New Report Lifts the Veil of Fabricated Normalcy in Post-Article 370 Kashmir

Titled “Imprisoned Resistance: 5th August and its Aftermath”, the report uncovers the façade of ‘normalcy’ in the Valley that the government has tried to create.

Image Credit: BBC

An eleven-member team comprising advocates, trade union and human rights activists and a psychiatrist visited Kashmir with a view to understand the situation persisting in the two months since theabrogation of Article 370, as well as to assess the quality of access to justice in these circumstances.They have put together their findings in a report titled, “Imprisoned Resistance: 5th August and its Aftermath”, set to launch today.Here is a complete breakdown of their findings from the report.

This report seeks to draw the attention to the valley’s history while understanding the events just before and after the August 5, 2019. In the report, the team uncovers the collective aspirations of the people of Kashmir, the ongoing committed resistance of the people, theresulting structured state violence, the systematic denial of any legal recourse and the observable judicial trends from the time of the abrogation.

The team comprised Advocates Aarti Mundkur, Clifton D’ Rozario, Lara Jesani, Mihir Desai, Saranga Ugalmugle, and Veena Gowda, along with activists, Gautam Mody, Nagari Babaiah, Ramdas Rao, independent researcher Swathi Seshadri, and consulting psychiatrist Dr. Amit Sen. Together, they spent a week in the newly constituted Kashmir Divison from September 28 to October 4.

In this time, they visited localities of Srinagar as well as villages in districts of Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam, and Baramulla. Each member brought their expertise to the team’s investigations.

They visited the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and met with Chief Justice Gita Mittal.They covered District Courts in Srinagar, Kulgam and Shopian, along with the TADA Court and the J&K State Human Rights Commission Justice, where they met its Chairman Justice(Rtd.) Bilal Nazki. They also examined the functioning of the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) and the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Srinagar. Furthermore they visited the Post Office as well as public sector banks of Srinagar, along with the Parimpora and Sopore mandis.

The team members met with psychiatrists, medical health professionals, therapists, counsellors andsocial workers who are providing mental health services. They reached out to hawkers, traders and representatives of the JKCCI, and also therepresentatives of the Kashmiri Pandit community. While the team did try to meet the police authorities, specifically the DGP and the IGP, they were turned awayat the reception.

Let us have a look at their findings:

The week that preceded the abrogation
The team reports that an atmosphere of terror and panic was deliberately createdin the Valley prior to the announcement of abrogation. Towards the end of July, almost 38,000 additional troops were deployed in Kashmir, and further additions were made subsequently in early August.People were angry about the heightened presence of armed forces on the streets. Rumours were afloat that some “big” decision, like abrogating Article 370 ofthe Indian Constitution was about to be taken.

Panic spread in the Valley as falsehoods were floated in the form of the Security Advisory issued on August 2 by the State Government of Jammu and Kashmir, which stated:
“Keeping in view the latest intelligence inputs of terror threats, with specific targeting ofthe Amarnath Yatra, and given the prevailing security situation in the Kashmir Valley, inthe interest of safety and security of the tourists and Amarnath Yatris, it is advised that they may curtail their stay in the valley immediately and take necessary measures toreturn as soon as possible.”

Students faced immense hardships as all colleges were forcibly closed and hostels forcibly vacated.The armed forces came to pick up the non-Kashmiri students, and dropped them to the airport so they could leave Kashmir.The report notes that local students were also told to pack up and get ready to go back to their villages and that vehicles were being organized for their conveyance. However, nohelp arrived and they were left stranded in the midst of the curfew without food and water. Eventually they were physically driven out of the hostels by the forces and had to walk back to their villages, which took more than a day in the case of some students.

All forms of communications were cut off for the Valley folk on August 4,2019, without any formal order or warning.Then on August 5, 2019, Kashmir and its people were put on lockdown under CrPC’s Section 144.All this with the chilling silence from the media created an information blackhole in Kashmir.

Normalcy, interrupted
The team reports traffic jams were artificially created in Srinagar using road blocks so as to then capture images of normalcy with drone cameras. The Police even impound vehicles for minor traffic violations and file cases in courts in order to show normalcy in their area. The team witnessed what seems to have been ingrained as a new sense of ‘normal’ among the locals—Kashmiri youth and the army were pelting stones at each other as life went on for the rest of the neighbourhood. They witnessed a woman and a child wait by the roadside for the stone throwing to stop, as a police van approached the lane to capture the youth.

Mobility had been restricted within Srinagar and other towns; travelling in the Valley has become a nearimpossibility for people who rely on public transport. The city bus service in Srinagar along with bus services between various towns have been suspended operations since August 5. No one at the JKSRTC office was able to tell the team if the Corporation or the Government had issued any order to suspend these services. Some private buses have resumed operations but these are extremely limited, they report.

