Posts Tagged ‘Parvez Imroz’

Press Statement
 
18 June 2013
 
 
Today, on 18th June 2013, the Judicial Magistrate Kupwara J. A. Geelani, while dismissing the conclusions made by the police in the recently filed closure report in the case of Kunan Poshpora mass rape of 23-24 February 1991 returned the case file to the police, asking for “further investigation to unravel the identity of those who happen to be perpetrators”.
As the demand by us and the survivors was for the re-investigation by Special Investigation Team (SIT), headed by an officer of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) rank, the court while mentioning the lack of authority in ordering SIT, asked the further investigation to be conducted by an officer not below the rank of SSP and within a time bound period of 3 months.
On 10 June 2013, a protest petition was filed by Adv. Parvez Imroz on behalf of the survivors of Kunan Poshpora mass rape against the closure report of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, before the Judicial Magistrate, Kupwara. On 13 June 2013, the Chief Prosecuting Officer [CPO] filed objections, and today, oral arguments were made before the Magistrate.
The protest petition argued that the police investigations were incomplete and clearly mala fide as despite having the information on file regarding the involvement of 125 personnel of 4th Rajputana Rifles, the police had not questioned them and neither was an identification parade conducted. The Judicial Magistrate Kupwara while acknowledging the submissions made by us has mentioned in the judgment that, “Until date the investigating agency has not unveiled the identity of the culprits despite having a clear cut nominal role of 125 suspects”
The response of the State, through the CPO Aashiq Hussain was unsurprisingly bad in law, and deeply disrespectful of the victims of Kunan Poshpora. First, they argued that there was no right of filing a protest petition, a position unmindful of the law. Second, the State argued that the protest petition was being filed to allow other victims to get cash compensation, and that the victims appeared to have woken up after 22 years and the protest petition was barred by laches. While rejecting the submissions of the CPO, the Judicial Magistrate, Kupwara upheld the right to file the protest petition and further observed that, “The instant final report ought to have been forwarded to the Magistrate way back on 12thOctober 1991.”
After 22 years of cover-ups and delay, the State conveniently blocked the High Court PIL and now was shamelessly attempting to block the victims’ remedies before the Judicial Magistrate. Instead of taking the responsibility for delay and denial of justice, the State has chosen to malign the victims and choke any remedies for the survivors of Kunan Poshpora.
Today’s order is an achievement of the struggle of the Kunan Poshpora people along with those who supported their demand for justice. This will surely inspire many more victims of the recent past to wake up and fight for justice in their cases.
We reiterate our commitment that we will continue the struggle till justice is done. Now the Government should comply with the orders of the court and give up their reluctance of punishing the guilty.
Representatives of the support group for Justice for Kunan Poshpora
1.   Benish Ali
2.   Essar Batool
3.   Ifrah Mushtaq
4.   Samreena Mushtaq
5.   Usvah Rizvi
6.   Uzafa Basu
7.   Uzma Qureshi

8.   Rehanna Qadir

 

Two days in the Srinagar High Court: Shrimoyee Nandini Ghosh

May 10, 2013
 by SHRIMOYEE NANDINI GHOSH, 

Impressions of the Hearing of the Public Interest Petition on the Mass Rapes at  Kunan Poshpora

Day 1: 7th May 2013: I happen to be in Srinagar. I hear through a friend that a Public Interest Petition has been filed by a group of fifty odd Kashmiri women, before the Srinagar Bench of the High Court, asking that the Kunan Poshpora mass rape case be reopened, and re-investigated. It would take a group of very odd women indeed, to ask for something so far fetched. They are students, housewives, teachers, doctors, some of whom were not even born in 1991, when the rape took place on the ‘intervening night’ (as such records always read) of the 23rd and 24th of February during a ‘search and cordon’ operation by personnel of the Indian army.

