Srinagar: The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir Wednesday released a report in which it said that the developments in the union territory after the scrapping of Article 370 last August have “highlighted a tri-lateralisation of the dispute over Kashmir between India, Pakistan and China” and added a “new edge to the strategic China-Pakistan nexus against India”.
Formed in May this year, the forum in its first report — titled ‘Jammu and Kashmir: The Impact of Lockdowns on Human Rights August 2019-July 2020 — has launched a scathing attack against the central and the J&K administration for the steps and actions taken after 5 August, and added that the decision to scrap the erstwhile state’s special status has left the people, especially the youth, gravely disturbed.
“Kashmir has in many ways been the litmus test of Indian democracy. As this report indicates, we have failed miserably,” according to the report.
Under a section called the ‘Overall Security Situation’, the group stated that Pakistan’s seven-decade efforts to “fish in troubled waters” went into an overdrive mode after the August development in J&K as the country ramped up cross-LoC firing and infiltration, and continued inciting and radicalising Kashmiris through virulent social media campaigns and by establishing “Kashmir Cells in its missions abroad as part of Kashmir-specific anti-India information war strategy”.
“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,” stated the 70-page report.
The forum and the report
The report has been compiled based on NGO fact-finding reports and also responses to questionnaires sent to government sources, media, as well as information gathered through petitions and from industry bodies such as the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Besides former Supreme Court judge (retd) Justice Madan Lokur, members of the forum include well-known personalities such as Air Vice Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak, Major General (retd) Ashok Kumar Mehta, Justice (retd) Ajit Prakash Shah and current National Conference leader and Anantnag MP Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi.
The 21-member group also has historian Ramachandra Guha, former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, Lieutenant General (retd) H.S. Panag and author-academic Radha Kumar as its members.
The forum has studied the impact of the 5 August decision on civilian security, children and youth, industry and employment, health and media, and recommended 13 corrective measures that are needed to be taken on an immediate basis.
Violation of human rights
The report stated that central government’s prioritisation of counter-insurgency concerns over human security has led to an across the board violation of human rights, including the vitiation of protections such as habeas corpus, illegal detention, arrests, and misuse of draconian legislations such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to stifle dissent.
“In the same manner, the 11 months of lockdown — comprising closures, barricades, checkpoints and restrictions on mobile telephones and internet connectivity — have enormously impacted public health, and caused trauma and stress among the people of Jammu and Kashmir, violating the rights to health and medical care under the Indian, and Jammu and Kashmir, Constitutions.”
“The rights of children to a trauma-free environment have been arbitrarily ignored,” the report added.
Impact of mobile data restrictions
The report further went on to say: “The impact on education has been particularly severe. Schools and colleges functioned for barely 100 days between 2019 and 2020. After the pandemic lockdown, limiting networks to 2G has made it impossible for online classes to function adequately.”
“Local and regional industries have suffered large losses in almost every sector. Companies that are heavily or solely reliant on 4G networks that are available in the rest of the country, such as tourism and cottage industries, have been forced out of business. The new domicile rules introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Jammu and Kashmir administration, moreover, erode prior employment protections for permanent residents of the former state,” stated the report.
The report also concluded that journalists have been harassed and slapped with draconian charges such as the UAPA. “The new media policy is a death blow to an independent media and the freedom of expression,” the report stated.
The group has also studied the post-Covid 19 situation in J&K and how the consecutive lockdown has impacted key business sectors, health infrastructure, education and employment in the region.
Release political detainees
In its recommendation section, the forum asked for release of all the remaining political detainees, an amendment to the controversial PSA, strict implementation of juvenile protection legislation, withdrawal of charges under the UAPA against journalists and activists, and restoration of high speed internet.
Reinstating all the statutory oversight human rights bodies of the former state that ceased to exist after the scrapping of Article 370, roll back of the new media policy, compensation to businesses and people whose homes were destroyed in counter-insurgency operations were the other recommendations.
Radha Kumar, a specialist on peace and security, and a member of the Group of Interlocutors for J&K appointed by the central government (2010-11), told ThePrint that she hopes that the authorities take cognisance of the recommendations made by the forum.
“Unfortunately realism tells me we can have very few expectations. However, one would hope that there would be some impact. I would hope MPs and elected representatives take up some of the issues,” she said.
“It is shocking that almost an entire year has passed and you are denying children proper rights to education, you are denying doctors proper rights to knowledge and treatment,” she added.