August 5, 2019, a year ago, the Indian government abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian constitution that gave special status and autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The move demoted the status of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to Union territory undermining the autonomy of the people of Jammu and Kashmir while bringing it directly under the control of the central government.
The move by the home minister Amit Shah was brought amidst curfew, communication blockade, and arrests of political leaders in Kashmir.
While the decision was cheered by many BJP supporters, the move brought sharp criticism from some opposition leaders and civil society activists that it has ignored the voice of the people of Kashmir and will further escalate tension in the region.
The decision had also led to protests in different parts of the country soon after the bill was passed slamming the scrapping of Article 370.
With the mobiles and internet blockade, the voices from Kashmir were not heard to the rest of the world. The only thing that came out are the reports from the civil society groups that documented how the scrapping of article 370 and the information and communication blockage has affected the people of J&K.
Human Rights Violations
From August 2019 onwards, there have been arbitrary and mass detention of politicians, activists, and children. The Public Safety Act (PSA) of J & K, a draconian law, has been used rampantly as it allows for detention without a trial for up to 2 years.
The official figures of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) show that 6,605 people, including “miscreants, stone-pelters, over ground workers (OGWs), separatists”, have been taken into preventive custody since August 2019. At least 144 of these detainees were minors, the youngest being only 9 years old. Shockingly, half of these children have been arrested under the stringent PSA, despite this being a violation of children’s rights under the law.
This was only in a month post the complete lockdown in J&K.
Even though many of these preventive detentions have no valid justification, over 400 detainees continue to remain in custody because the Supreme Court has postponed the hearing of their petitions. Most families are not informed of where their relatives are being detained and live in a state of constant anxiety about whether they are even alive or dead.
It is almost impossible to gather accurate data on state violence and related deaths, due to the overwhelming surveillance and suppression of information.
The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported that there have been 37 terrorism-related civilian deaths between August 2019 and 16 July 2020, although these represent only a partial picture. Children too have died and suffered injuries, “mainly caused by torture in detention, shootings, including from pellet guns, and cross-border shelling”.
Despite widespread human rights criticism over the use of pellet guns, the armed forces in Kashmir continue to use such weapons of excessive force against young protestors who are ‘armed’ only with small stones. Numerous instances have been reported of children being permanently blinded due to pellet gun injuries, and some have also died from the same.
Most protestors who suffer pellet injuries do not even go to the hospital for medical care due to the fear that FIRs would be filed against them.
Casualties include innocent civilians who have died from suffocation due to tear gas shells, which have been used regularly by the armed forces to disperse crowds protesting the Article 370 abrogation. The police have refused to file FIRs for such deaths caused by the state forces.
Custodial torture and killings of civilians who are picked up in arbitrary searches/raids have also been a routine occurrence. Custodial torture of young boys and men includes sexual abuse and, in some instances, has led young boys to commit suicide after being released from custody.
The reason, why even after a year of thousands of human rights violations, we Indians aren’t able to have Kashmiri voices and their narratives on mainstream media can largely be attributed to the attack on media and journalism in the region.
In Jammu & Kashmir, newspapers – both print and online- were not published for a couple of months following the abrogation of Article 370. Since criticism of the governmental actions was actively stifled upon across the region, opinions and content dwindled which has decreased their readership.
The Covid-19 lockdowns have also severely hampered journalism in the region. Also, advertisements fell drastically both from government and private players as their circulation was restricted. In a domino effect, journalists – especially the onfield reporters lost jobs.
Also, the now union territory administration under the orders of the Ministry of Home Affairs, controlled by BJP’s Home Minister Amit Shah in Union Government, has also introduced a Media Policy which seeks censorship by Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) at least for the next five years. This is a massive blow to the freedom of press and expression in a region being monitored and oppressed by the Indian army.
Mr. Modi likes to shock the population with his grand announcements be it demonetisation or nationwide lockdown. The decision to nullify article 370 and article 35A was also sprung on the Indian population in a morning announcement. The decision did not take the politicians from Jammu and Kashmir into consideration. Not just that, fearing protests from the politicians from J&K, the Indian government put the mainstream politicians into house arrest and detentions.
More than 200 politicians, including two former chief ministers of the state, were arrested, along with more than 100 leaders and activists from an umbrella organization of pro-separatist political groups.
Of the detained political leaders, more than 80 were from the People’s Democratic Party, formerly in coalition in Jammu and Kashmir state with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
About 70 are from the National Conference, which has for years dominated politics in Indian Kashmir, and more than a dozen from India’s main opposition Congress party.
This included former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Shah Faisal of `Jammu and Kashmir People´s movement´.
The Abdullahs have been released from detention after 8 months, but haven’t said much of the developments of the last year. This has put the political activities in the Valley in a frozen state.
A year later, a political vacuum still lingers in the region.
The elections to Block Development Councils (BDCs) held last October were considered as rather farcical by both the Opposition political parties and observers. The elections were held on party basis at a time when the leaders of all Opposition political parties had been incarcerated.
On March 8 this year, a former state minister Altaf Bukhari along with some two dozen-odd former belligerent lawmakers, mostly from PDP, and constituted a new political party called ‘Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party’. In the Valley, the party has, however, been largely labelled as the ‘B-team of Bharatiya Janata Party’, formed by a band of quislings from both National Conference and PDP.