Don’t forget Kashmir

Twenty five citizens of India visit Kashmir & come away troubled

We, twenty five citizens of India, representing people’s movements, women’s organisations, trade unions, human rights organisations, youth organisations and individuals who are journalists, writers and filmmakers, from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Nagaland, Odisha and Tamil Nadu, visited Kashmir from 11 to 20 November 2016 with the objective of understanding first-hand, from ordinary people and civil society, the situation of the peoples of the Kashmir Valley that has emerged over the past four-and-half months since the killing of three Hizbul Mujahideen militants, Burhan Wani, Sartaj Sheikh and Pervaiz Lashkari by the Indian Army and J&K Police on 8 July 2016.

In the last 135 days, over 102 unarmed civilians have been killed by the Indian Army, the J&K Police and central paramilitary forces. More than 15,000 people have been injured by armed firing and in pellet firing and shelling, of which around 7,000 are cases of severe injury. A majority of those who have been killed are young and many are minors. This information has been documented by the media.

Over the nine days, we visited the districts of Anantnag, Bandipora, Baramulla, Budgam, Ganderbal, Kulgam, Kupwara, Pulwama, Shopian and Srinagar.

We met with families of those who have been killed by the Indian Army, the Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and the J&K Police (JKP) including the Special Operations Group (SOG) and Special Task Forces (STF). We met with families of those who have disappeared or have been jailed, including human rights defenders. We also met with victims grievously injured, including being blinded by pellet gunfire and PAVA shell fire over these past four-and-a-half- months.

Apart from ordinary people of the 10 districts mentioned above, we met with lawyers including the leadership of the J&K Bar Association (JKBA); trading and business communities including the Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA), Kashmir Fruit Growers & Dealers Association, and district-level traders federations; state government employees and their unions including the Employees’ Joint Action Committee (EJAC); students’ unions; human rights defenders including the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons; political organisations and parties including the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), other member parties of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, Jammu & Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the Muslim League; Kashmiri Pandit community including the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS); relief, voluntary and social welfare organisations including Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies, Firdous Educational Trust for Orphans as well as scholars, academics, journalists, doctors and other medical practitioners, artists, and theatre professionals.

Following the, alleged extrajudicial, killing of 8 July there have been large, unprecedented protests across the Kashmir valley starting on 9 July, the day of Burhan Wani’s funeral. These unarmed protests have been met with sustained attack by the Indian Army, J&K police and paramilitary, including with the use of pellet guns, PAVA shells and firearms. We learnt of several deaths caused by targeted killings of unarmed civilians by armed forces in the absence of protests or demonstrations. Most deaths we came across have been caused by injuries waist-above, without any warning fire. Deaths and injuries caused by pellet guns too are all above the waist and preponderantly at eye level causing blinding or long-term ophthalmic damage. In the case of deaths, we learnt that the J&K Police has lodged ‘cross’ FIRs using similar and repetitive, if not identical, charges of the victim being ‘anti-national’. These government actions amount to a violation of the right to life.

Families that have pursued the legal remedy to identify the representatives of the Indian Army, J&K police and paramilitary, including those granted immunity under the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990, who engaged in acts of killing innocent people, have become targets of repeated arrests, torture and raids. These government actions amount to criminal intimidation and have served as a deterrent to many families from pursuing the course of justice.

Of the papers of those who have been arrested, especially under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978 (PSA), that we were able to look at, the charges lack prima facie substance and employ similar, if not identical, language. We spent a morning attending proceedings at the J&K High Court. In all the cases involving arrests under the PSA, including the case of PSA filed against human rights defender Khurram Pervez, the Government Counsel merely sought to delay cases by seeking more time to file documents when in fact the FIR/case dossier forms the basis of the arrest. We came across several cases of those who won their release through the courts, being promptly rearrested on the basis of new FIRs filed against them by the government. Cases of arrests of minors, including under the PSA, were also brought to our notice. These government actions amount to a violation of the principles of natural justice.

