November 2019 News

Indian State's Claim Of Normalcy 'far From Reality': Fact-finding Report

2 November 2019
Kashmir Times


Jammu: There has been a determined, systematic effort on the part of the Indian state to portray a sense of normalcy in the valley to justify their unilateral action of snatching the autonomy the Kashmiri people had over their land. This was the observation of eleven-member team comprising advocates, trade union and human rights activists and a psychiatrist, which visited the Kashmir division from September 28 - October 4, 2019, in its fact-finding report on Kashmir. The team released its report 'Kashmir, An Imprisoned Resistance: 5th August and its aftermath' simultaneously in the Press Club of India, New Delhi and Bangalore Press Club on Thursday. The report also stated that access to justice according to the people of Kashmir had been a mere mirage in the present circumstances. 'This being the state of the justice system in Kashmir, where there is massive reprisals, surveillance and clampdown on advocates and their right to practice itself, courts are barely functioning and when they are functioning they seem to be furthering the will of the executive instead of putting check on it. People have reached a point where they have almost completely refused to engage with the machinery of the state. Not only is there no faith in the local judiciary but now there's a declining faith of getting justice in the Supreme Court as well,' the report mentioned. According to the report, the narrative presented by the Indian government and its effort to 'portray a sense of normalcy in the valley' is far from the reality. 'We realised that the narrative that was presented by the Indian government with the help of media houses was far from the reality. The Indian government and the mainstream media have consistently propagated that normalcy by showing images of traffic flow in Srinagar, done by creating roadblocks to artificially create traffic jams, which were recorded then by drone cameras. Travelling within Srinagar and other towns and within the Valley has for the most part become a near impossibility unless people have access to a vehicle of their own. J&K State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC) has suspended operations since 5 August,' the report states. The release of report, ironically, coincided with the day when J&K State was formally bifurcated into two Union Territories (UTs). As per the team members, the broad objective of the team was to understand the situation persisting in the two months since the abrogation of Article 370, and, second to assess the quality of access to justice in these compelling circumstances. According to them, the report is based on their visit to different districts in the Kashmir valley, the High Court, District Courts and other quasi judicial institutions, interactions with the lawyers, health and mental health professionals, traders, people of Kashmir and victims of state perpetrated violence. 'As lawyers, activists and a medical doctor, we felt it important out of a sense of solidarity for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, but also out of a sense of responsibility to understand the situation first hand on the ground, in order to advance the true spirit of a democratic society and hold our elected government and the institutions of democracy accountable for their actions,' the team members stated. They pointed out that their report sought to draw attention to the history of Jammu and Kashmir valley while understanding the events just before and after the August 5, 2019. 'Along with the collective aspirations of the people of Kashmir, the ongoing committed resistance of the people, the resulting structured state violence on them and the systematic denial of legal recourse and justice to the people, we trace the judicial trend to people's issue while locating it in the present context based on facts and events since August 5, 2019,' they said. 'Normalcy Redefined As per the report, the people in the Valley called the 'abrogation of Article 370, the militarization, communication blockade, undeclared curfew and movement restrictions, as a siege.' 'In response they have adopted the hartal or shutdown, which is on across the Valley, in all cities and villages. All commercial establishments are voluntarily closed except for two hours in the morning and in the evening. This is part of their resistance against what they term a 'military occupation', and they are confident to continue with it indefinitely, since they have been trained all these years to adjust to such a situation,' the report mentioned. 'This being the situation of the basic fundamental requirements of a functioning democratic state, we realised that the Valley was nowhere close to being called 'normal',' the members pointed out. Massive-militarisation Detailing about situation in militarised Valley, the report said, 'Every night there are crackdowns and raids taking place in the name of search operations, where drunk jawans humiliate and torture the people and sexual crimes are rampant as well but not spoken off because of social stigma.' 'Besides the massive militarisation, the surveillance and control by the army is unprecedented. Even the houses are not the safe spaces that homes are meant to be, since the armed forces can barge in anytime. The power of the weapon is thrust in their faces at every street corner. The constant convoys of armed vehicles on the roads forcing them to wait on the sides were the bare armed power of the Indian State staring them down,' it added. It further mentioned that since August 5, 2019, armed forces were conducting raids on villages and localities in the city almost every night, and most definitely if there was any protest or incident of dissent on the part of the people. 