An FIR [FIR no.10/1991, Trehgam Police Station] about the incident was filed. On 21st of October, 1991 according to police, in RTI applications, and before the State Human Rights Commission, the case was closed as ‘untraced’, (as such records always read). Some survivors andfamily members approached the State Human Rights Commission, seeking relief. The SHRC took suo moto cognisance of the case as well, and passed an order on the 19th of October, 2011 recommending that the case be reopened and re-investigated, that the survivors be given a ‘minimum compensation’ of at least Rupees 2 lakhs, that the Director of Prosecutions and other government and administrative officers responsible for ‘scuttling the investigations ‘be criminally prosecuted. So far so good. One and a half years passed, and nothing happened. No reopening, no investigation, and certainly no prosecutions. Oh… except 39 of the 40 named survivors received Rupees 1 lakh in cash as compensation, shortly after the SHRC decision. (An important fact, not to be missed, for reasons that will become clearer hereafter).

Then, on 20th April 2013, our fifty odd women file their PIL. On the first date of hearing, which was about a week ago, the Court asks two questions, which they want answered before they admit the Petition: 1) Is Public Interest Litigation really a remedy, in cases such as this? (2) Can a PIL be filed after twenty two years? The answers are obvious (Yes, and Yes) but the questions have  have puzzled the court, and must be answered. Today, the 7thof May, a new bench assembles to hear the Petitioners’ response.

It’s 9:55 am and I walk through the High Court gates. I am subject to the most thorough frisking I have ever been through—they are scrupulously polite, but extremely suspicious, especially of my under-wired bra. They poke and prod, and feel me up good and proper. Later I hear that there were not quite so polite, with one burkha wearing Petitioner, who had her veil forcibly removed.

10:20 am: The Courtroom, (wood panelled, sky-light lit) is beginning to fill up. I am in the third row, behind the lawyer’s padded seats– a good spot.Behind me are some journalists. I strain to overhear them. They’re talking of the case in whispers.

10:45 am: Anxiously waiting for the lawyer. Where is he? Ah, he arrives at last. Thank God.

10:55 am: So many women in court today. Are they all here for the same reasons as me? I smile at some familiar faces. I doodle through a complicated Income Tax matter, a Civil Appeal, and a couple of pass-overs. When will they ever get to it? 

11 am: Item Six. Uzma Qureshi and othersvs State. That’s it! That’s the one. The lawyer for the petitioners, Parvez Imroz, convenor of local human rights group JKCCS, stands, and begins his submissions. He reiterates their questions,  (in case they’ve forgotten, as judges are wont to do) and hands over a compilationof cases on the point.The judges are conferring amongst themselves. Mr Imroz continues. He explains how the Indian Supreme Court has repeatedly held that any member of the public can approach the Court on a matter of public importance. That this is really the meaning of Public Interest Litigation.The Bench is impatient. The Junior Judge (the one who was on the bench that asked the original questions) says: ‘You have missed our point. We are not questioning your locus.’

The Chief Justice says: ‘Of course, rape is a heinous crime. There is no doubt.’ The Junior judge nods.  They confabulate again. The Junior Judge appears to be leading the discussion. He has a lot to say. He used to be the former Additional Advocate General I hear later. Very good at deferring, delaying, denying. He did it with the case against Ex-Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda, which never managed to get past the admission stage. But I still want to believe the best of them. Tell us, they ask: ‘Does this court have the power to direct that SHRC decisions be implemented?’

I want to interrupt: But, But… That wasn’t your original question! That’s not fair! How can you change your questions? But they are judges, creatures of whimsy, like the best of us. Today they have a different question.

Mr Imroz is  unperturbed. ‘Let me assist your lordships on the point’, he says.  He speaks of the complete non-implementation of the SHRC orders, the non-filing of the Action Taken Report before the SHRC.He says that 22 years have passed, without even a basic investigation into what happened that night. He points to a Madras High Court Judgment, something about SHRC decisions, but is interrupted, before I can catch his drift.The Bench clearly has something else on their mind. The Junior Judge is furiously consulting some notes he seems to have already prepared. Mr Imroz mentions that the petitioners—a group of Kashmiri, ‘public spirited’ women, have just visited the village. It appears some of the victims have recently received Rs. One Lakh as compensation, though the SHRC decision recommends at least Two Lakhs.

