Kashmir Crisis update, January 2, 151 Days of siege
The year 2019 will be marked as a watershed year in the history of Kashmir, a year that almost brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war in February, a year when Kashmiris, particularly Kashmiri students all over India, suffered severe discrimination and violence and curbs on fundamental rights ensued soon after. The year also marked severe curtailment of press freedom, harassment, intimidation, physical assaults, and detention of journalists and a crackdown on all resistance leadership. The August 5 unilateral, undemocratic, unconstitutional, and illegal decision to remove the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and to bifurcate the state into two Union territories under increased militarization, was long in the making. Since August 5, Kashmir is an open air prison where the population has been under a communications clampdown, and despite Indian government’s claims of “normalcy”, conditions are absolutely abnormal. The new “normal” for Kashmir is captured well in this essay .
To date there have been seven on the ground reports ((Report 1, Report 2, Report 3, Report 4, Report 5, Report 6, Report 7) all uniformly disturbing, documenting: mass detentions of elected officials, doctors, lawyers, and children as young as 12; use of torture and lethal force against civilians; dwindling supplies of life-saving medical treatments and inability of patients to access hospitals; curtailing of religious freedoms; economic and ecological destruction; land grabs; and demographic change.
As per the 2019 annual human rights report by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, released on Dec. 31, 2019, 662 Habeas Corpus petitions (challenging detentions under the Public Safety Act) were registered in 2019 out of which 412 were registered post August 5. As per their report, in 2019, the “judicial processes have not resulted in adjudication of any human rights violation cases.” There have been serious violations of religious rights, most of which remain in place. The internet blockade also continues. Even before August 5, the internet was blocked 54 times in Kashmir. Serious cases of “sexualized torture and gendered violence”, many incidents occurring during cordon and search operations and night raids, have been documented. The report verified 69 killings in different incidents of violence including 33 civilians (out of which 14 were non local civilians), 20 militants and 16 armed forces personnel. Since August there have been no reports of Cordon and Search Operations (CASOs) and raids in the local media. Only six CASOs were reported officially but a media report in September recorded 350 CASOs in the Gulmarg area, close to the Line of Control. Since August 5, the JKCCS report records 387 cases of preventive detention under the Public Safety Act, a law that Amnesty International in June 2019 termed as the “lawless law”. These cases of detention involved three former Chief Ministers of the state, who along with other political leaders, remain in custody. Most detainees have been moved to jails around India causing an incredible hardship for the families of detainees, including denial of access to their loved ones. The report documents torture of tens of people and forced labour by armed forces, While enforced disappearances have been difficult to document during the siege, the JKCCS report states, “there are reports of many person (sic) have gone missing since the imposition of siege and clampdown.”
There has been a complete silencing of any dissent by the Government and that ban remains in effect, and the silencing impacts local media as well. While international media reported incidents of torture and abuse, the local media remained silent. Inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees has been reported. Arbitrary and illegal detention of children in violation of the international obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which India is a signatory, was widespread after August.
Right to health and right to livelihood remains under threat because of the communications blockade. Many of the children were detained for long periods and released without any charges, many juveniles were only released after the community members signed a bond on their behalf, a violation of the CRC code.
As per reports 653 additional companies of Central Armed Police Forces were deployed in Kashmir after August 5, most housed in schools and colleges which have remained non-functional since then. The occupation of land by the army and central reserve police, especially in environmentally sensitive areas of Kashmir have wreaked havoc on the lives of Kashmiris as documented by Kashmir scholars in its report on the indigenous people of Kashmir to the United Nations. Deforestation is at its peak with the Government ordering the clearing of 727 hectares of designated forest land including felling of 1847 trees. Over 60% of this designated forest land will be used for building roads for the army.
