New Delhi: More than 500 signatories on Tuesday, which is observed as Human Rights Day, have issued a statement condemning the continued clampdown in Kashmir after Article 370 was diluted and Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union Territories. The signatories are women, women’s groups and members of women’s movements.
“More than 125 days later, many are still being held without charges or trial, under administrative detention laws such as the Public Safety Act, 1978 while the grounds of detention and whereabouts of a large number, including children as young as ten, remain unknown. An unknown number of people have been moved to prisons outside the state of Jammu & Kashmir,” the statement says.
The signatories said that while the government declares “that all is ‘normal’”, they said there is mounting evidence of a “healthcare and humanitarian crisis, civilian deaths and blindings and other injuries in pellet gun attacks by Indian security forces, torture, molestations, and the severe curtailment of freedom of opinion, expression, and information; assembly and movement; and religious freedoms”.
Among the signatories are individual women and women’s organisations from about 30 countries across the globe – ranging from South Asian nations to the US, Iran to Indonesia, Afghanistan to Argentina, Europe to Mexico, Israel, Palestine, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa.
“We, the women of the world urge the global community to remember that 8 million Kashmiris are still being be held hostage by close to 1 million Indian security personnel. Still stripped of their constitutional rights, fundamental freedoms and liberties. The promise of plebiscite given to them at the time of their accession to India, broken. Their right to self-determination, throttled. Their control over their lands, shattered,” the statement says.
“As feminists, women’s rights activists, peace, democratic and civil rights’ activists, lawyers, academics, students, journalists, scientists, artists, writers, etc., we raise our voice today in salute and solidarity with the women of Kashmir.”
Read the complete statement below.
Statement issued: on Dec 10, 2019 Human Rights Day
On 30 August 2019, the United Nations’ International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Parveena Ahangar, mother of Javaid, a 16 year old who was ‘disappeared’by paramilitary forces in Kashmir in 1990 mourned again. “Every year, the families of APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons) come together on 30 August. This is our way of reassuring each other that we are not alone in our grief. Yet this year we have been strangled, and there was no coming together because through its siege, India has denied us even the right to mourn.”
Kashmir under siege. Kashmir caged. Kashmir imprisoned. Analogies abound for the Indian Government‘s actions of August 5, 2019 when it unilaterally terminated the semi-autonomous Constitutional status granted to the region as a condition of its accession to India, and bifurcated it into two directly ruled Union Territories. This action was preceded in the previous week by a military blockade, a state of undeclared emergency, and an unprecedented media and communications clampdown. Over 5,000 Kashmiris were arbitrarily detained including politicians, business leaders, lawyers, human rights defenders, chartered accountants, journalists, teachers, and students. More than 125 days later, many are still being held without charges or trial, under administrative detention laws such as the Public Safety Act, 1978 while the grounds of detention and whereabouts of a large number, including children as young as ten, remain unknown. An unknown number of people have been moved to prisons outside the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The Indian government continues to declare that all is ‘normal’ in the face of credible and mounting evidence of a healthcare and humanitarian crisis, civilian deaths and blindings and other injuries in pellet gun attacks by Indian security forces, torture, molestations, and the severe curtailment of freedom of opinion, expression, and information; assembly and movement; and religious freedoms.
While the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi asserts his government’s claim of ‘normalcy in Kashmir’ all over the world, we, the women of the world urge the global community to remember that 8 million Kashmiris are still being be held hostage by close to 1 million Indian security personnel. Still stripped of their constitutional rights, fundamental freedoms and liberties. The promise of plebiscite given to them at the time of their accession to India, broken. Their right to self-determination, throttled. Their control over their lands, shattered.
FOUR MONTHS LATER, THE PEOPLE OF KASHMIR CONTINUE TO BE DEPRIVED OF FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES.
Severe restrictions on mobility and gatherings:
While officials state that daytime restrictions on mobility and public gatherings in most areas have been lifted, everyday life remains in a state of indefinite suspension. Intermittent armed encounters, grenade attacks in public spaces, etc., lead to the re-imposition of “precautionary measures” and curfews, with markets remaining closed and heavy barricading of roads. The movement of armed convoys has led to frequent highway closures with a total ban on civilian traffic. Movement remains highly restricted with frequent road closures and blockades.
