Monday, September 06, 2010

Indian-held Kashmir: Valley of fear, depths of despair

Combat Communalism, July-August 2010, No. 157

As unrest continues to brew in the Kashmir valley, and more and more innocent people lose their lives at the hands of the police or security forces, it is increasingly apparent that the Indian state urgently needs to re-examine its position and dramatically alter its tactics in Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian polity must insist on this. The strategy employed by the Indian government over the years has denied a sizeable section of the people basic human rights and estranged them from the mainstream. The wrongs that are still being inflicted on them by state forces and militant groups, the Kashmiri people’s burgeoning anger and continuing alienation feeds a conflagration that will not be extinguished unless corrective action is taken, and taken without delay. This is not a grave matter for Kashmir alone; it is a perilous situation for India as a whole. It is a blot on India’s conscience as a nation, a distressing account of systemic cruelty and studied indifference to the sorry plight of an ever-growing multitude of its citizens. And even as we urge for fundamental changes in the status quo, we must do all we can towards reparation and to ensure that the average Kashmiri’s valiant and ceaseless quest for justice yields positive results.

A report of the Independent People’s Tribunal on Human Rights Violations in Kashmir reveals the extent of deprivation of basic human rights and the depth of alienation felt by the Kashmiri people. Excerpts from the report:

Aims

There is a general perception that the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir is bad and largely unaddressed. The various official human rights mechanisms, including the judiciary and the State Human Rights Commission, are unable to act proactively and rein in human rights violators, including the army, paramilitary forces, police and surrendered militants. In this context, it was felt that a civil society initiative, including retired members of the judiciary, was imperative to clarify the situation and the reasons for the continued deaths and suffering.

The practice of human rights abuse is protected, if not encouraged, by legislation like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act and the Disturbed Areas Act – where security forces are given sweeping powers to shoot, kill, arrest and detain along with blanket immunity from prosecution for such heinous acts. These powers are in complete disregard of the most fundamental postulates of international law enshrined in the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948), the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), the ICESCR (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), the UNCAT (UN Convention Against Torture) and the UN Convention on the Elimination of Enforced Disappearances, among others. The latter two have been signed but not ratified by India.

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