From Media to Child Rights, How Abrogating Article 370 Has Hit J&K
Justice AP Shah, Radha Kumar & Enakshi Ganguly discuss the findings of their report on the impact on human rights.
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5 August will mark one year since the Modi 2.0 government pulled off an audacious political move by effectively abrogating Article 370 and thereby ending Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under the Constitution.
The months following the move saw J&K downgraded from statehood, bifurcated into two Union Territories, and placed under a strict lockdown, with movement restricted and all communication services blocked.
The moves were challenged in the Supreme Court, which is yet to hear the petitions against the ending of J&K’s special status, and which despite holding that aspects of the restrictions under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) were illegal, failed to take any action against the government.
On 23 July, the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir released a report on the impact of the lockdowns on human rights in J&K.
Co-chaired by former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan Lokur and former member of the Group of Interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir Radha Kumar, the report released days short of the one-year anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 details the trauma of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Quint spoke to Radha Kumar as well as other key members of the Forum, Justice AP Shah (former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court) and Enakshi Ganguly (co-founder of the Haq Centre for Child Rights) about their findings.
A DEATH BLOW TO PRESS FREEDOM
“J&K media were among the first to bear the brunt of the August 2019 lockdown,” explained Justice Shah, pointing out that at first the media were unable to report at all due to the lockdown and communications blackout.
Even after operations resumed, however, the government took steps to censor anything critical of the government line, and the continuing restriction on 4G, and frequent internet shutdowns have continued to make things difficult for them.
In the midst of this has now come the ‘New Media Policy’, which Justice Shah describes as follows:
“The media policy enables policing of the media. It sits in judgement as to what constitutes ‘anti-social’ or ‘anti-national’ news. And this again, involves security agencies which virtually gives a death blow to any remaining media independence in J&K.”
Noting that this is the first time since the Emergency that such a media policy has been adopted by the government, he also warned of how this not only creates a “climate of fear” among journalists, but also creates conditions for FIRs against those who don’t toe the government line.
A WORSE IMPACT ON HEALTHCARE ACCESS THAN THE COVID LOCKDOWN
Radha Kumar, one of the foremost experts on conflict areas and peace-building, discussed how limited access to healthcare was during the first four-month lockdown imposed in the aftermath of the abrogation.
During the lockdown, she explains:
“it was impossible for patients either to get to clinics or hospitals or to communicate with their doctors over the telephone. Moreover, pharmaceutical shops were closed medicine deliveries were not made. And so there were acute shortages of vital medicines especially for patients in a serious condition.”
SUPREME COURT FAILS TO PROTECT LIBERTY OF PEOPLE OF J&K
Justice AP Shah also took exception to the Supreme Court’s failure to take up the habeas corpus petitions brought before it, instead inserting baseless conditions as in the Tarigami case, or just not hearing the cases, which followed thousands of people being detained without committing any offence.
He found it strange that the courts were willing to be mute spectators to this trampling of the liberty of the people of J&K, and cautioned that if this was how rights were going to be ignored, the Constitution would remain “a mirage.”
“Liberty is the most sacred thing under the Constitution. The whole edifice of Article 21 is built around personal liberty. And this liberty can be compromised in a very easy way by the government and the courts are mute spectators.”
WORRYING IMPACT ON CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH
Enakshi Ganguly, child rights expert, explained that in addition to the obvious human rights violations when it came to detention of children in J&K, some just nine years old, the impact of it on the mental health of all children was even more worrying, thanks to the disruptions created in their lives – which are continuing now with the COVID-19 pandemic as well.
Ganguly recommends that this needs to be addressed immediately, perhaps by looking at an order by the apex court on a petition about child rights in J&K:
“The Supreme Court of India had in its order spoken of ensuring mental health services being reached to all these children. We need to know whether that is happening. Whether the district mental health centres have been opened, whether the children are getting those services.”
IMPACT ON BUSINESSES AND INDUSTRIES
Radha Kumar also warns that there have been severe losses to business and industry in J&K ever since the abrogation of Article 370, thanks to the lockdowns and the internet restrictions, which has also led to an incredibly high unemployment rate.
In Kashmir alone, the losses are estimated to be around Rs 17,000 crore during the first four months of the lockdown – adding Jammu to the mix doubles this figure. While IT-reliant industries were an obvious victim, the lockdown didn’t spare traditional powerhouses of the J&K economy either, with tourism suffering a major blow, as she explains:
“The major sufferers were industries such as the fruit industry which contributed 10 percent to Kashmir’s GDP. Tourism, which contributed 8 percent to Kashmir’s GDP suffered a huge loss – almost a total closure. The IT-reliant industries, many of the smaller companies were forced out of business. Handicrafts, many of the small self-employed groups have been forced out of business.”
Kumar also notes that despite all these losses, the government had not allocated any compensation for these losses, imposed by the Centre on the people of J&K without their consent, in the Budget presented in March.
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