By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal
Recently, Indian Home Secretary, G K Pillai floated the test balloon that Indian government was contemplating reduction of the Force level in IHK by 25 per cent, in the next 12 months, as a confidence building measure. The idea has however stirred up an interesting controversy in India.
While commenting on Indian government’s intent to cut down the troop’s strength in IHK, BJP’s state president Shamsher Singh said, “It is an open fact that India’s administration over Jammu and Kashmir is based on presence of armed forces here. So if there is troop-cut then neighbours like China Pakistan and Afghanistan won’t sit silent… decision of reducing troops in J&K is not acceptable at this point of time. It would be a grave mistake.”
General Officer Commanding of India’s 15 Corps, Lieutenant General S A Hasnain declared that decision for reduction of troops can be taken only after terror infrastructure across the border is demolished. Indian Army chief, General V K Singh, has also opposed the government’s move. He said, “We have not yet felt that we have to cut down our forces. If they want to cut down paramilitary and police forces, I won’t say anything.”
Kashmiris are fighting for their birth right of self-determination by following the principles of United Nations Charter that the link between Human Rights and self-determination is like body and soul. Human Watch (HW) has recently voiced serious concern over the human rights excesses committed by Indian Army and paramilitaries. Extrajudicial executions are common in Kashmir. Impunity has been enabled by Indian Law. Indian forces have shot hundreds of civilians under the authority of laws like the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
The Human Watch has accused India for failing in putting an end to the widespread impunity, which the international body believes fuels conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. The HW says: “Indian security forces have committed torture, disappearances, and arbitrary detentions, and they continue to execute Kashmiris in faked encounter killings”.
About prevailing circumstances in Kashmir, Human Watch Chief said the situation is very critical. “There is fear all around. Every Kashmiri I meet tells me that they are not sure who will be tortured, enforced to disappearances, arrested, and killed in a fake encounter…No civilized state can have security services that have the right to shoot to kill”. He further said, “India is a very large power. It needs to set an example by respecting human rights… It’s absurd that the world’s largest democracy, with a well-developed legal system and internationally recognized judiciary, has laws on its books that prevent members of its security forces from being prosecuted for human rights abuses…It’s time for the Indian government to repeal laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Disturbed Area Act and Public Safety Act, and recommit itself to justice for victims of all abuses, whoever the perpetrators may be.” Despite a wand of constitutional and legislative arrangements, the international laws against Human Rights violations are not ‘self-executing’ in India.
The UN Special Rapporteur, Ms Margaret Sekaggya, after concluding a recent visit to IHK and Indian states of Gujarat, West Bengal, Assam and Orissa, told media men that the human rights of the people were being violated. The special rapporteur was appointed by the Geneva based Human Rights Council to assess the condition of ‘human rights defenders’ in the Kashmir Valley. She will soon file a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Ms Margaret Sekaggya addressed a news conference in New Delhi, she seriously objecting to the laws, giving Indian security forces, wide-ranging powers of arrest, illegal detention and torture to the people of IHK. She particularly mentioned that, during her visit to the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir, she learnt through the grieved families about the “killing, torture, ill-treatment, disappearances, threats, arbitrarily arrests and detention,” of their loves one by Indian security forces.
Despite Indian agencies’ warning to the locals not to give interviews to the visiting Special Rapporteur, members of civil society, Kashmir University students and a delegation of the High Court Bar Association held separate meetings with the UN Rapporteur in Srinagar, and informed her about massacre of hundreds of innocent Kashmiris and detention of thousands of others by Indian authorities under draconian laws. During her briefings at New Delhi, India portrayed Kashmiris engaged in armed struggle against illegal and illegitimate occupation of Jammu and Kashmir as terrorists. They were linked with Taliban, al-Qaeda and cross border terrorism to raise international sentiments against them.
Indian agencies did not allow Margaret to deviate from the carefully tailored programme, in the name of threat to her life. However, she managed to meet many Kashmiris who gave her fair idea about Indian Army, paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies’ human rights violations and war crimes. Margaret maintained that throughout her mission, she heard numerous testimonies about male and female human rights defenders and their families, who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, falsely charged, disappeared, arbitrarily arrested and detained, or their offices raided and files stolen, because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights. Syed Ali Shah Geelani said: “If the UN Rapporteur is serious, she should visit the jails and families of the victims of Indian state terrorism,” but Indian agencies did not allow her free access there and only those prisoners and families were allowed to interact who projected Indian viewpoint.
Ms Sekaggya particularly insisted for the immediate repeal of two laws viz; the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act. India enforced these inhuman laws in Kashmir, in 1990s, after the massive public uprisings in the State, against the illegal Indian occupation. These special legal provisions contravene most of the human rights provisions laid down in international human rights instruments to which India is a party, notably the right to life and the right not to be subjected to torture or to arbitrary arrest and detention.
The discriminatory laws permit people to be detained for a period up to two years on vaguely defined grounds to prevent them “from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the state or the maintenance of public order”. The broad definition of this act permits the authorities to detain persons without trial for simply asking whether the state of Jammu and Kashmir should remain part of India.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act gives special powers to the army and other central forces operating in IHK. Act authorises that even a non-commission officer can enter a house, search and can arrest without any warrant, can even shoot on mere suspicion. No penal action can be taken against the forces without prior sanction of the Central Government.
Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), is yet another discriminatory law, enforced in the Occupied State to maltreat the Kashmiris. This cruel act allows the authorities to arrest and detain people just on mere suspicion and people can be remanded up to 60 days in police custody. Amnesty International has found that provisions of TADA are a gross violation of the international Human Rights Laws.
It is doubtful whether the observations made by the UN Special Rapporteur’ will carry any weight with the powers that be in New Delhi to take any concrete steps for putting an end to grave human rights abuses which have gone unabated at least for the past two decades.