Families of detained and arrested persons also brought to our attention instances of grievous custodial torture by government interrogators in police stations and jails, indicating the levels of impunity enjoyed by the Indian Army, under the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990, and the state police, under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978. People also reported that multiple wings of the intelligence were in operation, causing fear, mistrust and suspicion among people.

In the towns and villages where there were killings by the Indian Army, J&K police and paramilitary, we met with ordinary people who narrated a cycle of search and seizure raids following killings, and of indiscriminate firing, including at funerals and memorial gatherings. In several of these instances the Indian Army, J&K police and paramilitary broke windows and destroyed household goods, livestock, and food rations in peoples’ homes. In several of the villages and towns we visited, the armed forces, during their search and seizure operations, routinely destroy the local electricity transformer or sub-station, denying the entire village or locality access to electricity. These government actions amount to handing out collective punishment. Women spoke of being subjected to violence and molestation by the Indian Army, J&K police and paramilitary, and reported several instances of verbal and physical abuse during the search and seizure operations. Paramedics working in the government health system reported that during this period they witnessed a significant increase in the number of miscarriages, which were caused by physical violence. These government actions amount to a violation of every law and the international covenant that is aimed at protecting women from sexual and other forms of violence.

We were very moved by the extraordinary efforts of the doctors, nurses and paramedics of the state’s public health system in responding to the huge number of cases of those injured by the Indian Army, J&K police and paramilitary. Most of them, at various points in the last four-and-a-half-months, have worked twenty-four hours a day, two to three days at a stretch. We, however, found that many doctors were harassed by government intelligence to reveal the identity of their patients. The J&K police and paramilitary have also raided hospitals, including in one instance a women’s ward. We met with ambulance drivers who were intimidated and threatened by the armed forces for ferrying the injured. We learnt that pharmacies and kitchens set up by relief and social welfare organisations and the business community, who stepped in to assist the government hospitals in meeting the extraordinary challenge of saving lives, were disbanded by the armed forces. In at least one case, a key leader of this ‘critical assistance’, as described by a senior government doctor, was arrested and jailed for over a fortnight.

These government actions against emergency relief workers and health professionals are in violation of international covenants and India’s own commitment to UN treaties.

We were witness to the closure of local town and village mosques by government authorities, across the Kashmir valley, including the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar and Jamia Masjid in Shopian. These government actions amount to violation of the right to freedom of religion.

We were witness to the ban on internet on mobile telephone services. We also noted from media reports of raids at newspaper offices, the shutting down of all newspapers in Kashmir for three days in July, and the blanket ban on the publishing of the newspaper Kashmir Reader. These government actions amount to a violation of the right to freedom of speech and internationally accepted norms of freedom of the press.

We noted the targeting of J&K state government employees, including the summary dismissal of 12 employees and the denial of salaries, issuing of show cause notices, and the suspension of several others. Office bearers of government employees’ unions who have protested these government actions of unfair labour practice have been detained or arrested. These government actions amount to a violation of the right to freedom of association.

We witnessed the people’s affirmative response to the strike call issued by the All Party Hurriyat Conference through the nine days that we were in Kashmir. We see this as the resilience and resoluteness of the resistance of the peoples of Kashmir against the actions of the Indian state.

Nearly every voice that we heard of the Kashmir peoples talked of the long-standing Kashmir dispute from the days of India’s independence and partition, the division of Kashmir between India and Pakistan in 1948, and the sustained efforts of the peoples of Kashmir to assert their right to self-determination. From common people we heard articulate accounts of what they have faced from the Indian state and, in particular, of the sustained attack on their democratic rights from 1989 onwards. The failure of the Indian state and every government since independence to address the political sentiments of Kashmir’s peoples is a source of both hurt and enormous resentment.

We heard from every quarter we spoke to that, in this present phase, the BJP government at the centre and the PDP-BJP government in J&K has refused to address the strongly felt sentiments of the peoples of Kashmir. The stubbornness of the BJP government at the centre and the PDP-BJP government in J&K to dialogue with the people of the Kashmir valley and their representatives is well documented in the media. The PDP, in our meeting with them, confirmed Delhi’s policy of non-dialogue and non-compromise and set out their support for this policy.

