The Indian Establishment Responds to Human Rights Issues in Kashmir

Md. Sadiq

28 May 2008

In the many years of conflict in Kashmir since 1989, human rights has been a big casualty. But are HR violations the result of Indian policy imperatives? The truth must be told if the process of peace and reconciliation in Kashmir is to progress.

In the many years of conflict in Kashmir since 1989, human rights has been a big casualty. Thousands of Kashmiri families have suffered losses of their near and dear ones. Many young men have not returned home and many have been killed. Indian security forces are partly to blame and so are the terrorists who have killed more Muslims in Kashmir than anywhere else. The National Conference activists and even hundreds of JKLF cadre have been eliminated. It has been a vicious game. If we look back honestly, whose hands are clean? For the Indian security forces it was not a moral issue: The Kashmiri militants were enemies who had to be eliminated. They had been given a simple and clear task: End militancy in Kashmir. The Indian security forces reacted to the Kashmiri uprising with great force and committed many excesses before stabilising the situation. In a recent statement [4 May 2008], two Supreme Court judges slammed human rights abuses in J&K. Describing fake encounters as “devilishly planned acts”, the judges felt that these were taking place because security force personnel were after gallantry awards and promotions. They questioned the moral grounds for giving gallantry awards and out-of-turn promotions to the officials of the security forces and police involved in branding innocent people as terrorists and killing them in fake encounters. But did the Indian establishment use rape and human rights violations as a matter of policy? Nowhere has anyone suggested or documented that HR violations were the result of a policy decision. This is a big question and has several implications for the establishment of peace. For, even today there is a small but significant section of people in Kashmir who do not want peace with India. They want the insurgency to continue. So this question must be asked and answered.

The Indian security forces and the establishment deny that human rights violations were ever a matter of policy. The security forces had been given no sanction to commit excesses against the Kashmiri population as a whole. But no army in the world has a spotless record. For instance, the Pakistani army has a worse record in Balochistan where aircraft were used to bomb villages and artillery to blast houses. Pakistani army operations in the FATA areas and in the NWFP have also been brutal and has led to widespread protest. The Indian army's record too is blemished. Recently, the General Officer Commanding Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lt Gen Mukesh Sabarwal, speaking at a conference [16 May 2008] said that the army has never condoned human rights violations. He said the Army has punished 80 personnel after they were found guilty of violation of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir over the past 19 years. He added that others involved in the act will not be spared. 'Three per cent of 1,400 accusations of human rights abuses levelled against the Army during past 19 years have been found true and punitive action has been taken against the accused soldiers,' the General said. He said the troops found involved in acts of rights abuse will not be spared. He said 26 accusations of human rights abuses against the troops have been found true and 80 defaulters have been punished ranging from dismissal to ten years rigorous imprisonment. However, as compared to armies of other countries, the Indian Army has committed minimum rights violations, he claimed. 'Deliberate attempts were made by militants and over ground workers to tarnish the image of the forces, he said, adding that forces would carry out people friendly operations to safeguard human rights,' he said.

This is one opinion that is often unheard in the chorus of allegations. If peace is to return to Kashmir, then this point of view too needs to be publicised and the message will spread even within the ranks of the security forces. The idea that brutality and human rights violations do not have sanction of the India state will calm the anger of thousands of Kashmiri families, who might feel that the Indian government deliberately instituted these atrocities. Many prominent Indians and NGOs have been working for securing the human rights of Kashmiris and very few believe that HR violations have been instigated by Indian policy. However, these is a section of Kashmiri leaders who want the Kashmiri people to believe that the HR violations are acts of deliberate policy instructions and that the Indian government wishes to eliminate all Kashmiris. These leaders want the embers of hatred and conflict to continue burning so that at an appropriate time another uprising could be provoked. This approach is disastrous for the region and for the Kashmiri people in particular.

Stand vindicated

Pro-Pakistani elements in Kashmir have clearly used the HR issue to rouse the Kashmiri masses and are continuing to do so. Strangely, there has been no proper investigation on the killings of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims by pro-Pak forces and other militant organisations. Few groups have bothered to document what is going on the other side of Kashmir. In fact, the first report to remotely touch upon the issue was one by the European Union. Prominent members of the European Parliament have slammed the Pakistani government for lack of democracy and development in Gilgit and Baltistan areas of POK. “While Pakistan was seeking self determination in J&K, it was not even prepared to allow democracy on its side of the border", Baroness Emma Nicholson MEP said at a two-day international conference on " Constitutional political and socio-economic conditions of Gilgit-Baltistan at the European Parliament in Brussels on 8 April 2008. Nicholson, who represents the Liberal Democratic Party, had authored a report on the " Suppression of human rights" in the Northern Areas of Pok which was adopted by the EU in 2007. Geofferey Van Orden ( Member European Parliament) who participated in the conference remarked that there had been extensive political and economic development in the Indian side of J&K but it was " totally lacking" in POK. Charles Tannock, MEP from the UK, drew a sharp contrast between India and Pakistan in terms of economic development and democracy, while UNPO chief Mariono Musdschin said there could be no progress on Kashmir "till the initation of full political process in POK”.

Mischievous Intent

Yet, there is no doubt that certain forces will continue to keep the focus on the Indian side of Kashmir and constantly use HR violations to stir hatred and conflict. In April this year, for instance, one group claimed finding thousands of unmarked graves in cemeteries in 18 villages along the LoC. The allegation was that the Indian security forces had killed innocent Kashmiris and buried them in unmarked graves. It is inconceivable that anyone could bury dead bodies in village cemeteries without the knowledge of villagers. If this had happened, the villagers would have raised a big hue and cry years ago. Why project this issue now? As news of the “discovery” spread, masses in Kashmir once again erupted in anger. On 25 April, police in Srinagar fired tear gas to disperse several thousand demonstrators protesting against alleged human rights violations by Indian security forces. The protest came hours after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began a two-day visit to the troubled Himalayan region, where tens of thousands of people have been killed since a revolt against New Delhi's rule broke out in 1989. The demonstration erupted weeks after the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), an independent group in Kashmir said they discovered nearly a thousand unmarked graves in cemeteries in 18 villages close to the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. More than 3,000 people led by Kashmir's chief cleric, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, marched through streets of Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, carrying banners reading: 'Stop human rights violations.' 'We want freedom, long live Pakistan,' protestors shouted. How HR violations could be linked to pro-Pakistan slogans is both mystifying and a matter of concern. Also, how can azaadi and accession be talked about in the same breath?

Sadly, these elements often manage to rope in apparently sane elements into their machinations. Thus, recently, another human rights organisation was formed by a US-based professor, Dr. Angana Chatterji. She announced the formation of the “International Peoples' Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian Administered Kashmir” on April 5 in Srinagar. Interestingly, this organisation too insists that the focus of HR investigations should be on the Indian side of Kashmir and not in PoK too. Moreover, this is a fault finding mission. Its only aim is to slam the Indian security forces, further highlight HR issues and vitiate the situation. There is no attempt at reconciliation, offering succour to HR victims or working with the government to ensure that HR violations do not take place. Dr Chaterji like many before her, are intent on primarily demonising the Indian security forces and thereby fanning hatred. Well meaning as such endeavours usually are, these are often used for mischievous intent and that does not augur well for the peace and reconciliation process in the state of Jammu & Kashmir.