New Delhi: The 11 months of lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir has not only resulted in an “across-the-board violation of human rights”, it also led to the “denial of the right to bail and fair and speedy trial, coupled with misuse of draconian legislation, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent”.
Moreover, this period saw “frequent closures, harassment at barricades and checkpoints, and restrictions on mobile telephony and internet connectivity,” which enormously impacted public health, and caused trauma and stress amongst the people, a report titled ‘The Impact of the Lockdowns on Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, August 2019-July 2020’ has revealed.
Brought out by the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, which was formed in May 2020 by an informal group of jurists, former civil servants, former military officers, academics and human rights experts, the report highlights the trauma people in the state have undergone since August 4, 2019 – the day the state was put under a lockdown. A day later, the president voided all clauses of Article 370 of the Indian constitution and suspended the Jammu and Kashmir constitution.
The Forum, which is co-chaired by former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan Lokur and former member of the Group of Interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir Radha Kumar, has in the report also delved into the impact of some recent developments on the state.
`Kashmir dispute tri-lateralised with strategic China-Pak nexus against India’
It states that “China’s attempts to mobilise the UN Security Council against the August changes, and its own army’s May 2020 intrusions in Eastern Ladakh have added further diplomatic and security concerns for the Indian Government. They have also highlighted a tri-lateralisation of the dispute over Kashmir between India, Pakistan and China, lending a new edge to the strategic China-Pakistan nexus against India, specifically in Jammu and Kashmir.”
As for Pakistan, the report states that its “seven-decades-long efforts to fish in the troubled waters of Kashmir continue unabated. But after the August 2019 political changes in Jammu and Kashmir, it has gone into overdrive, infiltrating terrorists, ramping up cross-LoC firing, inciting and radicalising Kashmiris through virulent social media campaigns, and establishing Kashmir cells in its missions abroad as part of Kashmir-specific anti-India information war strategy.”
The early days
Referring to how around 38,000 additional troops were flown in to Jammu and Kashmir to enforce the lockdown, the report recalled how public assembly was prohibited under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and thousands, including minors and almost all the elected legislators of J&K (except those of the BJP), were put under preventive detention. It went on to state that just five days later, parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, dividing the state into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
In the months that followed, the report said, national political figures were denied permission to enter the former state and were turned back from Srinagar airport. “The economic, social and political impact of these actions, and their long duration – eleven months thus far – have been disastrous,” it added.
On how these actions impacted the state, the report said: “All the former state’s industries suffered severe blows, pushing the majority into loan defaults or even closure; hundreds of thousands lost their jobs or underwent salary deferment or cuts; closures of schools and universities gravely impaired education and added to the trauma of children and parents; healthcare was severely restricted by curfew and roadblocks; the local and regional media lost what little independence they had.”
Worst of all, it said, there was no elected representative left to advocate the interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, since the majority of political leaders were put in preventive detention. With statutory bodies to which citizens could go to seek redress virtually ceasing to exist, it added that “there has been a near-total alienation of the people of the Kashmir valley from the Indian state and people”.
The report further documented the numerous human rights violations under the categories of civilian security, health, children and youth, industry and media.
`Decline in terrorist incidents, but ceasefire violations increased’
The report said the clampdown resulted in a “decline in terrorist related incidents, overall fatalities and employment of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)” with the security forces eliminating roughly 130 terrorists and their top commanders and arresting around 250 ‘over-ground workers’ who constituted their logistics lifeline.
On the flip side, it said, instances of attempted and net infiltration increased and so did cease-fire violations which escalated from 449 in 2016 to 3,168 in 2019. The report also cited the South Asia Terrorism Portal to state that there were 37 terrorism-related civilian deaths during the past year.
400 people still in preventive custody
Also, the report said the period witnessed mass detention of politicians and activists with 6,605 people, including “miscreants, stone-pelters, over ground workers (OGWs), separatists”, being taken into preventive custody after August 4, 2019 as per the Ministry of Home Affairs data. Out of these, it said, 444 were booked under Jammu and Kashmir’s Public Safety Act (PSA) of 1978.
Those arrested included three former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – and at least 144 minors. While many have since been released, the report said 400 people still remain in preventive custody.
Children among worst sufferers
From having their education and freedom restrained to even being detained, children were among the worst impacted by the developments.
The report said the rights of children to a trauma-free environment was arbitrarily ignored and the impact on their education was “severe”, as schools and colleges have functioned for barely 100 days since 2019.
With only 2G network available, online classes have also not been adequate. “Graduate students and teachers have been unable to participate in conferences or have their papers published, causing wilful harm to their careers and violating the rights to education.”
Despite initial denials regarding the detention of children, the report said the Central and Jammu and Kashmir administrations finally admitted in the Supreme Court that 144 children had been detained in August-September 2019, of whom the youngest was nine years old.
Sadly, it added, the Supreme Court in its remarks on the issue on December 9, 2019, said that petitioners should not be overly alarmed if children are detained for a few hours or for just a day, because in certain situations it is for their own good.
Industries suffered due to curbs on 4G connectivity
The report also insisted that local and regional industries have suffered large losses as many of them have been reliant on 4G networks and have been forced out of business due to restrictions imposed on it. “A mix of security consolidation in certain metrics and setbacks in others has been accompanied by an overwhelming curtailment of freedoms,” the report said, stating that “the ban on 4G networks is a case in point.”
It said, “while the ban undoubtedly limits the recruitment, mobilisation and planning of militant groups, it has caused immense harm to people’s lives, industry, health, education and the media. It has also limited the scope of intelligence agencies to gather early warnings from listening-in.”
Media one of the worst sufferers
The report also stated that local media has been one of the worst sufferers of the clampdown. It said the media content, readership and revenues have suffered a sharp decline resulting in many journalists losing their jobs. Also, it said, the new media policy introduced censorship by the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) in coordination with security agencies and this was a “death blow to the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression.”
“Journalists have been harassed and even had draconian charges slapped on them, for example under the UAPA,” it said, citing the examples of Gowhar Geelani and Masrat Zahra, who were both booked under the law.
The report said Geelani was booked by the cyber cell on April 21 under Section 13 of the UAPA and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code for ‘indulging in unlawful activities through social media posts’.
Further, it said, photojournalist Masrat Zahra was booked April 18 under the same sections of the two laws for posting “anti-national” content on social media. Then on June 29, 2020, Kashmiri NRI businessman Mubeen Shah was also charged with sedition, the report said.
It noted that UAPA was “originally intended to target organisations supportive of terrorist activities” and was amended in August 2019 to include prosecution of individuals. The amendment was challenged in the Supreme Court, but the hearings are yet to conclude.
In the meantime, a large number of students and human rights activists have been charged under it, including pregnant Kashmiri student Safoora Zargar, who was active in student protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Recommendations seek repealing of draconian laws, end to curbs
In view of these findings, the Forum has recommended that all remaining political detainees be released; the PSA and any other preventive detention legislation be repealed so that they are not used against political opposition, and all restrictions on freedom of representation and expression be removed.
It has also urged release of all detained juveniles and withdrawal of charges against them; initiating of enquiries against armed forces for the violation of child rights, and withdrawal of UAPA charges against journalists and activists.
The report has also called for curbing the application of Section 144 to limited instances, practising humanitarian guidelines during Cordon and Search Operations (CASO), adequate compensation to citizens whose houses are destroyed in such operations; smooth passage for medical personnel and patient at checkpoints; restoration of 4G internet and mobile services; and reinstating of all statutory oversight bodies such as Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission and the Jammu and Kashmir Women and Child Rights Commission.
Read the full report below.