Right to Health Severely Compromised:
While the rhetoric of all is well with the health delivery system continues unabated, the fact is that people have no means of reaching the hospitals even in case of an emergency, and even if they do, hospitals aren’t prepared to deal with emergencies, there is no proper backup of medicines and other important supplies. Of course, victims of pellet injuries and other forms of state violence are terrified to go to hospitals in the first place for fear of being beaten up and detained by security forces. Hospitals in Kashmir are also chronically understaffed because personnel are unable to reach hospitals or government Primary Health Centres. So doctors are forced to turn their homes into medical care centres and do the best they can. One can only imagine the impact on pregnant women, women with neonatal infants, etc. Not surprisingly, the valley has showing upward trends in mental health issues such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. And countless families have had to relocate outside of the Kashmir valley to get regular medical care and attention for aged family members, as well as those with chronic illnesses.
The impact of a severe winter is already being felt in the Valley, including the lack of heating and other amenities due to power shortages.
Deprived of their Right to Education:
Schools and colleges remain closed till date, though high school students were forced to give their board examinations in late October without having attended any classes so that the state could bolster its “normalcy” narrative. The intensified deployment of troops has led to increasing numbers of college and school campuses and classrooms being occupied by the forces, instead of students.
No Right to Religious Freedom:
Friday Prayers have been disallowed at Srinagar’s main mosque over the last four months, including on Eid. Shi’ite processions on the occasion of Moharrum, and traditional prayers at the Hazratbal Shrine on the Prophet’s Birthday were also disallowed citing “law and order” justifications. Prayer gatherings for important local religious traditions such as the Kho-e-Digar prayers at Naqshband Saheb, have also been banned. This, in a country that has historically claimed to be a secular nation!
No Right to Information, no Freedom of Expression:
While landline and post paid mobile phone connections have been restored, SMS and Internet services continue to be under a near total ban. In this telecom age, what this means, of course is that the average Kashmiri has no access to information – of their loved ones or the world, no way of expressing themselves or sharing their own news. The lack of voice with the lock down in the media is severely debilitating. The government of India claims that it has lifted restrictions, but in fact the media continues to be gagged; newspapers are forced to use the pen drives of information provided by the public relations department to fill their pages. Moreover, journalists are compelled to use government controlled internet centres, report their ‘activities’, and publish stories about anything but what is happening in Kashmir! In fact, connections for commercial estblishments, educational institutions are only been sanctioned after the signing of bonds that they will not be used for social media. Together, with the severe restrictions on mobility the losses and impact on business and the eceonomy have also been significant – to the tune of Rs 10,000 Crore (USD 140 million approx) in the first 3 months! Severe surveillance with the use of autonomous weapons systems like surveillance drones are keeping people on the edge and terrified to express themselves.
Systematic Dismantling of Democracy
Latest official figures tabled by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Indian parliament indicated 5161 people have been preventively detained in Kashmir valley in since 4 August 2019. These include individuals profiled as “stone pelters, miscreants, OGWs (overground workers), separatists and political workers” as well as all major political leaders of the opposition.Human rights lawyers and groups believe the real numbers of detainees is far higher as undocumented arrests and detentions continue be pervasive. And the problem of illegal detentions is compounded by the “state of near collapse” of the local courts. Most disturbing is the complete and strategic display of inertia on the part of the authorities as a method of occupation.
- The Juvenile Justice Committee of the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir has itself admitted to the detentions of 144 children including several on preventive detention which is impermissible in law. Credible reports continue to emerge of the illegal detentions of children, and the use of custodial torture and excessive force.
- The UN Office of the High Commissioner Human Rights’ press briefing note of 29 October 2019 on Indian – Administered Kashmir noted that “the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission, the State Information Commission (which implements the right-to-information laws) and the State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights are among key institutions being wound up, with the new bodies to replace them yet to be established.” In addition to the bodies mentioned, the J&K State Commission for Persons with Disabilities (constituted under the J&K Right of Persons with Disability Act 2018) has also been wound up.