Suddenly, the Bench is all ears. The Junior Judge leaps in. ‘Ah! So they have implemented some part of the SHRC recommendation?’ Mr Imroztries to stem the tide: ‘That is not the point at hand. In fact, I do not know the extent…What we are asking for… If your Lordships kindly turn to page…’ But it’s useless. The Bench has seenthe light. It addresses a state lawyer, who happens to be in Court, seated right next to Mr Imroz. He jumps to attention when called.‘We want to see the file on the matter’, they say.‘Some of the recommendations seem to have been implemented. We want to know to what extent. Let the Advocate General  come tomorrow with the entire file.’ ‘Certainly M’lord’, the state counsel is all nods.

Are you kidding me?.Tomorrow? You want the state to produce all their records tomorrow? The same state that has done sweet fuck all for twenty-two years?‘And,’ the Junior Judge adds as a post-script: ‘We’ll also hear the Advocate General on the maintainability question.’‘This is Bull shit!’I say aloud. I am hushed by my neighbour. We’re in Court, I’ve forgotten my place.The Chief Justice has the grace to seem embarrassed by the way things have unfolded. ‘It is a sensitive matter, you know’, he mutters, Yes, I want to say. We  know. Mr Imroz bows, accedes to a higher power.The next case is announced. About sixty people stand up as a body, and leave. The Courtroom empties.

People in the corridors are talking. What exactly happened? Who said what? Why? What now? Some old hands hold court: It’s a delaying a tactic. An oldie, but a goodie. Hearing after hearing. Wearing you out, just on admissibility. This is legal limbo. Neither here nor there, not in, not out. Making you jump through hoops. Just to get your foot through the damn door. In this case, in the Kunan Poshpora rape, they want to see the whole state file, even before admission? And then, they take suo moto cognisance on the Amarnath Yatra, and the LPG shortage.

Some young ones are more outraged: Just because, they may have paid out some money, after twenty years? Why are they going on this compensation point? Surely, it’s beside the point? Under what law? What rule? By what logic, or what common-sense can it be of any importance? Why keep us hanging like this? Why didn’t they admit it, then issue notice to the state to bring the record? Or why can’t they just dismiss it? And then we’ll see what to do next… We can go to Supreme Court. At least, it would be a decision. The battle-hardened reply: Oh no they’re too smart for that. It’s a waiting game. They have done it before. Sailan, Machil, Khoda…the names of so many massacres, so many cases, so many days in court. The air is thick with it, my head reels.Today is the twentieth anniversary of the Khanyar Massacre. I can’t process it all. People can’t stop talking

We troop back to the JKCSS office, still talking. I stop on the Bund for Golgappas. I meet some of the petitioners, a young and angry bunch. They want to know, why the rape of a single Indian woman can have the whole country in an uproar, but a case about the rapes of fifty (seventy? more? We may never know exactly how many women were raped that night) Kashmiri women must prove its ‘public importance’ in three separate hearings.  Back at the office, it’s chaotic. Arguments have to be redrafted, cases found, precedents cited. We’re back in court tomorrow. Some people from the village of Kunan Poshpora arrive: four wizened old men, and one very vociferous middle aged one. They came to the court as well, but I had missed them in the crowd. They tell us that on the 25th of April and 2nd of May, twenty three of the villagers were summoned to the Court of the Judicial Magistrate in Kupwara, and their statements about the case were recorded. They are very categorical and pull out several crumpled pieces of hand -written papers from their pockets as proof,  but we’re not entirely sure of the whats or whys of it. After some protracted conversations between the lawyer in Kupwara, and the activists in Srinagar, over a very bad (and probably tapped) phone line we realise that though the case has been closed on the police files in 1991, the ‘closure report’ has never been officially filed. It seems like the buzz about the PIL, has made the police suddenly awaken to this fact. They want to file an official closure report, and in a hurry. Hence the flurry of summons.‘Typical!’ , someone says. I am naïve enough to be shocked.

