Friday, August 01, 2014

Gujarat-based NGO finds serious human rights violation in J&K during its campaign for Right to Information

The old man who "lost everything" because of army atrocity
By Our Representative
Gujarat-based NGO Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel’s (MAGP’s) recently-concluded people’s contact programme in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has found serious human rights violations by the army and the police in the northern-most Indian state. While campaigning for the right o information (RTI) Act on RTI on Wheels, a specially designed vehicle, with the supported by Sangharsh RTI Movement-J&K, MAGP activists heard the tale of woe from an old man in Gurvet village of Badgaon district who said how the army came to their house, fired at his wife and daughter-in-law, and took away his son.
“My son never returned. After a few days, the army people once again came to take me. I asked the officer, ‘Will you spare two minutes?’ I went to the place where sheep and goats were kept, and opened the door to let them free. ‘I do not know whether I am going to return or not. This boy will beg for food when he will feel hungry. But what about my sheep and goats do if they are locked inside?’, I told them. I was released by the army after a month’s time finding nothing against me”, the old man was quoted in a report prepared by the MAGP on the yatra.
A young man tells his tale of woe in J&K
As do not want heavens to be built for them. They just want one opportunity to move a step forward in their life.” The RTI yatra was flagged off by J&K chief minister Omar Obdullah on June 16.
Another gruesome story – which finally ended with some positive results due to an RTI application filed by the locals – was about the Tosa Maidan Bachao Andolan, a “magnificent meadow in Budgaon district, which was given to the army on lease as firing range way back in 1964.” The lease was put up for renewal in 2014.
“In the past five decades, 63 people were killed and hundreds disabled in several accidents related to un-exploded shells littered on the meadow’s slopes”, the MAGP report said, adding, “Information regarding the lease conditions, renewal and deaths, was obtained under RTI. Under the leadership of Dr. Shaikh Gulam Rasool, villagers of 16 villages around Tosa Maidan got together to start Tosa Maidan Bachao Front.”
Women listen to RTI activists
The report said, “For centuries, Tosa Maidan had served as grazing land for the villagers’ livestock. But, since 1964, for six months from May to October every year, the meadow would see scenes of simulated warfare carried out by the army. During this period, the villages would reverberate with the barrage of shelling and deafening explosions, forcing the villagers to stay indoors most of the time.”
“Slowly, the movement gathered momentum”, the report said, adding, “It gave a call for rally and protests in Srinagar, and Srinagar witnessed one of the biggest peaceful protests of the past three decades. A large number of people joined the rally. Finally, the government decided not to renew the lease for firing range. The movement has now submitted its plan of developing this area for eco-tourism.”
In yet another experience, at Singpura village in Baramulla district, at a gathering of RTI users, Ahmad Afzal shared the story of a 2008 agitation against land acquisition for a road development project. The government, in order to suppress the movement, lodged FIR. “Many among us were school-going kids. As many as 253 youths from 10-12 villages of Baramulla even today are being harassed by police”, Afzal is quoted as saying.
RTI on Wheels during its outreach programme in J&K
Afzal said, “The government registered several cases against them. Every month they need to appear in the court and pay fees to advocates. They also have to appear in the police station. If they go out of town for two days, police inquire at their home”, adding, “We have been arrested many times in a year, before any important day and occasion in the name of maintaining law and order.”
He further said, “When the police visit our house they damage our property, break things, misbehave with ladies at home. We approached the DSP, ministers, different parties. But no one believes us. No one gives us any work. Our families have been ruined. They earn only to pay bond and fees of advocates. We have seen a ray of hope in RTI and we all have come to see you.”
At Jampatri, a small village near Srinagar where 300 households of Gujjar community, a denotified tribe, live, Mohammad Shafi related the case of harassment by forest department. “Shafi and his friends filed a series of RTI with the forest department to know about actions taken by the department in against timber smugglers. The forest department, in reaction to this, filed cases against three youths with the charge that they destroyed the forest department’s nursery. When the incident happened, they were in the village, and the sarpanch could stand witness for their presence in the village”, MAGP report said.

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