Posts Tagged ‘Srinagar’

Sunday, Jul 14, 2013, 7:54 IST | Agency: DNA Yolande D’Mello

Kashmiri rappers have been forced underground thanks to their music that authorities have labelled ‘anti-government’. But has that stopped them? Yolande D’Mello finds out.

What does it take to ensure that people can hear your voice?

For a few Kashmiri and Palestinian youth, it takes a rap song or two.
While growing up in Srinagar, Zubair Magray was dismayed to see the way the mainstream media overlooked various human rights violations in the name of national security. Magray took to rapping and is now one of the many rappers from Kashmir who rap under stage names about the ‘real’ situation in the state.

The songs that Magray aka Haze Kay sings touch upon issues surrounding the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA) but also include his personal story-telling. The music is part of a new wave of protest that takes a cue from similar protests in Palestine.

Another Kashmiri rapper Kasim Hyder aka MC Youngblood says his songs are just an attempt to give people the real picture of what happens in Kashmir. The songs are a reaction against what they see as one-sided reporting by news channels. “News channels are not telling the entire story… They just show protesting Kashmiri stone throwers but not the violence that led to it.”

Both Hyder, a student in Srinagar, and Magray, who is now studying engineering in Pune, choose to rap in English to reach out to a larger audience.

The Kashmiri youth incidentally have company in West Asia, where a Palestinian hip-hop band Da Arabian MC’s (DAM) also uses hip-hop artillery to fight a lone battle.

“Most governments and media agencies are pro-Israeli so our music was a way to tell the other side of the story,” said DAM’s Tamer Nafar.

DAM is currently touring the US. When they started out, they rapped in Arabic. Their first album with English songs is set to release in December.

It started with the second Infitada in 2000 when Suhell Nafar, Mahmoud Jreri and Tamer came together to rap. “Israeli troops would fire at Palestinian crowds but when Palestinian civilians revolted — suddenly the news channels would show up. I didn’t understand politics but I knew it was unfair,” says Nafar.

It’s the unfairness of it all that provoked Magray too. A peaceful protest in Kashmir is usually met with firing from police, he says. Following this, phone lines and Internet services are jammed so that no news can go out. “Can you imagine this happening in Mumbai?” asks Magray.

In 2010, his music was declared anti-government and the authorities started raiding recording studios he used. His friends also suggested he remove the songs he uploaded on YouTube to protect himself. The song was called Azadi.
These songs are popular among Kashmiri youth who connect with singers and their shared history.

It’s now impossible to find studios willing to record rap music in Kashmir, says Hyder. “They are scared and I don’t blame them,” he says.

But despite the clampdown, the music has not stopped thanks to technology that rappers can use to record at home. The songs are uploaded on YouTube and spread via social networking sites. Haze Kay’s latest upload was Burn the Dice last Sunday.

Hyder calls his songs a cog in the machinery to creating a noise on social media platforms online. “Who else can write about the strikes, random arrests, rape, disappearances… It is first hand information,” he says.

Young rappers also see their work as a creative expression for their angst. However, Hyder doesn’t consider himself political. He loves his music and is planning a collaboration with a few international artists. But Magray is more direct. “Music will also be a hobby.” But he wants to be able to go back and work in his hometown.

But no revolution is complete without martyrs. The rappers are often threatened with the PSA that they often refer to in their songs. This Act is used to ‘detain’ political leaders and activists, suspected members of armed opposition groups, lawyers, journalists and protesters.

Amnesty International, a global movement against human rights violations, has said that authorities in Jammu and Kashmir are using the PSA to detain individuals without sufficient evidence for a trial in order to ‘keep them out of circulation’.

 

A court order has pulled the infamous Kunan-Poshpora rape case out of the cold storage.