I help draft affidavits, averring that even though, yes, it is true they have received compensation, they still want ‘complete justice’ (as such affidavits always read). We solemnly assert on behalf of the victims: ‘We want the investigation done by an independent agency, we want the perpetrators punished.’ The old men will get these affidavits signed, and bring them to court, by ten am tomorrow. The journey to Kunan Poshpora takes four hours. They want us to hurry up, and finish drafting the papers already, so they can get home before it’s too late. But they constantly get in the way of us legal ones –the names on the record are all wrong (as such names always are): X is the daughter of Y, not his wife- ‘That is irrelevant’,  we say. Four of the women are dead we realise, once the affidavits are drafted, the names tallied, the stamp papers bought.They have to be redone. One of the people in the office, gives the villagers a talk about not hoping for too much. ‘Nothing may come of it.’ ‘ Yes,’ they say. ‘We know.’

Tomorrow, the 8th of May, is the date of the next hearing. I wait with a bad feeling in my gut. But I still hope.

Day 2: 8th May 2013 

Today I go to the JKCCS office first. Scenes of confusion. The  forty affidavits have been signed / thumb printed, but more inconsistencies have been discovered. The villagers point out each one, they have learnt the hard way in the State Human Rights Commission, that a misspelled name can cost a lot. Whitener is liberally applied. Printing on stamp paper is a bitch; one always gets it the wrong way around. Finally, the papers are ready, and we walk to the High Court.

10:35 am: We walk in to the Chief Justice Court, as a huge group of people troop out. The Court has been hearing the ‘Dal Lake matter’, concerning the unfortunately named LAWDA (Lakes and Waterways Development Authority) and the city master plan. When we enter, the Bench is empty. The Judges are in chambers conferring.

10: 45 am: The Court is not as full as yesterday

11:00 am: The Judges re-enter, we all stand. Mr Imroz has stepped out for a cup of tea. Someone is sent to fetch him. The Judges begin with their list. The Kunan Poshpora PIL shall be heard at the end of their Admissions list, since it was only taken on board yesterday. The listed matters drone on.

11:35 am: An interlude in the tedium. On a matter about the inauguration of public park, the Chief Justice remarks: ‘It should not be some one hi-fi. When I was in Punjab, a bridge was to be inaugurated, and we ordered that the oldest labourer should cut the ribbon. His statement was in the press. He said he had only been garlanded twice in his life: once when he got married, and next when he inaugurated the bridge.’

11:45 am. I am bored and hungry. An administrative appeal about Promotions, an urban zoning matter about illegal constructions, drag on endlessly. Seated next to me is the Advocate General’s court clerk. He is reading his boss’s copy of the Kunan Poshpora Petition. I read over his shoulders. In the margins against the first two prayers (for reopening and re-investigation, and criminal prosecution of Wajahat Habibullah, the then Divisional Commissioner for his rlein the cover up) it says in bold letters in ball-point ink: NO. NO.

12 noon. The Kunan Poshpora case is up. The Advocate General is on his feet, a crew-cut junior by his ear. He addresses the question of maintainability, reeling off sections from the Protection of Human Rights Act. His point is that the act says the SHRC decisions are merely recommendatory. That the SHRC itself should approach the Court, ‘Who are these Petitioners? What is their Locus?’ Then he talks about compensation. He says: ‘The Government is going to hold a meeting on 14th of May, at 3 pm. It is under active consideration. The agenda, the timing is already fixed’ – a bureaucrat passes him a file, which he passes on to the Court. 

This is a shocker! The survivors maintain that they have been already paid compensation of Rupees 1 Lakh, shortly after the SHRC case ended. We just filed their affidavits to that effect. Later, in the office the details I had missed become clearer to me. They were paid Rs 1 lakh in cash, all thirty-nine of them (for reasons that are not clear, one did not receive the money) by the local MLA (now Law Minister) in his official residence, in the presence of the local Tehsildar. Thirty Nine Lakhs in cash! Where did it come from? Why was it paid? Why will the Government not acknowledge this payment? We still don’t know the answers, but we can guess.