We also noted that, over these four-and-a-half-months, the BJP government at the centre has sought to create a war-like situation with Pakistan along the border of J&K, employing the alleged Uri attack to build a Hindu majoritarian sentiment against Kashmir, Pakistan and those of the Islamic faith.

We conclude that the BJP government at the centre and the PDP-BJP government in J&K are engaged in actions that amount to a complete violation of universally accepted human and democratic rights and of the very Indian Constitution they claim to want to impose in the Kashmir valley. With use of government force and the rest of the machinery at their disposal, the government has acted and continues to act in grievous violation of the right to life, the right to free speech, the right to freedom of association, the right to freedom of religion, the right to freedom of press and the principles of natural justice. We are also distressed by the fact that senior members of the BJP government have made, and continue to make, inflammatory and provocative statements against the peoples of Kashmir. Regrettably, the parliamentary opposition has lacked the political courage and will to call upon the accountability of government actions.

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We also conclude that the actions of the BJP government at the centre and the PDP-BJP government in J&K are acts of vengeance aimed at forcing the peoples of Kashmir into subjugation by using every possible force available to government for breaking the peoples’ resolve for a democratic settlement to achieve their aspirations. As representatives of diverse peoples’ movements, trade unions and other organisations in India, and as India’s citizens, we can say without reservation that the actions of the Indian state in Kashmir amount to profound violation of democratic and human rights. Hence, we call upon the Government of India to forthwith:

  1. Recognise the Kashmir dispute and accept that its resolution can only come through a political solution, not through military intervention and a suppression of all human and democratic rights;
  2. Withdraw the army and other paramilitary forces including the Central Reserve Police Force, Border Security Force and Indo Tibetan Border Police from civilian areas of Jammu and Kashmir;
  3. Repeal the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978 and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990;
  4. Release all political prisoners and, in particular, all prisoners arrested under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978;
  5. Grant access to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for a UN fact-finding mission in Jammu &Kashmir;
  6. Establish a judicial tribunal under the supervision of the Supreme Court to examine all cases of extra-judicial killings, including that of Burhan Wani;
  7. Enter into an open and transparent dialogue, without pre-conditions, with all sections of the Kashmir peoples and their representatives in order to bring about a resolution of the Kashmir dispute that recognises the aspirations of people to determine their own destiny through demonstrably democratic means.

We also call upon all Indian citizens to recognise that the actions of the Indian state in the Kashmir valley are far removed from the values of a democratic republic and beyond the pale by any acceptable norms of a civilised society in the 21st century. We call upon all Indian peoples to ensure that the injustices against Kashmir’s peoples are brought to an end and their democratic aspirations addressed.

Signatories

Amirtharaj Stephen, Photographer
Anuradha Bhasin, Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy Bilal Khan, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan
Devisingh Tomar, Narmada Bachao Andolan
Gautam Mody, New Trade Union Initiative
Id Khajuria, Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy
Jatin Desai, Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy Kavita Krishnan, All India Progressive Women’s Association
Lakshmi Premkumar, Researcher
Madhuresh Kumar, National Alliance of Peoples Movements
Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan
Mujahid Nafees, National Forum on Right to Education
Pfokrehil Kriiziini, Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights
Pramod Puzha, Journalist
Prajakta Dhulap, Journalist
Priyanka Kotamraju, Journalist
Rajaindai Bairiam, Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights
Rajendra Ravi, National Alliance of Peoples Movements
Sanjeev Kumar, Delhi Solidarity Group
Santosh Khajuria, Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy Shankar Mahanand, Janwadi Sanskritik Andolan
Soroj Mohanty, Peoples Union of Civil Liberties (Odisha)
SP Udaykumar, Peoples Movement against Nuclear Energy
Swathi Seshadri, Researcher
Vasundhara Jairath, New Socialist Initiative

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