One person said,“..even the celebrated Kashmir railway system from Qazigand to Baramullahas been completely shut since 5th August. Running the railway is the central government’s job.Why have they shut it down? What are they afraid of? Are they afraid of normalcy?”

Another dead giveaway of how nothing is normal in the Valley was the communication blockade caused by the shutdown of mobile and fixed line services of the area. The team learnt of instances of house fires that could have easily been doused hadthere been access to telephones so that fire engine services could be called. They discovered that the government selectively provided mobile network to those assisting it, such as middle level government employees. A Public Prosecutor we met in District Courtat Srinagar proudly flaunted how his mobile phone was working owing to his “important positionin assisting the government”. These whitelisted persons had phone connectivity while those outside this circle and the rest of Kashmir’s civilian population was deprived of connectivity by design.

As to government services, the post offices were  shut,save for the General Post Office (GPO) at Srinagar which is open until 2 p.m and doesn’t sell postal stamps. People can send out letters outside Jammu and Kashmir by Speed Post alone.

Livelihoods have been disrupted by the government services being shutdown and hartal started post abrogation. In a village in Pulwama district, baking, which is the major business in the village, has been affected. Tourism hasalso been affected in the Valley. The famous Kashmiri apple industry with an annual turnover of Rs. 10,000 crores has taken a big hit, with a direct loss of Rs 20 crore every day.

Many newspapers are unable to pay salaries of their journalists and have had to let them go. Print media has been reduced to “pen drive journalism” with a daily pen drive containing news being handed out by the state government’s information department.

The report speaks of how the people of the Valley have adopted a Hartal as a method of quiet resistance in response to these government actions, what they refer to as ‘the siege.’ The Hartal is observed by keeping all commercial establishments voluntarily closed except for two hours in the morning and in the evening.
The team notes, “The effect of the decision to abrogate Article 370 has resulted in complete unity in the Valley.Everyone we spoke to, belonging to any community, class or gender, are united in their belief of betrayal and dream of the right to determine their future. The hartal is the self-expression of thepeople’s will and not a Hurriyat call.”

On October 11, 2019,after more than two months of convincing Indiansand the world that the situation in Kashmir was normal, the government appeal to the people of Kashmir to lift the hartal via this full-page advertisement, the report shows:

*From the Report: Ad placed by the Government of Jammu & Kashmir in Greater Kashmir on October 11, 2019.

This J&K government advert is a clear admission of how things haven’t been as rosy as the Central government wants the masses to believe.

State Oppression
The team talks about how the sense of normalcy weaned off for them as soon as their flight was about to land in Srinagar:
On our flight from Delhi to Srinagar, we were 10 among the handful of civilian passengers, including a few Kashmiris, while the majority were military and para military ‘jawans’ speaking in all languages from across India. About fifteen minutes before touchdown, the crew, unlike the norm, made an announcement to shut all window shades. One curious jawan seated behind us tried to open his window shade to look down, only to have a crew member pleading with him to pull it down immediately, as she could lose her job for this. … At the arrival terminal, a “Welcome to Paradise” ticker flashes at usopposite the conveyor belt for baggage.
The team was confronted with massive militarization almost immediately. A journalist told them that for the total population of Jammu and Kashmir of about 1.25 crores, with about 80 lakh people living in the Kashmir valley, the region houses 8 lakh armed forces. Out of these, 1.4 lakh of the forces were brought in just before August 5. The armed forces in the Valley primarily comprise the army,various paramilitary forces like the BSF, CRPF, IRP, etc., J&K police along with itscounter-insurgency wing, the Special Operations Group (SOG)/ Special Task Force (STF), Special Police Officers (SPOs),Village Defence Committees (VDOs), and intelligence agencies.

The report notes people from Pulwama telling the team that armed forces were conducting night raids on villages and localities in the city almost every night, and most definitely if there was any protest or incident of dissent in thatarea.One person said, “They barge into the village screaming abuses and throwing stones at housing breaking window panes. …One of their favourite taunts is that they are going to choose girls from this village to get married to and that they are going to take over all the land in the village and nothing can be done tothem. During these raids, which are usually past midnight, the Army jawans are usually drunkthough not the police. The men are rounded up on the main road and their mobile phones aretaken away from them and checked. Simultaneously the armed forces enter all houses in thename of conducting checks, women and girls are physically frisked by male army personnel,are sexually abused and molested. If they try to defend themselves they are physically abused.”

