India on Tuesday deplored United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s criticism on Kashmir, claiming that the abrogation of the region’s special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution had brought it grassroots democracy, the Hindustan Times reported.

India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Indra Mani Pandey claimed that since changes were made in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir in August last year, people in the region have enjoyed the same fundamental rights as people in the rest of India. “We have been able to revive grassroots democracy and provide a new momentum to social and economic development, despite the challenge posed by Covid-19 pandemic and persistent attempts by one country to infiltrate terrorists to derail this process by all possible means,” Pandey said, in reference to Pakistan.

Pandey also claimed that the government’s efforts at socioeconomic development and ensuring better governance in Kashmir over the past year have brought about great results. “By extending coverage of positive and affirmative federal legislations and repealing discriminatory or outdated local laws, the government has reaffirmed its commitment to delivering socio-economic justice to disadvantaged people in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, including women, children, minorities and refugees,” he said.

Bachelet had expressed concern over the continued detention of political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir and called for the reversal of full communication blockade in the Union Territory. “Incidents of military and police violence against civilians continued in [Jammu and Kashmir], including use of pellet guns, as well as incidents related to militancy,” Bachelet said during the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “Major legal changes – including to the Constitution and domicile rules – were generating deep anxiety.”

Bachelet had added that a new media policy imposed by the Jammu and Kashmir administration had restricted the space for criticism. “...the space for political debate and public participation continues to be severely restricted, particularly since new media rules have prohibited vaguely defined ‘anti-national’ reporting,” Bachelet said. The UN high commissioner for human rights welcomed the restoration of internet services in parts of Kashmir but asked that the same should be applied to the rest of the Union Territory.

Almost all of the Kashmir Valley’s political leadership, including three former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti – were put under house arrest before the August 5, 2019, decision.

Omar Abdullah was released seven months later on March 24 after the Jammu and Kashmir administration revoked his detention order under the Public Safety Act. Farooq Abdullah was released on March 13. People’s Conference chief Sajjad Lone was formally released on July 31. However, Mehbooba Mufti remains in detention.