Kashmir: Impact of the Lockdowns on Human Rights [See the full report below]
A detailed report on the human rights impacts of the lockdown in Kashmir, ongoing since August 2019 when Article 370 was abrogated, by concerned citizens from Tamil Nadu – jurists, civil servants, military experts, academics, activists – who formed a human rights forum for Jammu and Kashmir three months ago.
On August 4, 2019, a day before the President of India voided all clauses of Article 370 of the Indian constitution and suspended the Jammu and Kashmir constitution, the state was put under a total lockdown. Around 38,000 additional troops were flown in to enforce the lockdown, which closed markets, educational institutions and all public spaces for several weeks. Internet and telephone services were snapped, curfew was declared, public assembly was prohibited under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC),1 and thousands, including minors and almost all the elected legislators of Jammu and Kashmir (excluding those belonging to the BJP), were put under preventive detention. Five days later, the Parliament of India passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, dividing the state into two Union Territories, of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. In the months that followed, national political figures were denied permission to enter the former state and were turned back from Srinagar airport.
The economic, social and political impact of these actions, and their long duration – eleven months thus far – have been disastrous. All the former state’s industries suffered severe blows, pushing the majority into loan defaults or even closure; hundreds of thousands lost their jobs or underwent salary deferment or cuts; closures of schools and universities gravely impaired education and added to the trauma of children and parents; healthcare was severely restricted by curfew and roadblocks; the local and regional media lost what little independence they had.
Worst of all, there was no elected representative to advocate the interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, since the majority of political leaders were put in preventive detention. Moreover, many of those that were released, gradually over the past eleven months, had to pledge that they would not criticize government actions. Statutory bodies to which citizens could go to seek redress virtually ceased to exist, since all the state commissions– for human rights, women and child rights, anti-corruption and the right to information – were closed when the state was divided into Union Territories, and the Union Government decided not to reinstate them, even though Union Territories too are entitled to independent statutory bodies for oversight.
As a result, there has been a near-total alienation of the people of the Kashmir valley from the Indian state and people. While alienation of the people of Jammu is not as severe, their concerns over economic and educational losses as well as policies such as the new domicile rules, are as substantial.
It is in this context that the Human Rights Forum for Jammu and Kashmir was formed. This Report seeks to document the numerous human rights violations in the former state over the past eleven and a half months (August 4, 2019 to July 19, 2020) under five broad heads: civilian security, health, children and youth, industry and media. Its findings are as follows:
- Counter-insurgency concerns have been given absolute priority over public, civilian and human security, leading to 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. There has been a denial of the right to bail and fair and speedy trial, coupled with misuse of draconian legislation, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent.
- In the same manner, the eleven months of lockdown, which saw frequent closures, harassment at barricades and checkpoints, and restrictions on mobile telephony and internet connectivity, have enormously impacted public health, and caused trauma and stress amongst the people of Jammu and Kashmir, violating the rights to health and medical care under the Indian, and Jammu and Kashmir, constitutions. The rights of children to a trauma-free environment have been arbitrarily ignored.
- The impact on education has been 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. Graduate students and teachers have been unable to participate in conferences or have their papers published, causing wilful harm to their careers and violating the rights to education under the Indian, and Jammu and Kashmir, constitutions.
- Local and regional industries have suffered large losses in every sector. Many companies that are heavily or solely reliant on 4G networks that are available in the rest of the country, such as tourism and cottage industries, have been forced out of business. The new domicile rules introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Jammu and Kashmir administration, moreover, erode prior employment protections for permanent residents of the former state.
- The local media has been one of the worst sufferers. 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. The new media policy, which introduces censorship by the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) in coordination with security agencies, is a death blow to the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression.
- Moreover, the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s decision to notify areas of the former state as ‘strategic areas’ for development by the army suggests further expansion of the military presence in hinterland and border areas.