The Advocate General moves on to the criminal proceedings. He says that the matter is presently before the Judicial Magistrate Kupwara, that he is examining the Police Challan. Witnesses have been summoned. This, we have been expecting, from what the men from the village told us. The Advocate General makes the mistake of saying, the Court “cannot” take cognisance when the Magistrate is seized of the matter. The Chief Justice takes offence ‘You should not use the word cannot in relation to the Court. Especially, a person in your position. You cannot tell the Court what it can or cannot do.’ The Advocate General’s apologies are perfunctory. The Bench wants to hear more on the question of maintainability, ‘Do you have any authorities?’ The Advocate General fumbles. His junior passes him some Judgments. The Advocate General reads from them, they are all on the question of whether a High Court can be approached, when a matter is pending before a lower court. He never explains, why  if the case is still pending before the Magistrate, the FIR has repeatedly been referred to in the past, as ‘Closed as Untraced’.

Now, it’s Mr Imroz’s turn. He points out judgments on the question of implementability of SHRC decisions. The Madhya Pradesh High Court has held that even though SHRC decisions are recommendatory, the Court can take independent cognisance of their findings– the human rights, and constitutional violations they disclose . He continues to the point about reopening, and monitoring criminal investigations, and mentions Vineet Narrain’s case  on investigations into the Hawala scam. The judges want him to refer to a specific paragraph. He rifles through his pages. Then, he mentions the affidavits, but they haven’t been formally  registered yet, so he cannot fully rely on their averments, which put lie to his ‘Learned Friend’ the Advocate General. He ends by saying, ‘Crime Never Dies’—the Judges nod in recognition of a well worn legal cliché. The limitation question does not interest them anymore.The Court reserves the matter for orders. They will not pronounce immediately on whether the case can be admitted.

We file out. The buzz in the corridors today is more subdued. Is it a good sign, this reserving for orders?What does it portend? At least they are going to pass orders, no more proceeding without even admitting the case. No more legal limbo. We can only hope, while we await further orders. And what about the money? How will they explain that?

The villagers seem to find it hilarious, that the Government now claims never to have paid them. They carefully count the copies of the affidavits we have prepared, and put them away in a plastic bag full of other papers, before they leave the office.

 

LEGAL EXPERTS QUESTION ‘SELECTIVE USE’ OF IT ACT

By MUDASIR AHMED

Published: Fri, 11 January 2013 , Kashmir Reader

 

Police abuse video: ‘Perpetrators let off, whistle-blower booked’

 

Follow-Up

 

SRINAGAR: Police investigation into the video-clip showing cops brutally thrashing two youths has drawn flak from legal experts here who say that police have filed a case against the whistle-blower instead of the erring cops. On Wednesday, the police registered a case in Baramulla police station after a 2-minute video-clip surfaced showing scores of policemen thrashing two youth before forcing them to strip. The video became viral on social networking websites amid mass outrage.

However, legal experts said that instead of booking the erring cops under assault and criminal charges, police launched investigation on the basis of a controversial law (Section 66A of the Information Technology Act) that is already under fire for its misuse.Prominent lawyer and human rights activist Parvez Imroz, while condemning the police said the video is a “glaring testimony of state-wide torture that is being perpetuated upon half a million Kashmiris.”
“When the same kind of torture was carried out by US forces in the infamous Abu Ghairab prison, there was an investigation against the accused and they were punished. But here instead of registering an assault charges against the erring cops, they have started an investigation against the whistle-blower who has dared to expose the video,” Imroz told Kashmir Reader.
“They have invoked Section 66A which essentially books the individual who has uploaded the video in the first place, thereby giving cover to those who are involved in this brutal act.”
Echoing similar views, J&K High Court lawyer Mudasir Naqashbandi said that Instead of filing a case to find who uploaded this video on YouTube, “police should have booked the cops who are involved in this barbaric act under charges of grievous hurt, wrongful confinement and attempt to murder.”
The Section 66A of the IT Act has no immediate standing in this case because the video clearly shows that cops are involved in this ghastly act. The State Human Right commission (SHRC) should take suo-moto cognizance of this barbaric act committed by cops,” Naqashbandi told Kashmir Reader.
Section 66A of the IT Act reads: “Any person who sends by any means of a computer resource any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”
Section 66A was recently in the eye of the storm after it was used by the authorities in Bombay to arrest two young girls. The duo—Shaheen Dhanda, 21, and Renu Srinivasan—who had questioned the Bombay shutdown to mourn the death of Hindu extremist leader and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray on November 17, 2012, were booked under the Act. The case was withdrawn following public outrage.
Although senior police officials are tight-lipped on the video, a police spokesmen, said that they have not used Section 66A to book the person who has uploaded the video on the YouTube and that it is only a starting point for the investigation.
“The Act involves investigating individuals who have committed crimes relating to Information and Technology with a criminal intent, and let us not jump to conclusions here. This investigation under Section 66A will then subsequently lead us to those cops who were seen thrashing the two youth on the video,” police spokesman Manoj Pandita told Kashmir Reader.