The team also got a first-hand glimpse into how destruction of property has been used as a mode of terrorizing the locals.The report recounts a woman’s story of the CRPF and the J&K police had come into the house, brokenwindow glasses, opened their refrigerator thrown all the food out including the meat from thegoat sacrifice made during Bakri Eid.

*From the Report: Pictures of broken LED TV, damaged window panes, torn clothes in the vandalism done bythe armed forces in the houses in Mansoor Colony, Bemina, Srinagar.

Arbitrary arrests and illegal detentionis the norm in the Valley, the team declares in the report. In every village they visited, they were informed of young boys and men from that village being held under illegal detention, either in the near by army camp or at the police station. Usually these arbitrary arrests happen during thenight raids, where the army would pick up a few boys and take them to the nearby Joint Interrogation Camps (JIC) for “questioning”.They also learnt that during the time the boys and menare in illegal detention and custody, the family members are forced to run from pillar to post, between the army camps in thearea and the police station, trying to locate those detained.

As the team states, this is the worst time for the family since they are unaware of the whereabouts of their missing loved one, there is no way of seeking help of other family members given thecommunication blockade, and there is nolegal recourse whatsoever against the detention. There is also the constant fear thatthey too would be arrested and tortured as they try to find their family member.

A new devious practice of community bonds has been introduced along with the illegal detentions, as per whichmany detainedpersons are released after obtaining community bondsbefore the Superintendent of Police (SP). The SP in such cases demands that 50-60 residents from thecommunity appear before him for a “Mulakkat” and take responsibility that the detainee shallnot participate in any protest and to maintain peace in the area.The team also heard of in-lieu arrests becoming another accepted practice in the region, where amale family member is arrested in lieu of a person that the armed forces are looking for, until the required person turns themselves in.

The disturbing use of pellet guns, the team contends,still continues in the Valley and there is no estimate of the number of injuries caused by its usage post August 5, 2019.
Reports of torture at the hands of the armed forces is not new to Kashmir and there is a plethora of evidence on the same, notwithstanding the outright denials of the same by the army and the Indian state The team noted the Zaldora camp commonly has reported cases torture, illegal detention and night raids.
As one person was quoted saying:
“Torture is common and can be ignored over time. Physical wounds heal,but what about the torn soul. But it’s the humiliation and aggression of the forces that is difficultto endure. Love begets love, and hate begets hate. Every night there are crackdowns and raidstaking place in the name of search operations, where drunk jawans humiliate and torture thepeople and sexual crimes are rampant as well but not spoken off because of social stigma.”

In the villages in Shopian and Pulwama, the team found young men and boys are picked up from the villages and taken to the camp in the morning for forced labour of constructing their camp. Persons in illegal detentionare also taken to camps where they are made to do construction work. There is an Industrial Growth Centre in Lassipora, Phulwama, where boys were taken from here and made to do begar for camp related work, mowing loans, construction work etc. under compulsion and with no payment

Religious freedom trampled on All across Kashmir, on Friday, people are not allowed to offer namaz at the main masjid and can only do so in the local smaller masjids. We were informed that on Fridays they are not allowedto go to the main road and for the first 15 – 20 days they were not even allowed to go out of their localities.People are convinced that now this is transformed from an attack on Kashmir, into an attack on Kashmiri Muslims
Zulm is the one word that rings throughout Kashmir and is a part of every conversation. What makes the oppression even more blatant and suffocating is the systemic denial built into everything,” the report states.

Using the law against the people
The report proceeds to cover the systematic method in which the law has been used to propagate brutal violence on the people. It states that thousands of persons have been detained vide proceedings under section 107/151 Jammu and Kashmir Code of Criminal Procedure orunder the Public Safety Act, 1978 since around August 5, 2019.
The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978 allows for detention upto 2 years, the report observes.Under this Act, the government can declare any area as ‘protected’ and exercise authority to regulate the entry of any citizen in the protected area. Attempts to forcefully enter the designated areas invite prosecution. PSA gives the J&K government the power to detain anyone who “acts in any mannerprejudicial to the maintenance of public order”. This detention without trial happens underthe pretext of maintaining public order. Lawyers advise clients not to apply for bail for atleast 1.5-2 months, otherwise they can be charged under PSA.

Section 22 of the Act further provides that no suit, prosecution or any legal proceeding shall lie againstany person for anything done or intended to be done in good faith in pursuance of this Act.These provisions of the act, the report states, give same impunity to armed forces as are given underthe AFSPA.
In the report, the team elucidates several examples detention orders which were passed under PSA, where they found that PSA has been slappedrather casually, without application of mind and without an appreciation of the law.

