Human Rights Violations, Curbs on Media: Report on J&K Lockdown
‘On 4 August, the phones suddenly stopped ringing in the Valley and the internet vanished,’ the report notes.
Closure of schools and universities, snapping of telephone and internet services and the loss of thousands of jobs – these were some of the consequences of the 11-month lockdown enforced by the Indian government, starting 4 August 2019.
A recent report by the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir has stated that there were “across-the-board violation of human rights” and “frequent closures, harassment at barricades and checkpoints,” among various other restrictions of basic freedoms and access to legal aid.
It makes note of the the severe economic and humanitarian crises of the past year, since the abrogation of Article 370 and the reorganisation of the erstwhile state into Union Territories.
Covering civilian security, health, children and youth, industry and media, the report also offers recommendations for “balancing security considerations with public interest”.
Other members of the Forum include Rumal Pal, Lieutenant-General HS Panag (retd), Air Vice-Marshal Kapil Kak (retd), Ramachandra Guha, writer and historian, and former Indian foreign security Nirupama Rao, among others.
The report noted that there had been an “across-the-board violation of human rights, including the vitiation of protections such as habeas corpus, prevention of illegal detention and strict restrictions on arrest and detention of children.”
Mass detentions of politicians and activists, including three former chief ministers and 144 minors were reported after 4 August. The youngest detained child is reportedly 9-years-old.
The Forum’s analysis of news reports stated that “the bulk of child and civilian casualties in 2020 were caused by crossfire between militants and security forces,” along with leaving minors with grave mental trauma.
Impact on Children and Youth
The report states that “the rights of children to a trauma-free environment have been arbitrarily ignored” with the impact on education being “particularly severe”.
“Schools and colleges functioned for barely 100 days between 2019 and 2020 (the bulk of which were pre-August 2019). After the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the limiting of networks to 2G has made it impossible for online classes to function adequately.”Report
According to the UN Secretary General’s June 2020 report on children in armed conflict, 68 children between the ages of 9 and 17 were detained in Jammu and Kashmir on national security-related charges, including one for actual or alleged association with armed groups.
The Forum’s report states that it is unclear about the number of children in detention in June 2020.
“Even when the Jammu and Kashmir administration allowed schools to reopen, two months after the August lockdown, many parents were not willing to send their children to school as they felt it was unsafe, and with the closure of mobile telephony they would not be able to contact them if needed,” the report stated.
According to one mother from Srinagar quoted in the report, children felt “mentally drained” and 12- to 15-year-olds, especially, have become “less tolerant and aggressive”.
A legal and development practitioner added that children as young as 10-years-old had started to ask questions “beyond their age after August 2019”, and that too “in a challenging tone”. With parents’ insecurity at an all-time high, “no parent will be willing to send their kids to school”.
Post-graduate students, researchers and university fellows faced additional obstacles to professional activities. Apart from being severely hampered in their research, they could not attend conferences, or send papers for publication.
Impact on Health
As per the responses to a questionnaire circulated among doctors, medical personnel, patients and relatives, “August-October 2019 lockdown appears to have had a far more severe impact on health and healthcare than the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown.”
“The COVID situation, although a tough one as well, does not seem as bad. Though movement is restricted, it’s not entirely curbed. Hospitals are running and medical staff is in place. Cellular network and 2G internet services are a breather, making access to medical personnel and ambulances easier, unlike post August 2019. But communication gets snapped every now and then and we can feel the same helplessness in such times,” said one respondent.
Though traffic curbs may have eased during the COVID-19 lockdown, several doctors have been held up and even beaten up at check-posts, which continue to be in place, the report said.
“According to the president of the Doctors Association of Kashmir, 4G internet is absolutely imperative to ‘reduce the pressure on hospitals and minimise the risk of hospitals turning into COVID 19 hotspots’… doctors in America had their patients calling them and they were interacting with their family physicians video-graphically,” the report noted.
When it comes to non-COVID-19 care, according to an online survey conducted by ‘Child Relief and You’, “77 percent of respondents from Jammu and Kashmir said they had not been able to access immunisation services for children aged 1-5, as compared to 63 percent for the rest of north India”.
An exponential rise in mental health problems coupled with the stress of not being able to pay for medical care, due to lost jobs and closure of companies, has been one of the major results of the 11-month lockdown. “Undoubtedly the most widespread and long-lasting impact of the lockdown since August 2019, which was accompanied by rising conflict, has been on mental health.”
Several respondents also reportedly said that “ten months of joblessness due to the lockdown from August 2019 till today had caused their own healthcare constraints.”
Industry & Employment Suffered
Before the lockdown started, in August 2019, Kashmir was reportedly one of the well-performing states of India, economically as well as on the human development index.
“By end December 2019, the economy of the Valley was in dire straits. In four months of the lockdown, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) said, Kashmir’s industries suffered a loss of Rs 17,878.18 crore (roughly $2.4 billion), while job losses in the Valley were just under half a million (497,000), ” the report states.
One respondent said that the stress of not working, job security and other things were grave concerns for employees.
The most affected sectors were agriculture and horticulture, construction, handicrafts, manufacturing, real estate, transport, tourism, IT and small businesses, including start-ups, and financial services, the bulk of which have seen a drop of 50 percent in earnings.
The tourism industry reportedly contributes eight percent of the state’s gross domestic product. “By the end of 2019, tourist receipts were down 71 percent, according to government figures, and between 86-90 percent according to industry reports,” said the report.
Impact on Media
The local media in Jammu and Kashmir were one of the first services to take a hit, the Forum’s report noted. With all communication suspended and Section 144 imposed across the state, no newspapers were published for two months.
“First we were denied curfew passes and when someone somehow got it, his or her movement was restricted. At times, the internet is banned on the same day as we have to submit our story on which we have spent days and nights. Sometimes, we film videos of great importance but can’t upload because of reduced net speed. Higher quality pictures suffer,” said one respondent.
The report noted that “journalists have been harassed and even had draconian charges slapped on them, for example under the UAPA. Their content, readership and revenues have suffered such a sharp decline that dozens of journalists have lost their jobs.”
Citing examples of Masrat Zahra and Gowhar Geelani, who were booked under UAPA, the report noted that their arrests were taken as learnings by the rest of the local media. Intended initially to be used to target terrorist organisations, the UAPA is being used for the prosecution of individuals.
Apart from both direct and indirect intimidation of editors and proprietors, curbs on movement and restriction to 2G services severely restricted information flow.
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.