Human rights abuses have continued unabated in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir since it was split into two Union Territories after the Centre scrapped its special status under Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5, 2019, a forum said in its report released on Monday.

The report, “Three Years as a Union Territory: Human Rights in J&K”, was presented by the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir – an independent body chaired by former Delhi High Court Chief Justice AP Shah and former Union Home Secretary Gopal Pillai.

“Large numbers of political detainees taken into preventive detention on or after 4 August 2019 remain in jail as undertrials,” the report said. “There has been no comprehensive official investigation or review of human rights violations committed by police personnel or the armed forces.”

The report added civilian casualties due to militancy remain inordinately high in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Since the publication of the Forum’s last report [in 2021], militants have been targeting local elected representatives, migrant workers, and Hindus in the Valley,” it added. “These attacks have been difficult to predict and have created an atmosphere of fear and unrest. Security arrangements for these vulnerable groups have proved to be inadequate so far.”

Since January, at least 20 targeted killings, including those of police officials, teachers and village heads, have been reported in Kashmir.

Of these, 13 were civilians – six were Hindus and seven were Kashmiri Muslims. Many of them have been shot point-blank in their homes or workplaces.

The forum, which also has retired Supreme Court Justices Ruma Pal and Madan Lokur, former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Lieutenant General HS Panag (retiredd) among its members, also spoke on the use of anti-terror laws in the Union Territory.

In its report, it said that anti-terror and sedition laws were being continuously employed disproportionately against residents, political leaders, and journalists.

“There has been a severe clampdown on the freedom of the press through police harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary detention,” the members said in their 34-page-long report. “Journalists and opposition leaders remain under detention for extensive time periods as the Union Territory administration opposes their bail on flimsy grounds.”

The report also flagged the recent attacks on Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, saying they were carried out in an environment of heightened disaffection between communities.

The body said this tension was partially caused by “the polarisation and fear-mongering” promoted by The Kashmir Files film.

The Kashmir Files is a movie based on the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits that took place in the 1990s because of a rise in militancy. The movie, released on March 11, was endorsed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many other senior BJP leaders.

“Growing communalisation elsewhere in the country also raises alarms of retaliation by militants and further jeopardises the security of the already vulnerable community of Kashmiri Pandits living in the valley,” the members said in the report.

It further added: “The recent attacks have focused attention on the miserable conditions of Kashmiri Pandits living under tight security in transit camps across the Union Territory. Due to their confinement, Kashmiri Pandits have been unable to continue with their jobs and children have been unable to attend classes and exams.”

On delimitation process

In its report, the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir also questioned the delimitation process – or redrawing boundaries – of Assembly constituencies in the Union Territory, which was started in February 2020.

On May 5, the number of Assembly seats was increased from 83 to 90 in the final delimitation order. Of the seven new seats, one was given to Kashmir, taking its total to 46, and six were given to Jammu, which now has 43 seats.

The forum alleged that the criteria of population, which it said is the cardinal principle in this regard, was not followed.

“The present allocation dilutes the constitutional right of effective political representation and ‘one person one vote’ for voters in Kashmir,” it said. “Multiple seats have been redrawn with different configurations of Hindu and Muslim majority areas to create undue electoral advantages for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] and to the drawback of opposition parties in the region.”

The forum further urged the Centre to shelve the report of the Delimitation Commission and hold elections under the previously demarcated constituencies.