Riyaz Wani meets the people who made it possible

Riyaz Wani Riyaz Wani 2013-07-20 , Issue 29 Volume 10

Cry for justice Kashmiri women protest against the delay in punishing the perpetrators of the 1991 Kunan-Poshpora rapes

 

Cry for justice Kashmiri women protest against the delay in punishing the perpetrators of the 1991 Kunan-Poshpora rapes Cry for justice Kashmiri women protest against the delay in punishing the perpetrators of the 1991 Kunan-Poshpora rapes. Photo: Faisal Khan When the armymen took my husband away that night, I was left alone in the house with my two toddlers. The soldiers snatched my younger son from my lap, tore off my clothes and pushed me onto the ground… while my son was watching and crying. I didn’t know where they had kept my other son. They didn’t let me go for the entire night despite my pleadings.” As Sara (name changed) broke down while recalling the horror from that night in 1991, the audience at the press conference in Srinagar on 22 June, was overwhelmed with emotion. Sara, who was 24 when the incident happened, had given up hope until 50 women from the Valley came together this May to revive the fight for justice in the alleged mass rape by the army at the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora, located 100 km from Srinagar, in north Kashmir. It’s considered the largest case of mass sexual violence in India. In June, the women’s efforts prompted a local court to direct the government to reopen the case to “further investigate to unravel the identity of the perpetrators”.

It was on that night of 23 February 1991 when soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles allegedly raped around 40 women during a search operation in Kunan-Poshpora. According to the villagers, the army cordoned off the village and ordered the men to assemble at an identified place outside the village. The women who were left inside the houses were then allegedly sexually assaulted. Two days later, the then District Magistrate SM Yasin visited Kunan-Poshpora. He commented later that the accused soldiers had “behaved like violent beasts”. The local police filed an fir on 18 March 1991, but the Director, Prosecutions, threw the case out a month later, saying it was “unfit for launching a criminal prosecution”.

Eight months later, the police closed the case without a trial. Following the incident, a Press Council of India committee led by senior journalist BG Verghese visited the Valley and gave a “clean chit to the soldiers”. Verghese didn’t even visit the village but the committee members stayed at the quarters of the army brigade alleged to have committed the crime. The committee report termed the allegations against the army “totally unproven and completely untrue… a dirty trick to frame the army and get it to lay off Kunan-Poshpora”. The then Divisional Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, who called for a fresh investigation in his report, recently said the government deleted his recommendation for an upgraded probe. His report also said that he “found the allegations of mass rape exaggerated because the women of the entire village were saying they were raped”. This is where the 50 women who call themselves the Support Group for the Victims of Kunan-Poshpora took over.

It is an assorted group of students, activists, doctors, government employees and housewives from all over the Valley. On 10 June this year, they signed a petition demanding a fresh probe into the case by a Special Investigation Team headed by an officer of the rank of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP). On 18 June, Kupwara Chief Judicial Magistrate JA Jeelani issued an order to the government to conduct a probe led by an SSP rank officer within three months. Though this was an achievement, the women, whose cause was also boosted by Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid’s recent apology, have no illusions about the “drawn and uncertain” nature of their struggle. “This struggle is important not only because we demand justice but also for our future,” says Samreena, 25, an activist, who is part of the support group. “We can’t and shouldn’t forget this crime. If we forget, we will be sending a message to the armed forces that they can go scotfree, encouraging them to repeat the misdeed.

This incident may happen again if we don’t fight. The fear that it can happen with us is much more than the fear of being let down by the State agencies.” Adds Ifra Mushtaq, 20, a student and member of the support group, “The victims had lost hope and the urge to fight. We persuaded them to join the campaign and assured them of our unstinted support. At first, they were sceptical because they had been let down by the State agencies who had promised justice. But we were able to convince them of our group’s genuineness.” Ifra’s mother Parveena Akhter, 48, actively supports her endeavour. Akhter, a housewife, is not only a signatory to the petition but also a member of the support group. “I have two daughters and understand the agony of the women of Kunan-Poshpora,” she says. “I volunteered for this campaign and will stick with it till we achieve our goal.”

Meanwhile, some victims have questioned the irony of people terming the Kashmiri youth killed by security forces as ‘martyrs’ while the gangrape victims suffer stigma and neglect. “When someone is killed by soldiers in Kashmir, his parents feel proud of him and his ‘martyrdom’. People give the family respect,” says Aisha (name changed). “The army snatched our honour by raping us. We were attacked for the same reason they target the youth. But see the irony; we, the 40 women from Kunan-Poshpora, who were gangraped by the army, feel stigmatised. No one feels proud of us.” In Kunan-Poshpora, that fateful night has become etched in the collective memory. A new generation has grown up since, living with the stigma of the rape of their “mothers and sisters”. The people here talk of their daughters being looked down upon in the neighbouring villages and their sons dropping out of schools and colleges following taunts by their classmates and even teachers. The memory remains raw and painful even today. “Every year, on 23 February, our village plunges into mourning. We hardly cook that day,” Zeba, 55, told TEHELKA. Members of the support group plan to help the villagers deal with the psychological scars. Their road to justice is primarily legal: the group hopes the court order will force the government to set up a fresh investigation. Once the probe begins, they want to monitor it. “We will not allow any agency probing the case to get away with shoddy work or be compromised,” warns Samreena. Besides, the group plan to hold protests, media interactions and launch public awareness programmes.

