‘No Normalcy, No Access to Justice’: Fact-Finding Team on Kashmir
The team found that access to healthcare, education, judicial systems were compromised with people living in fear.
Nearly three months after the central government decided to abrogate Article 370 on 5 August, effectively revoking the special status given to Kashmir and Jammu, two Union Territories, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, came into existence on 31 October.
On the same day, a fact-finding team comprising lawyers, activists, researchers and a medical doctor among others, released their report at Bangalore Press Club, based on their visit to different districts of the Kashmir division from 28 September-4 October to understand the reality first-hand in the midst of a communications blockade enforced by the state.
“One thing that we saw was anguish among the people, at their own plight and at the way people from other states were driven out of Kashmir post 5 August. There is not a shred of normalcy. The current government is only implementing the fascist agenda of the RSS, not caring about the Parliament,” Bengaluru-based advocate and member of All India People’s Forum Clifton D’ Rozario told The Quint.
According to the report, the team visited various courts, quasi judicial institutions, and spoke with traders, health professionals and citizens, including victims of alleged state violence.
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) and Veena Gowda (Advocate, Mumbai and People’s Union for Civil Liberties).
According to members of the team that visited this Kashmir, the report is an attempt to present an argument on the behalf of the people of Kashmir, that they are unhappy with the situation.
“We must view the self-imposed hartal, people not opening their businesses and the unwillingness to step out of their homes as their resistance to what is happening. That is why the government is forced to take out full page ads in newspapers, requesting people to lead normal lives,” said D’ Rozario.
‘No Shred of Normalcy’
According to the report, the narrative presented by the Indian government and their effort to “portray a sense of normalcy in the valley” is far from the reality.
Access to medical care in Srinagar, is possible only when people “undertake immense hardship to reach Srinagar for medical treatment” but PHCs at the village level and district hospitals are functioning. While schools have reopened, the report states that people are unwilling to send their children “both- as a matter of protest as well as due to their fear of the safety of their children”.
“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.
Though landline services were restored, many households failed to benefit with people mainly using mobiles to communicate. According to the report, fixed line phones “constitute only 1 percent of total phone connections of which we learnt that nearly two-thirds are with the Government”.
Access to medical care in Srinagar, is possible only when people “undertake immense hardship to reach Srinagar for medical treatment” but PHCs at the village level and district hospitals are functioning. While schools have reopened, the report states that people are unwilling to send their children “both- as a matter of protest as well as due to their fear of the safety of their children”. Public buildings, including schools and PHCs have been occupied by the armed forces since July 2019,
The visiting team was told by local journalists 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.” People also reportedly attributed their anger and sense of betrayal to “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”.
Both access to medical care as well as education was fraught with difficulty, especially in Srinagar.
Government Services Discontinued, Banking Down
From the postal service to the banking sector, all services have taken a hit in Kashmir.
“The sorting offices have been closed since 5 August. Post has neither been collected nor been delivered since 5 August. One person felt that this was to ensure that no applications under the Right to Information can be filed and government is under no obligation to respond to them within the stipulated time,” reads the report.
The manager of a public sector bank reportedly informed the team that “commercial and private transactions in the branch were down to less than 10% of their monetary value when compared to prior to 5 August” while “several bank branches outside the centre of Srinagar were non-functioning or only partially functional.”
‘People in the Valley Have Adopted Hartal in Response to the ‘Siege’’
“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 observed.
“The Government thought there will be widespread bloodshed and protests but God has told us to keep silent not the Hurriyat. We have done nothing, everything has been done by the Government. They send away the tourists and the yatris. The yatris left without even a darshan. We would not have done anything, we carry them on our backs.”Locals to the fact-finding team
Night Raids, Harassment and Humiliation
The report refers to entire villages being rendered sleepless to the enduring threat of nightly raids, where “ people said that they barge into the village screaming abuses and throwing stones on the houses breaking window panes... 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.”
The team also claims to have encountered several cases of illegal detention of both children and adults as well as torture.
The report also found that: “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.”
‘Access to Justice a Mere Mirage’
The report noted that while the communication blockade had rendered the entire machinery of the judiciary non-operational. the lawyers were also boycotting court proceedings as a sign of protest.
“Prior to 5 August, 2019 there were approximately 200 habeas corpus petitions pending, now there are more than 600. From 5 August, 2019 more than 330 Habeas Corpus petitions had been filed till 30 September, 2019. There are countless detentions that are unlawful, hence, no one except the State knows how many persons are illegally detained,” read the report.
The team was told by the lawyers from the TADA court that “scores of youth and men were being picked up and charged in these FIRs which were in some cases more than a year old” as stone-pelting FIRs were ‘open FIRs’. They were also operating under fear as “most of their elected representatives in the Bar Associations of the high court and the districts were arrested and detained under PSA”.
‘Recommendations for the Way Ahead’
The report listed the following four recommendations for the government to follow as a corrective measure:
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.
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