The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) has, in its annual review of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir, stated that the state in 2017 “witnessed an upward surge in human rights abuses” in comparison to the previous year.
The JKCCS observed that torture continued to be the “most ignored and under-reported subject in Jammu and Kashmir” and that “denial of access to UN delegates or denying visas to human rights activists and journalists only illustrates that the government of India is scared of accurate information about widespread rights violations in Kashmir being disseminated”.
The organisation said that even though the Kashmir Valley was gripped in a mass uprising following Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016, when it came to the graph of killings, “the year 2017 witnessed a total of 450 killings, which included civilians, militants and armed forces”.
Uprising of 2016 carried into 2017
The report finds that the “uprising of 2016”, contrary to government claims, carried forward into 2017 with widespread student protests witnessed in almost every district of the valley following armed forces’ assault on students in Pulwama Degree College in April. “Hundreds of students were injured in clashes with the armed forces and many were arrested. Schools and colleges of the Valley remained shut for many days and in some cases even for weeks during this cycle of protests,” the report read.
The report also mentioned how the student protests were preceded by unprecedented election day violence on April 9, when at least eight civilians were shot dead by armed forces personnel in Budgam and Ganderbal during the Srinagar by-election. Referring to the case of Farooq Ahmad Dar, it said, “on the day of the by-election in Srinagar constituency in April, a civilian was first tortured and then used as a human shield by an army major in Beerwah, after he had cast his vote, causing widespread condemnation and media coverage of the event.”
The annual report also stated that the use of pellet guns against civilian protestors, which had drawn widespread condemnation in 2016, continued unabated in Kashmir, with fresh cases of pellet injuries reported throughout the year. It also claimed that there were “a few incidents of enforced disappearances in Kupwara and Handwara districts of the valley”.
Encounter site civilian killings mount with ‘Operation All Out’
The JKCCS found that while the ‘Operation All Out’, launched by the army in June 2017, has so far resulted in the killing of 217 militants, the highest in the last eight years, the frequency of encounters has also resulted in “what has been termed ‘encounter-site civilian killings’ in which at least 19 civilians have been shot dead by armed forces personnel”.
On the issue of civilian killing, it said, the government probes ordered into the four cases in 2016 had not shown much progress. “In the high profile case of Tufail Matoo, who was shot dead in 2010, the government has refused to share the findings of the Koul Commission report with the public, least of all with those who participated in the formation of the report and gave testimonies to the one-man commission, which was constituted by Omar Abdullah government to probe the civilian killings of 2010 and assign responsibility for the killings.”
One thousand fifty-nine political activists and alleged stone-pelters booked under PSA
The report has also charged that “the much-abused practice of administrative detention in the form of Public Safety Act (PSA) continued to be used as a mechanism by the government to curtail and curb dissent”. In the last three years, it said, as many as 1059 PSA dossiers have been prepared against political activists and youths accused of stone-throwing.
The assault on media and freedom of expression also continued through the year, the report alleged, saying eight such cases were reported in the Valley, including the arrest of photojournalist Kamran Yousuf by National Investigating Agency (NIA) in September. Further, it said, internet and social media continue to remain easy targets of government’s assault on freedom of expression, with frequent bans and gag orders becoming a routine practice.
The JKCCS said that the government also issued an 18-page order in December directing its employees to not post ‘political content’ on their private social media pages, sending out a clear message that it was bent upon curtailing any discussion of the political and human rights situation in the Valley.
Over 2000 unmarked graves pose a question about the many ‘missing’
In October 2017, the report said, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) again urged the government to conduct investigations into the presence of 2080 unmarked and mass graves in twin district of Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu province. But, it said, the government refused to act on the recommendation.
The report also made a mention of the mass assault on Kashmiri prisoners at Tihar jail in New Delhi in November.
Flagging the issue of denial of access to international bodies to visit Kashmir for ascertaining human rights violations, the report said in March, the UN High Commissioner had reiterated his demand to visit Kashmir which was refused by India. “International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team members and various other human rights activists and journalists have been repeatedly denied visas for visiting Kashmir. One such glaring case is of Edward Paul Comiti, a French journalist who visited Kashmir on a business visa but was arrested by the police and later discharged by the court. This denial of access to UN delegates or denying visas to human rights activists and journalists only illustrates that the Government of India is scared of accurate information about about widespread rights violations in Kashmir being disseminated,” the report said.
Braid chopping haunted state like mysterious ghosts did in 1990s
The report said that the 150-odd cases of braid and hair chopping reported in the Valley “created mass scare and confusion” leading to protests and clashes between civilians and government forces, in which one person lost his life and several others got injured.
It claimed, “There were incidents which indicated the involvement of the armed forces and/or covert intelligence agencies behind the braid chopping. Braid chopping incidents were a chilly reminder of the early 1990s when mysterious ghosts believed to haunt the civilian population during nights.” The report stated that when people were able to catch hold of the assailants (braid choppers), the army and police mysteriously appeared to rescue these persons.