Human Rights Report Shows Worrying Trends in Post-Lockdown Kashmir
The report looks at the impact of the lockdown on J&K, on various parameters like health, press freedom and safety.
The "systematic violations of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir" that started from the abrogation of Article 370 on 4 August 2019, has "continued till date," notes a report by the Forum For Human Rights in Jammu & Kashmir.
The Forum consists of noted names in the sphere of academic and human rights, like Justice Madan Lokur, Radha Kumar, Nirupama Rao, Shantha Sinha, Air Vice-Marshal Kapil Kak, and Ramachandra Guha, amongst others.
The Forum's second report on the state of human rights in Kashmir since the abrogation looks at various parameters like civilian security, security of women and children, access to healthcare, industry and employment and the state of the media, and the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown on them.
The report covers the situation in Kashmir from August 2020 to January 2021.
"Despite replacement of ex-civil servant Lieutenant-Governor Murmu with the politician Manoj Sinha, human rights violations have continued under all five heads used in this and the August 2020 Reports. As the following sections on civilian security, children and women, health, industry and the media detail, security concerns continue to prevail over civilian welfare and humanitarian law, violence continues to rise, the economy continues to be devastated, and civil and political rights continue to be violated," the report notes.
Here are some key highlights from the report:
Security of Civilians, Women And Children
The report paints a grim picture of civilian security in the Union Territory, that seems to have been exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown. Both civilian and security forces fatalities have increased since last year, it states, as have IED blasts, grenade attacks and cross-border shelling.
"Adding to the overall fallout from recurring lockdowns, violations of civil, political and fundamental rights of civilians in the name of ‘security’ or national interest continued between August 2020-January 2021," said the report.
“Arrests and detentions of activists and politicians continued; so did the destruction of homes and civilian injuries in militant attacks and cross-border shelling. Consecutive internet restriction orders were released by the Jammu and Kashmir home department, most of them offering dubious ‘justifications’, such as unsubstantiated fears of heightened militancy during the DDC elections,” it added.
At the same time, the COVID-19 situation, coupled with erratic 2G network and internet shutdowns, continued to plague school children.
“In view of the adverse economic impact brought about by the pandemic, the Jammu and Kashmir Government ordered all private schools not to charge admission fees from students, though this order was violated by several private schools. Other fees such as tuition, annual and transport fees were to be charged according the Fee Fixation Committee’s approval. Combined with increased strains on financial resources due to the continuing lockdown, it became significantly difficult for parents to pay. Students continued to experience significant disturbance to their studies due to the combination of Covid-19 restrictions, 2G restrictions and power outages that increase in the winter. Repeated criticism has been levelled against the administration over unpredictable and frequent power outages accompanied by hikes in electricity tariffs.”Report by Forum for Human Rights In Jammu & Kashmir.
That apart, there were also instances of state clampdown on teachers and schools, and "pressure" on schools to toe the government narrative.
For women, too, cases of atrocities have climbed.
The responses by Mehram Women’s Cell, Kashmir, a nongovernmental organisation working on gender-based violence in the Kashmir valley, to a questionnaire by the Forum, showed a significant rise in domestic violence, matching an all-India and world-wide rise in the wake of the global pandemic.
Domestic violence was noted to have surged, “primarily because of proximity of perpetrators and victims” during the lockdown and due to unemployment. There have been allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment by government and army officials in the past few months.
In Kashmir, issues like like lack of running water, unmotorable roads, erratic electricity, unavailability of medical infrastructure, vacant leadership posts at the Directorate of Health Services, slow internet, and outmoded medical services have adversely affected the healthcare services available to the public.
Restrictions on movement further compounded the problem.
“Compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, overburdened hospitals and medical staff, and overwhelming delay in completing much-needed health centres, further deteriorated the state of Kashmiri citizens’ health. Unavailability of running water and safe drinking water has made life extremely difficult for residents, forcing them to consume unsafe nallah water, prompting serious health complications.”Report by Forum for Human Rights In Jammu & Kashmir.
“As highlighted in our August 2020 report, restrictions on movement of patients, such as orders under Section 144 of the CrPC, continued to impede access to quality medical care. Despite the Home Secretary’s repeated communications requesting free movement between districts in states and Union Territories, bars to intra-state travel continue to be placed by the Jammu and Kashmir administration,” it added.
Industry & Employment
The economic conditions in Kashmir have been dismal, made worse by the lockdown, as can be seen by various parameters.
The Ease of Doing Business Survey, a collaboration between the Government of India and the World Bank, gave Jammu and Kashmir the rank of 21 out of 36 states and Union Territories. NITI Aayog’s Export Preparedness Index, released in August 2020, positioned Jammu and Kashmir dead last, at the 36th rank.
The economic downturn has had an especially disastrous impact on women, as many women are refusing to get out of abusive marriages and relationships due to the lack of opportunities for becoming financially independent.
“While internet stoppages continued, an added burden during the winter was decreased access to power, caused by frequent and unpredictable power cuts. Many entrepreneurs in the valley suffered an unproductive winter, forced to work without adequate power,” the report further added.
A scab in orchards, frequent stopping of trucks ad unavailability of migrant labourers have also impacted the agriculture and horticulture industries.
The tourism industry was hit by the high court’s ban on repairing and/or reconstructing houseboats on the Dal and Nigeen lakes.
On the other hand, the unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir remained twice the all-India rate.
"In the past six months, several groups have faced non- or irregular payment of salaries and unregulated work conditions. These groups include: university employees, forest corporation employees, village defence committee members, teachers, engineers, home guards, hospital workers, daily wagers, and non-migrant Kashmiri Pandits," said the report.
Freedom of the Press
The report also talks about a "fear of intimidation" amongst the press in Kashmir.
"After the release of the new media policy in May 2020, the past six months saw a systemic use of psychological scare tactics on media professionals through physical assault, summons and harassment under various charges, administrative seizure of assets during raids, sealing of newspaper offices, illegal detentions, withdrawing advertising and militant hit-lists of journalists declared to be on the government’s payroll," the report said.
Moreover, the implementation of the new media policy has led to the dis-empanelment of about 20 media outlets in the region.
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