Though the human rights situation has never been satisfactory, what to talk of its being exemplary befitting a country that boasts of being the largest democracy in the world, it has touched new lows in recent months especially after the events of Sept. 11 in the United States.
While the Sept. 11 events changed the global political scene, in case of India in particular, it seems as if the events came as a windfall for it. It exploited the situation to serve its own political ends, used the excuse of terrorism to crush any dissenting voice it wanted to crush. Freedom struggles in certain parts became its main targets. India exploited the situation even further by blurring up the distinction between freedom struggle and terrorism.
India let loose a hell in Kashmir in particular. While Jammu and Kashmir state presents a picture of police state since 1989, i.e. when the people of the state started resistance movement to shake off their subjugation and win out their right of self-determination, the situation has become even worse after Sept. 11. This is evident from various reports. Srinagar-base Human Rights Front, for instance, has decried massive violations of human rights and notes that 423 people have been killed in the first two months of 2002, which shows 40 percent increase in deaths compared with the same period of the preceding year.
While the whole of Kashmir has been made a virtual hell for its inhabitants, the people of the border areas are exposed to worst conditions. District Kupwara, for example, is a special target of Indian forces’ oppressive measures. If the people even want to go out of the district, they have to obtain special permission from the district magistrate. This entails a lengthy and cumbersome procedure: a regular application, purpose of going out, and the date by which to return. The application is then sent to the Superintendent of Police since the journey is possible only after his approval. This also applies to people coming to Kupwara to see their near and dear ones in the district.
There is another law that has made the life of the people of the border areas more difficult. The ‘Six-month License’ that is in vogue since 1948 is another tool for harassing innocent people. The law allows Indian forces personnel to enter houses without any warrants, pick up whomever they want and detain them for six months without any trials. Sometimes, this becomes ludicrous when the forces re-capture a detainee after releasing him for a few minutes and the cycle of torture starts yet again for another six months without any opportunity for the detainee to appeal.
Here, it should be kept in view that the problems of the people of the border areas are not fully appreciated. Outsiders have only some superficial knowledge of the situation in cities and major towns but know little of the plight of the people of border areas. Whether human rights activists, political observers, media persons, seldom reach these areas to be apprized of the situation here. The India forces get undue advantage of this situation and make life more miserable for the people.
It is perhaps the only part of the world where international organizations of human rights, political observers and media persons are denied access to the area, i.e. the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, lest it exposes Indian brutality and human rights violations. Indian government has always opposed tooth and nail any suggestions of allowing UN Rapporteur and OIC Fact Finding Mission in Kashmir.
Indian record of human rights has been pathetic and New Delhi has had to face immense criticism from the international community in this regard.
In 1997, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture reported that the security forces systematically torture persons in Jammu and Kashmir in order to coerce them to confess to militant activity, or to inflict punishment for suspected support or sympathy with militants. In addition, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act provides that unless approval is obtained from the central government, no prosecution suit or other legal proceedings shall be instituted against any person in respect of anything to be done in exercise of the powers of the act. This provision allows the security forces to act with impunity.
This all shows that Indian oppression in Kashmir, denial of basic and inalienable rights, and human rights violations are part of a well-planned strategy. Different events are not isolated but are related to the government’s intention to deprive people of their rights and to keep them with the India state at all costs.
It is evident that Indian leadership has never chosen the path of dialogue or reconciliation for the settlement of conflicts. The largest democracy seeks military solutions in all disputes it faces internally or externally. As this approach only adds to the crisis, instead of ameliorating it, India not only has had to overlook violations of laws and rights by its military personnel, Indian leadership seems to be encouraging the forces to continue with their rein of terror. Indian government even passed laws to give security forces sweeping powers that facilitate arbitrary arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings and reinforce the impunity of offenders. These laws include Jammu and Kashmir Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958, Public Safety Act, National Security Act, and Terrorist Activities (TADA) to name a few. Now the introduction of POTB has surpassed all its predecessors in terms of oppression and victimization of opponents.
Speaking in Lok Sabha in August 2001, Indian home minister LK Advani sought some kind of amnesty for the security forces. Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah has repeatedly called for the elimination of militants and the ‘sanitization’ of the area of militant presence. On January 15, 2001, for example, Farooq Abdullah said that “militants should be shot down at any cost”, and directed police “to shoot militants at first sight as there is no more room left for them in jail”. Such language, says Amnesty International Report 2001, incites further violence and contributes to an atmosphere of impunity in which state agents may feel entitled to commit extra-judicial execution on the assumption that they will not be held accountable.
India has the audacity to refuse investigations and judicial inquiry into killings and human rights violations. Following the killings in Pahalgam and other places on August 1, 2000, the debate in both Houses of the Indian Parliament focused on whether a judicial probe into the killings would be politically advisable, in coformity with security considerations, or constitutionally possible. L.K. Advani held that, “a probe would demoralize the armed forces.”
Amnesty International Report 2001 observes that there have been reports that finding of investigations into unlawful killing were deliberately withheld in the interest of the morale and image of the security forces.
Bitten for many times, nobody is now ready to believe in what the Indian government says about POTB that it will not be misuse. The unfortunate events in Gujarat expose the hollowness of these assertions. According to the Indian Express on March 20, some 62 people, all Muslims, have been arrested by the government of Narendra Modi for the Godhra carnage in which 58 Hindus were killed. All have been booked under the draconian POTO. [On the other hand] over 650, most of them Muslims, were killed in the violence that rocked the entire state. Out of the over 800 arrests, not one has been booked under POTO.
Given these facts, it is feared that the black law would be used against Muslims throughout India in general and in Kashmir in particular. POTB has clause that allow security forces to nab anyone whom they suspect of being in possession of some information about so-called terrorists. Such clauses may be used against APHC leadership, human rights defenders and media persons to silence them.
Since 1989, i.e. since the start of the current phase of struggle for freedom, around 81,000 people have sacrificed their lives, and, thus, more than 20,000 women have been widowed and more than 100,000 children orphaned. Rape is another abominable crime that has become a ‘weapon of war’; some 8,000 women has been raped or molested. Yet, the struggle is as fresh and vigorous as ever. This proves that India cannot realize its ends through oppression and use of brutal force. The struggle would continue till the people of Jammu and Kashmir achieve their right to self-determination as pledged to them by the international community.
The reasonable course for the Indian government is to learn lesson from the past, avoid committing mistakes, and refrain from legalizing state terrorism.
Mr. Ali S. Khan is Executive Director, Kashmiri Scandinavian Council (KSC) in Oslo, Norway.