“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.”
This is the conclusion of a citizens’ report released on Thursday on the protests of 2016 in Kashmir. It is entitled “Why Are People Protesting in Kashmir?”
The fact-finding team consisted of of 25 citizens. Signatories to the report include well-known activists such as Medha Patkar and Kavita Krishnan, human rights groups from Nagaland, representatives of the Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy, including journalist Anuradha Bhasin, who is editor of the Kashmir Times, and others from trade unions and people’s movements across the country.
They visited the Valley for nine days in November 2016, speaking to victims of state violence, traders’ and fruit growers’ associations, lawyers, Kashmiri Pandit groups, human rights activists, politicians and separatist leaders. Their findings join the dots between local media reports that emerged over the months of unrest.
The citizens’ team report ends with a statement of “Solidarity with the Peoples of Kashmir”. “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,” it said.
Killings and counter-FIRs
According to the report, 102 unarmed civilians were killed in 135 days of unrest that was sparked by the killing on July 8 of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani by the armed forces. It is also known that many more were injured by pellet guns, tear gas and beatings. The report alleges that the figure was 15,000, of which 7,000 were cases of severe injury.
The report alleges that these were targeted killings and injuries. Most cases of death, it finds, were “caused by injuries waist-above, without any warning fire”. It also finds that the Jammu and Kashmir police had lodged “cross” FIRs or counter complaints. Most of these bear the same charge: the victim was “anti-national”. It claims that families who tried to take legal recourse against security forces were harassed, tortured and arrested.
The report gives details about the death of a boy in Kupwara district who was allegedly killed by a known police officer but the FIR was filed against “unknown security persons”. It also follows the case of a boy who was not part of the protests, according to his family members, but who was allegedly shot with pellets and drowned in a nullah in Qazigund in Anantnag district.
The counter-FIR speaks of a large, violent mob, armed with stones and petrol bombs, attacking members of the Central Reserve Police Force, “with the intention to cause death”. The boy, according to this FIR, was “critically injured” when forces tried to disperse the crowd using tear gas and loud speakers.
The report revisits cases that created ripples at the time, speaking to the families of victims. Take the case of the 16-year-old boy who was found in a garbage dump in Srinagar last October and died after eight days on a ventilator. News reports from the time suggest that the boy had been tortured and poisoned by security forces.
Members of the citizens’ team spoke to the family of the boy, whose name has been changed to Ashraf in the report: “At the hospital, Ashraf told his mother that he was picked up by police on October 27 and tortured. They had thrashed him brutally, used hot iron on his body, driven screws into his hand and forced ‘newa’, a germicide used on apple crops, down his throat.”
The team also catalogues instances where ambulances and other medical services were allegedly obstructed by security forces, which meant that the injured could not reach the hospital in time:
“For instance, in Choon village, we were told that families were scared to take the wounded to hospitals as the police were making rounds to pick up people. In Karimabad, residents told us that they preferred to wait for a day or two before taking the injured to hospitals. In Baramulla district, villagers avoided using arterial roads to transport pellet and bullet victims and often travelled during night time to avoid being detected.”
Use of the Public Safety Act
Since Wani’s killing, about 16,000 people have been arrested or detained, the team claims. These include 600 people who were booked under the Public Safety Act, a law which enables police officials to detain individuals on specific grounds that may or may not be stated. Those held are judged by the police to be a threat to “public order” or to the “security of the state”. A person so detained may be held for up to two years.
Those detained under the law last year included “minors, government and security personnel, human rights activists, lawyers and the physically disabled”, the report says. In the old town of Baramulla, it said, a 27-year-old mechanic who cannot walk without crutches and also suffers from visual and hearing impairments, was arrested and slapped with charges under the Public Safety Act during a crackdown in October 2016.
In Khanpora in Baramulla district, the team said, a stone mason who had been wounded with pellets was booked under the act. He had been detained under the Public Safety Act three times before, in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Because of his record, the report said, he was not allowed treatment for his wounds.
The team spoke to members of the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association: “They also told us of several delay tactics employed by government authorities to prolong periods of detention, including charging civilians under multiple ‘open’ FIRs, in which people can be implicated in cases even after years of filing the FIR, and delays in filing responses on PSA cases in courts.”
Together, these cases violate a range of human rights, the report argues repeatedly: the right to life, liberty, livelihood, peaceful assembly and access to justice, the freedom of religion and conscience, the rights of the child, enshrined in a United Nations convention that has been ratified by India.