By virtue of a 2018 amendment to the Act, deteneus are now also transferred to jails in other parts of the country including Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar, further the mental trauma they face from such callous arrests.

In particular, detention orders under the PSA have been meted out against lawyers;several leading advocates had beenarrested and charged under PSA and some transferred to jails outside the State. The team said, “Advocates state that they are unable to voice any opinion regarding the abrogation. They say that alienation from the rest of India is complete on account of the “constitutional fraud” that has been perpetrated. They are under a constant fear of reprisal and backlash from the State if they were to speak out. Not a single advocate we met was of the view that the abrogation would lead to any sense of peace and stability.

Access to Justice
Adding insult to injury, there is no judicial remedy available to these blatant violations of fundamental rights of the people in the Valley. All semblance to institutional checks-and-balances has been effectively eroded in Kashmir, as access to justice has been reduced to a  mere mirage, the report observes.
The team notes:
With the communication blockade, transport services not functioning and intermittent curfew indifferent parts of the valley, the courts have become inaccessible spaces and thus, justicedispensation, far-fetched. The lawyers were all of the view that there is a paralysis in judicialfunctioning that goes beyond the immediate boycott that they have called. Everyone we met toldus that the Courts are merely an instrument for the Government and in turn justify the acts ofoppression against the people of Kashmir. “It is a larger systematic problem when dossiersunder PSA are mindlessly accepted by Magistrates while passing detention orders”. More andmore people in Kashmir have started perceiving Courts as just another institution of the legitimising gross violations of human rights. Hence, even the court premises have become thesite of resistance and protests. Having witnessed how the integrity of the courts have compromised, lawyers say that they have been forced to strike.

The team was informed that the habeas corpuspetitions in the J&K High Courthave balloonedfrom approximately 200 prior to August 5, 2019 to more than 600 now. The report also speaks of how while the district courts were courts were open and “functioning”, yet matters were not taken up except for bail matters, UAPA remand hearings and where the parties appeared party-in-person.

The team reports thatthey found a large number of cases that have been brought before the SHRC pertaining to enforceddisappearances with complaints stating that the lost one was taken forcibly by unknown personsor in some cases the army jawans and in some cases militants. The common thread they noticed among the cases isthe grief and anguish of the family that has no knowledge of the fate of the lost one.

On Kashmir’s Mental Health
Despite an exponential increase in mental health services offered in Kashmir in the last 15 years, these services and their functioning has been badly hit by the current crisis, the team reports. Of the children and adolescents coming in for Psychological First Aid (PFA) in two districts, were reporting extreme violence by armed forces and night raids.Some professionals spoke to the team of the effect of the restrictions and uncertainty on their own deprecating mental health.

There were reports of extreme impact in young people who were subjected totorture and abuse. The report speaks of two reported suicides and of many young people running away fromhome due to fear of persecution or possible dissociative states. Amongst the young people with pellet injuries who did not end up with adisability, those without financial stability or family support most commonly presented with Clinical Depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In their concluding remarks, the team calls the abrogation of Article 370 “the proverbial last straw”, erodingany hope a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict arising from the people’s demands for democracy.

They note:
The freehand given to the armed forces by virtue of laws which allow for almost anything to do be done under the garb of “maintaining law and order” in the valley has resulted in absolute impunity. This impunity enjoyed by the armed forces has led them to use the bodies and minds of Kashmir’s people as a political territory to perpetuate violence. The numerous instances of alleged killings, tortures, rapes and vandalism committed by the armed forces calls forinvestigation and those responsibility for such actions assigned. The Indian state cannot beseen to be allowing its forces to commit such gross human rights violations without them havingto face any consequences.”
They reason that thebelligerence of the army, the police and other agencies hassaturated the contempt people have for the forces. The people, they note, now say that their struggle will now end only with‘Azaadi’. They further observe that the people have reached a point where they almost completely refuse to engage with the machinery of the state owing to its futility. The report quotes one man saying, “Everyone keeps attacking us, including the politicians, armed forces, media bureaucrats and even yourjudiciary! We have no more faith left.

With a view to their findings, the team recommends the following actions to the government as part of a lasting and peaceful solution:

  1. Recognising that a dispute exists between peoples of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indiangovernment.
  2. Repealing the Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 and the Armed Forces (Jammu &Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990.
  3. Withdrawing all army and paramilitary forces from civilian areas of Jammu and Kashmir.
  4. Opening a transparent unconditional dialogue with the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir andtheir representatives so as to address peoples’ aspirations to determine and define theirown destinies through democratic means and to find a political solution that respects thedemocratic will of the people in accordance with human rights and international law.

You can read the report here:

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