The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, an independent body co-chaired by former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur said, in a report released on Saturday, that rights violation continue in the erstwhile state – 18 months after the abrogation of its special status under Article 370.
This was the second report released by the forum on the human rights situation in the Union Territory between August 2020 and January 2021.
“Sadly, most of the violations described in the forum’s first report, covering the period August 2019-July 2020, remain even 18 months after the imposition of a lockdown on Jammu and Kashmir,” the forum said in its report. “Though 12,000 of the 38,000 additional troops that were flown in to enforce the lockdown have been withdrawn, arbitrary detentions continue, public assembly is still prohibited under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 and hundreds, including minors and several elected legislators of Jammu and Kashmir, remain under preventive detention.”
The report added that the District Development Council elections held in December, and changes to land laws led to further “erosion” of the political and economic rights of the people.
The forum spoke about how both government restrictions and the coronavirus-induced lockdown adversely impacted the former state’s economy and infrastructure. “As of January 2021, unemployment in Jammu and Kashmir is 16.6 percent, almost twice that in the rest of India; healthcare is still restricted; and the local and regional media have not regained what little independence they had,” it said.
The report also flagged the targeting of media organisations in the region. “The implementation of the much-criticised new media policy led to the dis-empanelment of about 20 media outlets, including the newspaper, Rising Kashmir, whose editor Shujaat Bukhari was assassinated by terrorists in 2018,” it said.
The organisation noted that the counter-insurgency concerns were being prioritised over civilian and human security, “leading to vitiation of protections such as habeas corpus, prevention of illegal detention and strict restrictions on arrest and detention of children”.
The forum said that the “near-total alienation” of the people of Kashmir from the Indian state continues because of the human rights violations. “While alienation of the people of Jammu is not as severe, their concerns over economic and educational losses as well as policies such as the new domicile rules and reversed land laws, are as substantial,” it added.
The forum made certain recommendations to address the situation, which included releasing political leaders and activists from detention. “Repeal the Public Safety Act (PSA) and any other preventive detention legislation, so that they cannot be misused against political opposition, or amend them to bring them in line with our constitutional ethos,” it added.
The organisation also suggested the initiation of proceedings against security personnel found guilty of human rights violations. It also demanded that businesses be compensated for the losses they suffered due to the shutdown after the scrapping of Article 370.
Earlier this month, the government had informed the Parliament that 183 people were still under detention in Jammu and Kashmir. Union Home Minister Amit Shah said on Saturday that the Union Territory will get statehood at an “appropriate time”.
The Centre had abrogated Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5, 2019 and split it into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Curfews and internet blockades followed.
Almost all of the Kashmir Valley’s political leadership, including former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah were put under detention. Farooq Abdullah was released from detention on March 13. Omar Abdullah’s detention was also revoked over a week later. People’s Conference chief Sajjad Lone was released in July, while Mufti’s detention ended on October 13.