Judiciary in Kashmir remains dysfunctional. In many of its decisions the High Court as per the JKCCS report, “has undermined its own powers and sanctity”. The courts since August 5 largely remained deserted as clients and lawyers cannot access the High court for lack of communication and transportation. A sense of fear is prevalent among the lawyers in Kashmir as they are afraid to take on cases which will involve criticism of the government decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status. Current and former President of the Bar Association of Jammu and Kashmir High Court are in detention in prisons outside of Kashmir and two other district Bar Presidents are detained in Srinagar. The General Secretary of the Bar Association was also arrested after he issued a statement that lawyers should plead cases of PSA detainees. None of the lawyers in detention have filed bonds or bail applications for fear that seeking legal recourse will lead to further persecution.
The State Human Rights Commission which offered easy access to people for filing human rights complaints has been disbanded, leaving no mechanism for common people to report their grievances. People who had cases that were pending in the SHRC no longer have any hope of getting justice and are now fearful of reprisals for previously reporting human rights cases.
Kashmir’s economic losses, impacting various sectors—tourism, fruit, handicrafts, IT etc. are estimated at over 2.4 billion.
The ban on foreign journalist, human rights workers, and any impartial observers remains in place. The façade of “normalcy” in the region continues to be promoted through a massive network of fake news and disinformation, aimed at molding opinion of foreign governments in India’s favour. Over 1 million workers lost jobs since Aug. 5, 2019 in a variety of sectors ranging from IT to tourism to retail. The hospitality industry was hardest hit, with data released by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries revealing that nearly 80 percent of 1100 hotels in the valley have been shut. Job losses have been increasing as local jobs that were protected for the indigenous peoples of Kashmir (or “State Subjects”) are now being thrown open to people across India.
Among 152 laws that adversely impact the indigenous population, India has scrapped a 37 year old law that guaranteed the right of return to Kashmiris who fled to Pakistan in 1947-1954. This discriminatory law is one amongst many moves against the indigenous people of Kashmir and intended to facilitate a permanent change in the demography of Kashmir.
Health sector continues to function without access to the internet in spite of repeat demands of doctors to resume access for patient care. Mental health of the populace has reached crisis proportions. The 2015 MSF study identified one in five residents with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Given the current conditions, the situation has worsened and most patients are still unable to access care.
Education sector remains crippled. Schools and Colleges are still non-functional. Research work has come to a standstill with many scholars unable to complete their thesis and losing on scholarships and grants because of lack of access to the internet. Students have no access to the internet for filing their forms for competitive exams and receiving important notices. The internet shut down is so far the longest that any “democracy” has ever imposed. Institutions that cater to the poor and needy students, including orphans, are operating with minimal resources and many boarding schools have had to send students back to live with their relatives.
On international human rights day, over 500 women and women’s organizations form thirty countries expressed solidarity with Kashmir.
A second delegation of the Concerned Citizens Group (CCG) of India also issued reports based on their two visits. This delegation was comprised of Yashwant Sinha, former Finance and Foreign Minister of India, Wajahat Habibullah, former National Chief Information Commissioner, Air Vice-Marshall (R) Kapil Kak, and Bharat Bhushan, Senior Journalist issued two reports base on their visits to Kashmir. The CCG made following recommendations to the Indian Government:
1. Release forthwith all Kashmiris who were taken into preventive detention under Public Safety Act (PSA) – whether they are politicians, businessmen, academics, opinion makers or students – if they are not accused of any crime. If there are specific cases against individuals and they have been sent to jails outside the state, they should be brought back and housed locally. It is a punishment for their family members to travel to UP, Delhi, Rajasthan or Haryana to meet the prisoners.
2. Restore all internet and mobile phone connections in J&K. It is immoral to impose a collective punishment on the entire population of a region.
3. Lift all curbs on all peaceful political activity and allow peaceful public protests
4. Lift all restriction on the movement of public and commercial vehicles on the national highways to restore normal road communication links.
5. Alleviate the fears of the Kashmiris about their future by starting a multi- level dialogue process with all those affected by the events following August 5
6. Compensate Kashmiri farmers and businessmen for their economic losses which were the direct result of unilateral action by the government.
7. Restore land rights to the local inhabitants and give up plans of demographic change and last but the most important:-
8. Restore the statehood of J&K by reuniting the two union territories created after August 5.
In the media