saw an increase in the first six months of 2020. From January 1 to June 30, at least 48 cases of destruction of civilian properties were reported in Jammu and Kashmir. The destruction of civilian properties during encounters saw an increase during the COVID-19 lockdown enforced by the government, rendering many families homeless and without shelter. (Forum for Human Rights in Jammu And Kashmir).
Mass Arrests of Politicians and Activists and lawyers under PSA and UAPA
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), after August 4, 2019, more than 6,605 people, including “miscreants, stone-pelters, over ground workers (OGWs), separatists”, were taken into preventive custody, 444 of them under Jammu and Kashmir’s Public Safety Act (PSA) of 1978, under which an individual can be detained for two years, without charges and trial. The Indian State shamefully put an end to all political processes. Most leaders of the mainstream political parties, including three former Chief Ministers – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – were amongst those detained, as were at least 144 minors. A majority of detainees were released, one by one, over the next six months, but over 400 people still remain in preventive custody. In March 2020, 437 people continued to be detained, 389 of them under the PSA. Even today, except for the father and son duo of the Farooq Abdullah and Umar Abdullah and Sajjad Lone, most politicians including former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti remain in detention. The sense of impunity and brazenly indifference to the judicial process on the part of the government officials was recently on national display when in the SC in the petition seeking the release of veteran political leader and former Minister Mr Saifuddin Soz, the central government informed that they had not detained him and he was a free man; which contrasted by visual images of Mr Soz being confined to his house by a police cordon which wouldn’t allow him to leave his house.
The Internet Ban
Except for a BSNL landline phone all telecommunication facilities including mobiles, and the internet were completely shut for the first six months, following which mobile phones were restored by December, 2019r with only restricted 2G facility. The first six months of 2020 witnessed the continuation of the banning of the 4G mobile internet services. The right to access information continues to be severely restricted in J&K on the ground that it is a necessary part of the ongoing counter-insurgency measures by the government of India. There were 55 instances of internet blockades recorded from January 1 to June 30 2020. (JKCCS).
Despite many appeals by all sections of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, to the Central Government and Court interventions, the restrictions on 4G internet continue to remain in place making it extremely difficult for sectors which depend upon 4G connectivity for its professional requirements. For example, the medical community in the Valley very urgently requires to access new research and information about the pandemic. Access to timely information can act as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 and the absence of high-speed internet does have an impact on the health of the entire community. With schools having remained shut for most of the year, the non- restoration of the internet has hampered the online education possibility, during COVID times. (JKCCS)
“Local and regional industries have suffered large losses in every sector. Many companies that are heavily or solely reliant on 4G networks that are available in the rest of the country, such as tourism and cottage industries, have been forced out of business. The new domicile rules introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Jammu and Kashmir administration, moreover, erode prior employment protections for permanent residents of the former state …. The economic, social and political impacts of these actions, and their long duration – eleven months thus far – have been disastrous”. (emphasis ours)
PUCL appeals to the GOI, all political parties in the country, and all sections of Indian society to ensure an open and democratic dialogue with the people of Kashmir.
It is not only our duty but our historical responsibility to ensure that peace, development, and democracy are allowed a chance in the Valley.