Report traces massive violations; dangerous economic, political and social fallout

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 7/24/2020 1:05:10 PM

J&K: The Impact of Lockdowns on Human Rights

JAMMU, July 23: The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday released a report in which it said that the developments in the union territory after the reading down of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, have “highlighted a tri-lateralisation of the dispute over Kashmir between India, Pakistan and China” and added a “new edge to the strategic China-Pakistan nexus against India”.
Brought out by the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, which was formed in May 2020 by an informal group of jurists, former civil servants, former military officers, academics and human rights experts, the report highlights the trauma people in the state have undergone since August 4, 2019 – the day the state was put under a lockdown. A day later, the president voided all clauses of Article 370 of the Indian constitution and suspended the Jammu and Kashmir constitution.
The Forum, which is co-chaired by former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan Lokur and former member of the Group of Interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir Radha Kumar, has in the report also delved into the impact of some recent developments on the state and maintains that the decision to scrap the erstwhile state’s special status has left the people, especially the youth, gravely disturbed.
According to the report, the year-long lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir has not only resulted in an “across-the-board violation of human rights”, it also led to the “denial of the right to bail and fair and speedy trial, coupled with misuse of draconian legislation, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent”.
This period saw “frequent closures, harassment at barricades and checkpoints, and restrictions on mobile telephony and internet connectivity,” which enormously impacted public health, and caused trauma and stress amongst the people, it further added.
“Kashmir has in many ways been the litmus test of Indian democracy. As this report indicates, we have failed miserably,” according to the report.
Under a section called the ‘Overall Security Situation’, the group stated that Pakistan’s seven-decade efforts to “fish in troubled waters” went into an overdrive mode after the August development in J&K as the country ramped up cross-LoC firing and infiltration, and continued inciting and radicalising Kashmiris through virulent social media campaigns and by establishing “Kashmir Cells in its missions abroad as part of Kashmir-specific anti-India information war strategy”.
“China’s attempts to mobilise the UN Security Council against the August changes, and its own army’s May 2020 intrusions in Eastern Ladakh have added further diplomatic and security concerns for the Indian government.”
The report further stated that “The impact on education has been particularly severe. Schools and colleges functioned for barely 100 days between 2019 and 2020. After the pandemic lockdown, limiting networks to 2G has made it impossible for online classes to function adequately.”
“Local and regional industries have suffered large losses in almost every sector. Companies that are heavily or solely reliant on 4G networks that are available in the rest of the country, such as tourism and cottage industries, have been forced out of business. The new domicile rules introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Jammu and Kashmir administration, moreover, erode prior employment protections for permanent residents of the former state,” stated the report.
The report also concluded that journalists have been harassed and slapped with draconian charges such as the UAPA. “The new media policy is a death blow to an independent media and the freedom of expression,” the report stated.
The report points out, “there was no elected representative to advocate the interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, since the majority of political leaders were put in preventive detention. Moreover, many of those that were released, gradually over the past eleven months, had to pledge that they would not criticize government actions. Statutory bodies to which citizens could go to seek redress virtually ceased to exist, since all the state commissions — for human rights, women and child rights, anti-corruption and the right to information — were closed when the state was divided into Union Territories, and the Union Government decided not to reinstate them, even though Union Territories too are entitled to independent statutory bodies for oversight.”
“As a result, there has been a near-total alienation of the people of the Kashmir valley from the Indian state and people. 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, are as substantial,” it added.
The group has also studied the post-Covid 19 situation in J&K and how the consecutive lockdown has impacted key business sectors, health infrastructure, education and employment in the region.
The other members of the forum include well-known personalities such as Air Vice Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak, Major General (retd) Ashok Kumar Mehta, Justice (retd) Ajit Prakash Shah and current National Conference leader and Anantnag MP Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi, historian Ramachandra Guha, former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, Lieutenant General (retd) H.S. Panag, Justice AP Shah, former Chief Justice of the Madras, and Delhi, High Court Justice Bilal Nazki,former Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court and Anand Sahay, columnist.
The forum has also made the following recommendations:
1. Release all remaining political detainees who were taken into preventive detention on or after August 4, 2019. Strictly follow jurisprudence on the rights to bail and speedy trial. Repeal the 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. Remove all restrictions on freedom of representation and expression. Strictly implement juvenile protection legislation in letter and in spirit. Release all detained juveniles and withdraw charges against them. Initiate enquiries followed by criminal and civil actions against personnel of police, armed forces and paramilitary forces found guilty of violation of child rights. Withdraw charges under the UAPA against journalists and activists.
2. Balance security considerations with public interest, giving utmost consideration to humanitarian concerns involving the population and eliminating hindrances to the welfare and well-being of the people. Curb the application of Section 144 to only those instances in which there is clear and present danger. Ensure that District Magistrates strictly follow judicial guidelines restricting the use of Section 144. Restore in practice the humanitarian guidelines to be followed when conducting Cordon and Search Operations (CASO), to prevent civilian deaths, injuries or any other damage or loss, and adequately compensate innocent citizens whose houses have been destroyed in Cordon and Search Operations.
3. Ensure that police and paramilitary forces at checkpoints allow smooth passage for medical personnel and patients. Where patients lack transport to hospital, provide aid by making vehicles available. Hold police and paramilitary personnel who harass civilians at checkpoints accountable and initiate appropriate disciplinary action.
4. Restore 4G internet and mobile services in toto. Noting that Jammu and Kashmir has below average access of children to online facilities (see section on children and youth, make additional efforts to provide access for such children.
5. Reinstate all the former state’s statutory oversight bodies, especially those monitoring human rights, such as the Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission and the Jammu and Kashmir Women and Child Rights Commission.
6. Compensate local businesses that were forced to shut down due to the government lockdown between August 2019 and March 2020 and ensure that they are given the government aid they require to the fullest extent possible.
7. Rollback the new media policy and encourage all shades of opinion to be freely and peacefully expressed, as the laws apply in every part of the Indian Union.

 

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