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Fact Finding Report KASHMIR: Imprisoned Resistance released in New Delhi

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New Delhi, India: Fact Finding Report KASHMIR: Imprisoned Resistance 5th August and its aftermath has been released at Press Club of India here today, reports DND News Agency.

The Report is work of a team of 11 senior lawyers, trade union and human rights activists and a psychiatrist who visited Kashmir from 28 September to October 4, 2019.

Report indicates that Indian soldiers sexually abuse Kashmiris and it was observed in Report that the blatant abuse of power, the violent aggression and extreme forms of abuse (physical, sexual and emotional) unleashed on the Kashmiri people has caused deep and destructive trauma that may take generations to heal.

Report indicates that cases of illegal detentions of minors and adults alike. There are cases of torture and sexually abuse by the armed forces. In some instances, the torture is carried out with loudspeakers on, for the surrounding community to hear the victim scream as he is getting brutalised.

Press conference and release of the report of the All India Fact Finding team that visited Jammu & Kashmir and investigated into abuses, lockdown and siege and the civil defiance. Gautam Mody, Dr. Amit Sen, Adv. Veena Gowda and.jpg

Press conference and release of the report of the All India Fact Finding team that visited Jammu & Kashmir and investigated into abuses, lockdown and siege and the civil defiance. Gautam Mody, Dr. Amit Sen, Adv. Veena Gowda and.jpgTeam documented the state of life in Indian Occupied Kashmir under curfew and communication blackout.

This is seventh Fact Finding Report released in India which confirms purge of Kashmiri people in Indian Occupied Kashmir.

“Indian Army fighting against its own society”, indicates Facts Finding Report to be released on October 31 in Press Club of India New Delhi
“Indian Army fighting against its own society”, indicates Facts Finding Report to be released on October 31 in Press Club of India New Delhi

Summary of the report

An eleven-member team comprising advocates, trade union and human rights activists and a psychiatrist visited the Kashmir Division from September 28 – October 4, 2019. 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.

The team comprised Aarti Mundkur (Advocate, Bengaluru), Amit Sen (Psychiatrist, New Delhi), Clifton D’ Rozario (Advocate and member All India People’s Forum, Bengaluru), Gautam Mody (New Trade Union Initiative, New Delhi), Lara Jesani (Advocate, Mumbai and member, People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Mihir Desai (Senior Advocate, Mumbai and People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Nagari Babaiah (People’s Democratic Forum, Bengaluru), Ramdas Rao (All India People’s Forum, Bengaluru), Saranga Ugalmugle (Advocate, Mumbai/Goa), Swathi Seshadri (Independent Researcher, Bengaluru) and Veena Gowda (Advocate, Mumbai and People’s Union for Civil Liberties).

The report is based on our visit to different districts in the Kashmir valley (Read as Indian Occupied Kashmir), our visits to the High Court, District Courts and other quasi-judicial institutions, our interactions with the lawyers, health and mental health professionals, traders, people of Kashmir and victims of state perpetrated violence. Details of the same are covered in the report.

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. By the 6th evening, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 was also passed by both the houses of Parliament, which bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir state into 2 union territories – Jammu and Kashmir (union territory with state legislature), Ladakh (union territory without state legislature). Vide notification dated 9th August, the appointed day for the bifurcation Act, was declared to be October 31, 019.

Since the midnight of August 4, 2019, anticipating a widespread resistance from the people, there has 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.

​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.

This report seeks to draw attention to the history of Jammu and Kashmir valley (read as Indian Occupied Kashmir) 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.

Normalcy, redefined

We realised that the narrative that was presented by the Indian government with the help of media houses was far from the reality. 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.

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.

Traveling 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 August 5. Only those with private vehicles are able to travel, that too with much difficulty given the barbed wires at multiple locations.

Though landline services were eventually restored, we learnt that very few houses actually have functioning landlines, since most people today use mobile phones. Though the mobile phones and internet services have been shut down, we found out that several middle level government employees with a functioning mobile telephone and some service providers to the government as well. Yet not only have the people of the Valley have been deprived of this basic necessity, but the arrogance of the Indian state is such that they are told that people lived without phones in the past and that it is not a basic right.

Besides this, the Primary Health Centres (PHCs) are barely working or are closed and people undertake immense hardship to reach Srinagar for medical treatment. PHCs at village level and district hospital are functioning. Tertiary hospitals located in Srinagar are difficult to access and is an expensive feat. Anganwadis are closed since August 5. The schools were shut in the beginning and hough they have now been opened by the state, parents have not been sending their kids to schools, both- as a matter of protest as well as due to their fear of the safety of their children.