See the video below

 

 

Maimed by the state, quietly 

 Amidst a culture of silence and media inattention, torture is easy to find in the security hot zones of India. A new film bares the ugly truth. Freny Manecksha reports. 

“Soldiers got on top of me. One of them chopped my feet with a knife. I could see blood flowing and my feet twitching. … They cut the flesh of my waist. They made me eat all this …”“They pulled my nails out completely and rubbed chilli powder into the wounds.”

“They set the bottom of my legs alight and the fabric stuck to my skin …”

Truly horrific. Macabre descriptions, taken not from some archives of a medieval torture chamber, but from Channel Four’s film – Kashmir: the Torture Trail – that was aired last month. Directed by BAFTA award winner Jezza Neumann and produced by Brian Woods, the film follows Kashmir’s noted human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz, who is documenting torture testimonials of victims at the hands of Indian security forces and police, for the first comprehensive report on use of torture as a repressive weapon in Kashmir.

Recording statements and providing graphic visual images of victims ranging from Firoze, detained under PSA with a head wound, to a girl who was raped by troops, to the shepherd Kalendu Khatana, whose feet were cut off by the Border Security Forces, the film buttresses its point of institutionalised torture, by verification from the government’s own human rights organisation or statements by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International or the United Nations.


India has signed but not yet ratified the UN Convention against Torture. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has been denied permission to visit India. 

 

The State Human Rights Commission, which has probed Khatana’s claims, found them not only to be true but made the damning observation that it was one of clusters where Indian security forces had hacked away at limbs of suspects so badly that amputation was inevitable. Twenty years after his feet were cut off, Khatana’s wounds fester, as does his claim for compensation.

The film’s promotional video calls it India’s best kept secret, but torture, like the presence of the unmarked graves, has long been an accepted fact in Kashmir – one that has been difficult to document, however.

Parvez Imroz, who has been actively involved with the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, and who worked along with the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir on Buried Evidence – the extensive report on unidentified and mass graves, has been speaking out against torture. In the film he declares, “Some people must stand up and say ‘No this is not acceptable. We will campaign against it.”

It was the publication of the WikiLeaks cable last year that brought to light concerns by the international community over the extensive use of torture in India. The dispatches reveal that US diplomats in Delhi were briefed in 2005 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which said that out of the 1296 detainees it visited in Kashmir, 681 said they were tortured.

The film also looks at the way the draconian Public Safety Act or preventive detention is used to detain hundreds without trial, and the way in which young street protesters and stone pelters continue to be rounded up and tortured.

Mohamad Junaid, currently studying anthropology in New York and specialising on issues of militarisation and violence , grew up in Kashmir in the nineties. He witnessed and has written about the humiliation of crackdowns, arrests and protest marches. He believes the state uses torture not so much to extract information, but to send messages to the “larger oppressed nation through broken and defiled bodies, to break their national will and determination. This psycho-somatic warfare against Kashmiris is an unconscionable blind spot in the discourses about human rights and justice in the international arena.”

Channel Four’s film comes close on the heel of a campaign by Indian rights activists protesting the use of torture against political prisoners and for reforms on issues related to torture.

Two weeks ago Amnesty International launched its petition urging the Indian government to stop the use of torture, noting that disadvantaged, marginalised groups including women, dalits, adivasis and suspected members of armed opposition groups are those most commonly abused. The petition begins with an appeal by Nazir Ahmad Sheikh, a Kashmiri from Handwara who was forced by members of 14th Dogra regiment to walk barefoot in the snow and whose feet were also later burnt with a stove.

