India, with a bigoted edge on Kashmir

Two reports on Kashmir were issued this year.

One, a 560 pages report was published in May 2019, by the joint efforts of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons and the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society titled: “Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir.” Another a 43-page report was released by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, titled: “The situation in India-Administered Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir from May 2018 to April 2019.” Both the reports mentioned the use of excessive force by the security and the armed groups to abuses and torture the Kashmiris. The OHCHR report, however also reprimanded Pakistan for meting out inhuman treatment to the Kashmiris living in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. Pakistan corrected this situation by highlighting the difference between organized crime and a denial of human rights. As a whole, the report was welcomed by Pakistan. India, in its usual practice dismissed the report as “false and motivated.”

Some of the common highlights of both the reports are:

•  Indian security forces continue to use the pellet-firing shotgun as a crowd control weapon to respond to the protest.

•  Absence of justice for the past abuses such as killings and forced disappearances of Kashmiri separatists and other citizens.

•  Sexual violence by the Indian forces.

•  Excessive use of force during cordon and search operation resulting in civilian deaths

•  Indian’s Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Power Act (AFSPA) “remains a major obstacle to accountability.”

•  The demand for the amendment of the Public Safety Act, an administrative detention law that allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years.

•  The trial of Kashmiri detainees outside Kashmir after the amendment of section 10 of the Public Safety Act has burdened both the families of the detainees and the council who find it hard to reach out to their detainees outside the state.

•  These prisons, the report says, have also proved to be harsh for the Muslim detainees.

•  “The prisoners are forced to eat or drink filthy and harmful substances like human excreta, chili powder, dirt, gravel, chili powder mixed water, petrol, urine, and dirty water.”

India’s refusal to acknowledge the report is based on the notion that it “ignores the core issue of cross border terrorism.” Ever since 9/11, India has used terrorism as a shield to hide its injustices against the Kashmiris. The Kashmiris are picked up, detained, tortured, disappeared, killed, humiliated, to force them to leave their demand to seek independence from India. But the Indian spin-doctors label these separatists as terrorists from Pakistan, if not in person, at least in ideological persuasion to defeat India.

With the US on its side, which is equally obsessed with terrorism, it has been easier for India to tarnish the reality and to bracket with terrorism the struggle for freedom in Kashmir As a last nail in the coffin, Modi is striving to replicate Kashmir on Israel’s design of assimilating Palestine into Israel through distortions apparently legally. From changing the demographics of Kashmir through the elimination of its quasi- autonomous states by repelling Article 35A of the Constitution to introducing new delimitation for equitable representation in the state assembly from all regions, Modi knows that finding an international audience inspiring by Israel model will never be difficult.

However, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E Mendez is hopeful and writes in the prologue of the report that “the report will be enormously helpful in drawing attention of the international community to the need to express concern about India’s human rights record.”

The Human Rights Chief has also asked the UN to set up a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate human rights violation in Kashmir. The CoI is one of the highest levels of probes reserved only for a major crisis.

Torture has been used at a large scale in Kashmir. Take a few glimpses: Of the 432 cases studied in the Torture Report, 24 are women of whom 12 had been raped by the armed forces. Forty-four suffered from some psychological issues. Civilian casualties are rising with each passing year. Only last year, 586 people were killed of whom 160 were civilian, the highest since 2008.

In its 2015 report, Doctors Without Borders informed that at least 19 per cent of the population in the region suffered from the post-traumatic disorder.

In spite of being a signatory to UN Convention against torture since 1997, India has not ratified the treaty to date. The Indian parliament dragged its feet on the Prevention of Torture Bill 2010, which eventually lapsed in 2014.

Torture is not confined to Kashmiri separatists alone. Anyone voicing, supporting or promoting the idea of independence of Kashmir has to pass through the mill of the torture grind. Journalists is one such breed. Reporters are intimidated and their movement restricted. Cases against journalists are being dug from the past. A veteran journalist Ghulam Jeelani Qadri was arrested for writing a story back in 1993 in which he had quoted a statement of a militant against India. Incarcerated for only a day though, Qadri’s arrest stoked an unknown fear among the journalists for being in the crosshair for issues buried in the archives of history. One of the journalists, Asif Sultan was put behind bars in August 2018 for reporting about a radical linked with a militant organization.

To make matter worse, funds to newspapers in the form of a ban on government advertisement has been used as another tool of oppression. Kashmir Reader and Greater Kashmir, the largest English-daily newspapers, have to bear the brunt of this oppressive policy. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists this move by the Modi government is aimed at silencing criticism against the government. Such narrow political purposes, critic say, will backfire, making the Kashmiri freedom fighters and the journalists more emboldened.

Demonstrating the right to determination as an act of terrorism and morphing the killings of the freedom fighter as a noble act of eliminating the evil, India can flummox the west and its Middle East allies but not the Kashmiris and the regional countries in South and East Asia where the Modi government is aiming for “Act East” Policy to mimic Obama’s “Pivot to East” Policy. India’s credential as a good neighbour and a reliable partner, which is at peace within is in question.

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