The situation of the press was no different. Many newspapers have discharged their reporters since they are unable to pay salaries. A journalist we met informed us that there was constant surveillance and policing at the only Media Centre in Srinagar and at the Srinagar Press Club, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in which journalists could not possibly function with any semblance of independence.

The situation in Kashmir has led to a complete loss of press freedoms. On the other hand, people we met unanimously communicated their anger and the sense of betrayal felt by them, to a major part, towards the bias and false reporting by the Indian mainstream media, and also towards the silence of the local media in the face of numerous newsworthy truths of the hardships, violations and tragedies faced by the people, which were not making it to the newspapers.

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

Expressing their discontent, the locals informed us that, “They say there is a Hurriyat Calendar but there isn’t, there is only the calendar of the ‘Uparwala’. The Government thought there will be widespread bloodshed and protests but God has told us to keep silence not the Hurriyat. We have done nothing, everything has been done by the Government. They send away the tourists and the yatries. The yatris left without even a darshan. We would not have done anything, we carry them on our backs.”

This being the situation of the basic fundamental requirements of a functioning democratic state, we realised that the Valley was no where close to being called “normal”.

Structured state violence

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 is the bare armed power of the Indian State staring them down.

Since August 5, 2019, armed forces are conducting raids on villages and localities in the city almost every night, and most definitely if there is 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 people feel that the night raids are not accidental and are designed to terrorise.

This is accentuated by the practice of torture not just in the army camps and police stations, but also right outside the houses, on the streets and in the local mosques. These night raids, coupled with the high density of militarization, are a method of saturating control. The specific instances of the same as narrated to us are enumerated in the report at length.

We further encountered, numerous cases of illegal detentions of minors and adults alike. There are cases of torture by the armed forces. In some instances, the torture is carried out with loudspeakers on, for the surrounding community to hear the victim scream as he is getting brutalised.

We also met with families wherein there have been deaths due to tear gas shelling at the protesters. What remains a big question in this situation is, when the armed forces and other bodies of the state are indulging in such violations, where is the innocent victim supposed to go for redressal?

One person told us that: “The Army is fighting a war against our society and religion; this is not any security action anymore. 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”. This is the new normal in the Valley.

Inaccessible justice?

Rule of law and democratic governance demands strong institutional checks and balances. 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.

Advocates who we met in the High Court as well as the district courts informed us that, while the entire judiciary has been rendered non-operational due to the communications blockade and movement restrictions, the lawyers too have taken the decision to boycott the regular court proceedings over the abrogation of Article 370, communication blockade and systemic clampdown by the State and treatment meted out to lawyers..

Advocates further spoke of the lock down of communications resulting in litigants being forced to come in person to meet their advocates. They stated that they are unable to communicate with each other or with their clients, causing a great deal of difficulty and hampering of their work.

Prior to August 5, 2019 there were approximately 200 habeas corpus petitions pending, now there are more than 600. From August 5, 2019 more than 330 Habeas Corpus petitions had been filed till September 30, 2019. There are countless detentions that are unlawful, hence, no one except the State knows how many persons are illegally detained.

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.

Meanwhile, the accused were being booked in further cases, thereby ensuring continued incarceration. We were also informed that trials were merely getting adjourned since witnesses in most cases were unable to come to the courts.

Alarmingly, the advocates informed us that they are operating in an atmosphere of terror since most of their elected representatives in the Bar Associations of the High Court and the districts were arrested and detained under PSA while others have been threatened with the same fate if they speak against the Central Government’s unilateral decisions to abrogate Article 370.

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.

Trauma, not just on the body, but on the mind as well

A child psychiatrist from the Team did the rounds of the mental health services in Srinagar, on day 2 and 3, and interacted with psychiatrists, therapists, counsellors and social workers who are providing mental health services in Srinagar and other places in the valley.

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 has caused deep and destructive trauma that may take generations to heal.

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.

Conclusions and recommendations

There is no doubt the decision of the Indian government has been opposed by various sections of Indian society too, including the members and organisations of this Team, and demands have been made that 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.

  • Following this, in order to find a lasting and peaceful solution the Government of India must
  1. Recognise that a dispute exists between peoples of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian ​government.
  2. Repeal the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 and the Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990. ​
  3. Withdraw all army and para-military forces from civilian areas of Jammu and Kashmir.
  4. Open a transparent unconditional dialogue with the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir and their representatives so as to address peoples’ 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.
Central Desk
Central News Desk.

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