India has signed but not yet ratified the UN Convention against Torture. At the UN Human Rights meet in Geneva this year India claimed it had a prevention of torture bill pending in Parliament. Activists say it does not comply with standards laid down by the UN Convention. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has been denied permission to visit India.

Noted documentary film maker Sanjay Kak who made a film on Kashmir, Jashn-e Azadi(How We Celebrate Freedom) believes that the institutionalisation of torture is because of growing militarisation of ever greater swathes of the country and the general public’s ability to stonily accept its terrible consequences. “At its root is a crisis in the sphere of politics where the art of persuading those who disagree has been replaced by the brutal science of torture.”

The media’s compliance in hiding the story has meant “we have managed to block out the use of torture and custodial killings in Nagaland and Manipur, glossed over its use in Punjab and managed to do that in Kashmir for over two decades. But the rot is beginning to come out in the open.”

The film has evoked strong reactions abroad. Mirza Waheed, whose book The Collaborator fictionalised torture and extra-judicial killings, said online, “Devastating, damning evidence of widespread torture by Indian forces. A sad sad night.”

But in India itself it has been met by and large with a deafening silence. Earlier this year too, there was very little public outcry when adivasi teacher Soni Sori, held in Chhatisgarh on grounds of being a Maoist sympathiser, charged the police of torturing her by pushing stones up her vagina. The case is in the Supreme Court even as a gallantry award was conferred on the police officer concerned. It is only “an overworked set of activists who are trying to keep the hard questions on use of torture alive,” adds Kak.

“The business of torture has become like a contagious disease with the state,” says Kak. “You may initially use it against those you call terrorists, and do it with the implicit and unthinking approval of ordinary people. But then you start using it against those you call separatists, then on Maoists, and then on their sympathisers and next on innocents like Soni Sori who happened to be caught in the crossfire. People will wake up only when one works towards uncovering the endemic and casual use of torture in our police stations and lock ups – against dalits for example who neither want to secede or overthrow the state.”

So can documentaries and films make some kind of impact? Kak, whose Jashn-e Azadifaced hostility and threats says that since the Indian state has to present itself to the world as a democracy – the world’s largest at that – shaming it for its widespread use of torture will work. “The state wears a thick skin, but even the thickest folds of skin have a chink where a needle can make its way through and make the beast jump.”
Freny Manecksha 

13 Aug 2012

 

Haroon Mirani, UWN

Kashmir University, one of the largest universities in Indian-administered Kashmir, is also one of the most watched universities in India to ensure not a whimper of academic dissent emerges. But there are signs that the political climate may be changing.

Some Kashmiri academics say now is the time to speak out because the Indian government does not want to be embarrassed internationally as it emerges as a potential superpower.

Some 43,000 people have lost their lives in the last two decades of insurgency in Kashmir, according to government figures, and this is regarded by human rights organisations as a conservative estimate.

Yet Kashmir University (KU) in Srinagar rarely allows research to be published on these burning issues.

The state suppression of academics is intended to prevent the emergence of authentic literature on Kashmir’s contemporary history, where India often appears in a negative light, experts say.

And although violence in Kashmir is at the lowest level since its eruption in 1990, fear of reprisals still rules. Even seminars and workshops at KU are on strictly a-political themes and research students are encouraged to pursue ‘safe’ topics.

“We have books depicting Pakistan’s point of view and the Indian point of view but our academics don’t produce research papers, theses and books from the Kashmiri point of view, even though Kashmiris have suffered the most,” said Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a law professor at Kashmir University.

New university departments have been created such as the Kashmir Institute. Prior to its establishment at KU in 2008, the institute was an independent body that produced commendable work often critical of the establishment. “It was a brilliant institute and had produced at least three dozen academically-acclaimed papers,” lamented Showkat. Now it is entirely pro-government.

In 2010 the government banned a postgraduate course in human rights in KU without giving concrete reasons. Insiders say the government was embarrassed by research papers that emerged from the department, which squarely blamed the Indian army for gross human rights violations in Kashmir.

After much public outcry the department was allowed to resume work this year, albeit under scrutiny by the university authorities – those who express critical views of the government forego promotions or are thrown out.

Mohammed Yousuf Ganai, a history lecturer and president of the Kashmir University Teachers’ Association, said: “If anybody talks openly, even if it is based on research, knives are out to harm him either professionally or personally.

“Such is the situation that even victims refuse to mention their ordeal as they fear it will invite more wrath,” Ganai said.

The problem is widespread in all universities in Kashmir. “They are all same, with KU being the leading example of big [academic] resources rendered wasted by state control,” said Parvez Imroz, a human rights activist and president of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies.

Despite burning issues related to the conflict like mass graves or the high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder and other conflict-induced phenomenon that need analysis and investigation, “no research dealing directly with the Kashmir conflict is coming out of KU”.

Imroz pointed out that his coalition receives students from major universities like Harvard and Yale who want to research the Kashmir conflict, often on the very issues Kashmiri academics will not or cannot touch.

Instead, Kashmiri academics “choose neutral and safe topics like orphanages, culture, roads, architecture and climate change,” Imroz told University World News, adding:

Academics don’t want to come out of their safe zone and assert their position. The fear of even remotely displeasing the state and the possible repercussions scares them. Nobody in academia is ready to fight and take on the state head-on over these visible and invisible curbs.”

But not absolutely everyone is content to remain within their personal safety zone.

Hamida Nayeem, a professor in KU’s English department, has had her passport impounded by the government for the past three years, for her outspoken criticism of government policies. She continues to speak out.

Nayeem said academic dissent was necessary. “It is they [academics] who can show dissent using proof and historical evidence, and reach to the bottom of truth with free and fair investigation of things.”

But it is not easy. During the last 20 years the government has managed to handpick professors and lecturers in KU, according to Showkat, the law professor. “These people are not worthy of the position and to continue their prime position, they become easy collaborators.”

According to many academics, the government has cultivated a wide network of sources to keep an eye on them. And action can be swift.

Last December Noor Muhammad Bhat, an English lecturer at a KU, was arrested on charges of sedition after he had set an examination paper in which one translation question included a passage related to youths stone-pelting Indian forces in Kashmir.

The police accused Baht of setting an ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-establishment’ exam paper. Bhat was later granted interim bail by the high court after 23 days of detention, causing a huge outcry in Kashmir. Many academics came out in his support.

“The police have no role in matters of academia. It is for the university to see whether a passage is controversial or otherwise,” Bhat told local reporters on his release.

Also in December, the police registered a case of obscenity against KU professor Shad Ramzaan of the department of Kashmiri studies, although they did not arrest him. Ramzaan had taken a passage from a book about the evolution of mammary glands of females for a translation examination paper.

Shad called the charges against him “academic terrorism”.

“I took this paragraph from a text book of Unani (traditional) medicine. The police should first book the author [of that book] and then they should book the people who prescribed it. They should also ban medical colleges and MBBS course because it is all being taught there,” he told a news agency.

Ramzaan was stripped of his post as head of KU’s Kashmiri department and blacklisted from setting exam papers for 10 years.

But some academics feel now is the time to speak out. English professor Nayeem felt things had changed in the last five years in Kashmir, primarily due to the decline in the armed insurgency.

Previously at the height of the violence the government was quick to brand academics ‘anti-national’ if they spoke out, claiming it was curbing militancy. But now if academics speak with one voice, the authorities might not dare to act against them. “They can punish us singly but not entire academic community,” said Nayeem.

Many academics are optimistic, citing the decline in violence, India’s rising superpower status and, most crucially, the country’s democratic image as the biggest deterrents to persecutions similar to those that took place during the worst times, particularly the early 1990s.

“India won’t like to be internationally embarrassed in this era of mass media by persecuting intellectuals,” said Showkat. “There is hope that if academics rise to command authority and freedom of expression at this juncture, we will see a big change in Kashmir University.”

But Nayeem pointed to the continued timidity of the academic community after years of repression: “Unfortunately academics are not coming forward,” she said.

Disclaimer
All reader responses posted on this site are those of the reader ONLY and NOT those of University World News or Higher Education Web Publishing, their associated trademarks, websites and services. University World News or Higher Education Web Publishing does not necessarily endorse, support, sanction, encourage, verify or agree with any comments, opinions or statements or other content provided by readers.