'We heard that the villages were rendered sleepless because of the nightly raids, harassment, humiliation and torture. It appears that the modus operandi of the raids is more or less similar whether they are conducted jointly by the army, paramilitary forces and the police, or by any of them independently. People said that they barge into the village screaming abuses and throwing stones on the houses breaking window panes. Almost all the homes in the villages and some neighbourhoods in Srinagar, have broken windows owing to the stones thrown by the army,' the team members stated. Justice eludes Pointing out failure of judiciary to provide reprieve to people, the report points out that while Judiciary ought to step in to check excesses by the executive and parliament to ensure rule of law and protection of human rights, access to justice according to the people of Kashmir has been a mere mirage. 'The people said there are reports that more than 13,000 people have been unlawfully detained. In many instances the draconian PSA is slapped arbitrarily on people. Many detenues are being transferred outside the State of J&K, which, the lawyers said, was intentionally done in order to prevent family members and lawyers appearing for those detailed from having access to them. One advocate from the TADA court highlighted that, the practice from 2016 onwards, was for the police to invoke the provisions of UAPA even in stone pelting cases and since most of the stone pelting FIRs were 'open FIRs'. Post August 5, 2019, scores of youth and men were being picked up and charged in these FIRs which were in some cases more than a year old. He also informed us that in many cases, even after the accused secured bail, the SHO had been directed not to execute the bail orders,' the team members mentioned in the report. The report quoted people describing their trauma, saying, 'The army is fighting a war against our society this is not any security action They do not look at us as human beings with rights or feelings. This is what we have to now fight against. It's a fight for azaadi and the right to live as human beings.' It was observed that the blatant abuse of power, the violent aggression and extreme forms of abuse (physical, sexual and emotional) unleashed on the Kashmiri people caused deep and destructive trauma that may take generations to heal, the report mentioned. 'Not only has it caused extreme suffering and a plethora of mental health disorders of unprecedented proportions, it has also manifested in the seething anger, acute polarization and paranoia, a complete lack of trust and hardening of attitude towards the Indian state,' it added. Giving a brief recap of the developments as they unfolded, the report mentioned that between August 5 and 6, 2019, two presidential orders, C.O. 272 and C.O. 273, were issued that had the effect of abrogating Article 370 and Article 35A, and effectively 'dismantled the limited protection afforded to Jammu and Kashmir in self-governance, territorial integrity and the collective rights to land and livelihood.' The report also recalled the midnight of August 4, 2019, when it said, 'anticipating a widespread resistance from the people, there had been a complete blackout in the Kashmir valley. ' 'All communication services like landlines, mobile phones, internet and even postal services had been blocked by the government. All schools, colleges, educational institutions and offices were ordered to be closed until further orders, and student hostels were asked to be vacated with immediate effect. Already there were 6.5 lakh armed forces in the Kashmir Valley including 1.3 lakh police force. Additionally, 1.4 lakh armed forces were moved into the Valley just before the announcement on August 5, 2019. However, in what is nothing short of a covert operation by the government, no information of their plans to unilaterally bring about the above policy changes was provided to the people of Kashmir, who were completely kept in the dark, let alone be consulted. One can only imagine the manner in which this contributed to breeding fear, uncertainty and anxiety,' it stated. The report claimed that there were demands from all corners for status quo ante as on August 4, 2019 including restoring all constitutional and legal provisions that were available to the state of Jammu and Kashmir on that date. 'This would require repealing of the parliamentary decisions of August 5 and 6 August 20119 and rescinding the Presidential orders C.O. 272 and C.O. 273 along with the repealing of Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. With this the government must release all those imprisoned on and after August 1, 2019, and lift the lockdown in all its forms - barricades, communication, transport and all government services as well as restore all civil, political, social and economic rights,' it said. While winding up their report, the team members recommended that in order to find a lasting and peaceful solution the Government of India must recognise that a dispute exists between people of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian government. 'It must repeal the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 and the Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990, withdraw all army and paramilitary forces from civilian areas of Jammu and Kashmir, open a transparent unconditional dialogue with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and their representatives so as to address people's aspirations to determine and define their own destinies through democratic means and to find a political solution that respects the democratic will of the people in accordance with human rights and international law,' they recommended. Some of the members of the fact-finding team include Gautam Mody (New Trade Union Initiative, New Delhi), Lara Jesani (Advocate, Mumbai and People's Union for Civil Liberties), Swathi Seshadri (Independent Researcher, Bengaluru), Bengaluru-based advocate and member of All India People's Forum Clifton D' Rozario and Veena Gowda (Advocate, Mumbai and People's Union for Civil Liberties).

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