- The UN Office of the High Commissioner Human Rights’ also the took note of the constant delays and deferrals by the India Supreme Court in hearing urgent matters concerning deprivation of fundamental human rights of Kashmiris stating “The Supreme Court of India has been slow to deal with petitions concerning habeas corpus, freedom of movement and media restrictions.”
- In the midst of such systematic dismantling of state and state institutions and near total suppression of the people, the Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu of Jammu & Kashmir has stated that Assembly polls will be held in the near future!
Like colonised peoples anywhere, the future of the Kashmiri people is deeply uncertain. Their imprisonment is strengthened by the silence of world leaders, international civil society, the near complete gag on the media, as well as Indians who have celebrated the constitutionalised annexation of Kashmir, and believed the narrative that this is being done for their own good. One particularly pernicious strand of this discourse has been that the move will benefit women, dalits and sexual minorities by granting them constitutional rights so far denied to them. Not only does this bolster the colonial tropes of a backward Muslim majority region whose women are in need of rescue by the civilisationally ‘superior’ people of India, it is based on outright falsehoods, misinformation, misrepresentations and false equivalences, that are being deliberately amplified, including by high state functionaries, despite being repeatedly debunked by experts and lawyers. The government’s concern for the women of Kashmir might have rung truer if members of the ruling party were not witnessed publicly gloating over their new found sexual access to Kashmiri women, now that Indian men can finally get “Kashmiri brides” as though Kashmiri women are spoils of war.
The Indian government claims Kashmir needs ‘development’, but its social development indices, including gender indicators such as maternal mortality, age of marriage, child sex ratio and female literacy are better than the Indian average. Land reforms enabled by Article 35A have reduced social and caste inequities and landlessness, and brought relative prosperity. While acknowledging that militarisation and militarised sexual impunity exacerbates both public and private patriarchy, we need to listen to Kashmiri women, when they say, as they did to a recent Fact Finding delegation from India: “We are capable of fighting our own battles. We don’t want our oppressors to claim to liberate us!”.
The women of Kashmir should know. As successive governments in Delhi have systematically violated all democratic norms in Kashmir, it is the women of Kashmir who have been at the forefront of the struggles for justice, truth and accountability for widespread human rights violations particularly sexual violence and enforced disappearances. They have stepped out in protest, been jailed, sexually assaulted, and still risen to make sure they are heard.
As feminists, women’s rights activists, peace, democratic and civil rights’ activists, lawyers, academics, students, journalists, scientists, artists, writers, etc., we raise our voice today in salute and solidarity with the women of Kashmir. About 500 individual women and women’s organisations from about 30 countries across the globe – ranging from South Asian nations to the U.S, Iran to Indonesia, Afghanistan to Argentina, Europe to Mexico, Israel, Palestine, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa – stand with them in this, their darkest moment.
- We condemn the actions of the Indian government and their dealing with a political problem as a territorial one.
- We call for an end to the culture of fear and terror, violence and assault that has been cultivated in the state for far too long.
- We speak out against the continued detention of countless people of the state and demand their immediate release.
- We seek an immediate end to the Internet shutdown, lift on all restrictions on movement and communications, and a restoration of real ‘normalcy’.
- We call for restrictions be lifted in order to allow the independent media in Kashmir to carry out its duty of reporting facts and informing the public, without fear or favour.
- We urge the Indian government to step back from its current aggressions and stop the militarisation that has failed to solve the problem since independence.
- We seek a reinstatement of consultative processes with the people of Jammu and Kashmir on any action that concerns them, their lives and their community.
- We call for an end to the smokescreens of Kashmir being an ‘internal matter’ etc., to avoid meaningful dialogue. For that is the only way to evolve a long lasting peaceful solution to Kashmir.
Because like the women of Kashmir, we have also, all too often, been told that the violence and control we face in the home, family, community and nation is an ‘internal matter’, not to be exposed to the world. But we all have lived and learnt the reality, that it is only in breaking our silence that we break the shackles of our oppressions. And in that fight, we #StandWithKashmir, #StandWithTheWomenOfKashmir!
For as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King famously said “No one is free until we are all free.”
Statement issued and endorsed by: