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Sandwiched between electoral "betrayal", anti-India thrust, Kashmiris lurch for change

By Raqif Makhdoomi*
The conflict in Kashmir has reached a point where any new prospect offered to people makes many of them confused. The reason is that they have witnessed many ups and downs since the beginning that it has become hard for them to trust in any new idea. They have been subjected to so many changes -- be they elections or anti-India direction. If elections got them betrayal, anti-India thrust led to the spillage of blood of innocents.
The late 1980s was the beginning of armed struggle. There were some who also struggled through non-violent means. However, among thosr who took up armed resistance was a group which worked against what has been identified as "pro-freedom" group. This was the beginning of crushing those who advocated freedom. This caused a huge damage to the Kashmiri cause.
These were identified as Ikhwan. Their aim was to get those calling themselves freedom fighters arrested, giving a bad name to the struggle. The first Ikhwan group came into existence in 1994 with Hilal Baig as its commander. These people left the cause of freedom for money and power. Kashmir saw the peak of militancy and then the peak of Ikhwan rule. The situation has not changed, it will continue till a solution to the Kashmir issue is found.
Kashmir has seen governors like Jagmohan, under whom worst type atrocities took place. Those who have lived under his rule do not recall stories of how they enjoyed their youth. They recall stories of struggle, how everyone would run to save his or her life. People who are in their 70s and 80s, or even who are in their 60s, narrate no other stories but of night raids, crackdowns, curfews, and disappearances. Rarely does one hear from them stories on how they used to play, go out for picnic, attend marriages.
Indeed, the horror stories of 1990s still continue to haunt the people of Kashmir. Kashmiris were subjected to brutality of Ikhwans, police, army or other Indian agencies. People still wait for their loved ones to return. Perhaps they may never return -- they know, there are so many “unmarked graves” in Kashmir.
According to the Association of Parents Of Disappeared Persons (APDP), there existed 8,000 enforced and involuntary cases of disappearances between 1989 and 2009. Even while denying the figure, the state government admitted of 4,000 cases of disappearance. Whatever the number, a disappearance is a disappearance, and people need to know where their loved ones are. This discrepancy in the number of enforced disappearance has been highlighted by the United Nations High Commissioner's report on human rights, the first of its kind released by the UN in June 2018.
Kashmir is one of the highest militarized zones in the world. Seven lakh forces have been deployed in Kashmir, and every solider is heavily loaded. In 2005 APDP in Baramulla located 940 graves with no names. The European Parliament passed a resolution on July 10, 2008, lending support to the investigation into the discovery of mass graves and enforced disappearances. But as usual, the Government of India (GoI) gave reasons for not taking up the investigation. Such an investigation wouldn't have burdened the GoI's coffers, as the European Parliament even offered financial help.
In 2009, the International People's Tribune on Human Rights and Justice released a report idntifying 2,700 mass graves in Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara districts. The same year, the State Human Rights Commission took suo motu cognizance of the report and a special investigation team (SIT) led by a senior superintendent of police was constituted to conduct an enquiry.
The SIT in its report confirmed the presence of 2,730 unidentified bodies buried across 37 sites in the three districts of North Kashmir. As usual, the government refused to accept the report submitted to the State Human Rights commission and its recommendations. In fact, the government in its response in the Action Taking Report ( ATR) in August 13, 2012 denied the existence of any such graves and made the claim that these belonged to local and foreign militants.
Black laws like the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), the Public Safety Act ( PSA) and the Disturbed Area Act have empowered the security forces so much that even after they shoot someone innocent they wouldn't be held accountable. They have the power to arrest anyone just on one reason -- that the person is dangerous to law and order.
Many leaders who seek freedom have been arrested under PSA. A person arrested can be jailed for two months, and the term could extend to two years. The person booked once is repeatedly booked for the same offence on completion of each two months period.
PSA, ironically, finds its roots in the Defence of India Act ( DIA) during the British rule. In fact, it happens to be more punitive than DIA, which was described by various national leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, as a draconian and a black law enacted by the British to suppress the Indian freedom struggle.
After Independence, DIA was changed, and PSA came into existence. In Jammu and Kashmir, JKPSA was enacted in 1978 with provisions and almost similar to the British law. Amended in 1987, 1990 and 2012, it empowers the state government to detain a person without trial for two years under the pretext of maintenance of public order.
Since 1978 respective governments have used the law to their fullest advantage. According to the 2010 Amnesty report between 10,000 and 20,000 people were detained under this preventive detention law since it was enforced in 1987. In 2016 alone, some 600 detention orders under the law were issued. According to a lawyer this number includes those who have undergone and evaded arrests. From 2016 to February 2018 1,150 people were detained under PSA. As many as 55-60% of the detained are in the age group of 15-28 years of age.

Changing scenario

Be that as it may, today the scenario of Kashmir is beginning to change. The atmosphere of fear is beginning to give way to struggle for justice, especially among the youth. A large number of them want to keep the struggle for freedom alive.
The 2012 amendment in PSA reduced the pre-trial detention period. In the case of first-time offenders or individuals who act against the security of the state for the very first time, the detention period for such individuals was reduced from two years to six months. However, the option of extending the term of detention to two years was kept open, if there is no improvement in the conduct of the detainee is found.
With the 2012 amendment, the provision for detention of individuals “acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public law” was also made less stringent. In case of first-time offence, the detained individual can be released after three months, although the detention can be extended to one year.
After the amendment the rule that minors (below the age of 18) cannot be detained under the PSA. It was also made mandatory for the detaining authority to furnish reason for any detention. Despite the revision, the government retains enough power to curtail freedom of people under the garb of ensuring state security and public order.
The UN's 'Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir: Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from June 2016 to April 2018, and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan', also reveals that over 1,000 Kashmiris were held under the PSA between March 2016 and August 2017.
GoI should take steps to solve this long-pending issue . There are so many UN resolutions that provide solution to thr Kashmir problem. GoI and and Government of Pakistan should come on table for talks.
---
*Human rights activist. Contact: raqifmakhdoomi123@gmail.com

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