What is more, their fight has a larger purpose too. Hope Floats After Two Decades A court order has pulled the infamous Kunan-Poshpora rape case out of the cold storage. Riyaz Wani meets the people who made it possible Riyaz Wani Riyaz Wani 2013-07-20 , Issue 29 Volume 10 Cry for justice Kashmiri women protest against the delay in punishing the perpetrators of the 1991 Kunan-Poshpora rapes Cry for justice Kashmiri women protest against the delay in punishing the perpetrators of the 1991 Kunan-Poshpora rapes. Photo: Faisal Khan When the armymen took my husband away that night, I was left alone in the house with my two toddlers. The soldiers snatched my younger son from my lap, tore off my clothes and pushed me onto the ground… while my son was watching and crying. I didn’t know where they had kept my other son. They didn’t let me go for the entire night despite my pleadings.” As Sara (name changed) broke down while recalling the horror from that night in 1991, the audience at the press conference in Srinagar on 22 June, was overwhelmed with emotion. Sara, who was 24 when the incident happened, had given up hope until 50 women from the Valley came together this May to revive the fight for justice in the alleged mass rape by the army at the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora, located 100 km from Srinagar, in north Kashmir. It’s considered the largest case of mass sexual violence in India. In June, the women’s efforts prompted a local court to direct the government to reopen the case to “further investigate to unravel the identity of the perpetrators”. It was on that night of 23 February 1991 when soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles allegedly raped around 40 women during a search operation in Kunan-Poshpora. According to the villagers, the army cordoned off the village and ordered the men to assemble at an identified place outside the village. The women who were left inside the houses were then allegedly sexually assaulted.

Two days later, the then District Magistrate SM Yasin visited Kunan-Poshpora. He commented later that the accused soldiers had “behaved like violent beasts”. The local police filed an fir on 18 March 1991, but the Director, Prosecutions, threw the case out a month later, saying it was “unfit for launching a criminal prosecution”. Eight months later, the police closed the case without a trial. Following the incident, a Press Council of India committee led by senior journalist BG Verghese visited the Valley and gave a “clean chit to the soldiers”. Verghese didn’t even visit the village but the committee members stayed at the quarters of the army brigade alleged to have committed the crime.

The committee report termed the allegations against the army “totally unproven and completely untrue… a dirty trick to frame the army and get it to lay off Kunan-Poshpora”. The then Divisional Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, who called for a fresh investigation in his report, recently said the government deleted his recommendation for an upgraded probe. His report also said that he “found the allegations of mass rape exaggerated because the women of the entire village were saying they were raped”. This is where the 50 women who call themselves the Support Group for the Victims of Kunan-Poshpora took over. It is an assorted group of students, activists, doctors, government employees and housewives from all over the Valley.

On 10 June this year, they signed a petition demanding a fresh probe into the case by a Special Investigation Team headed by an officer of the rank of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP). On 18 June, Kupwara Chief Judicial Magistrate JA Jeelani issued an order to the government to conduct a probe led by an SSP rank officer within three months. Though this was an achievement, the women, whose cause was also boosted by Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid’s recent apology, have no illusions about the “drawn and uncertain” nature of their struggle. “This struggle is important not only because we demand justice but also for our future,” says Samreena, 25, an activist, who is part of the support group. “We can’t and shouldn’t forget this crime. If we forget, we will be sending a message to the armed forces that they can go scotfree, encouraging them to repeat the misdeed. This incident may happen again if we don’t fight. The fear that it can happen with us is much more than the fear of being let down by the State agencies.” Adds Ifra Mushtaq, 20, a student and member of the support group, “The victims had lost hope and the urge to fight. We persuaded them to join the campaign and assured them of our unstinted support. At first, they were sceptical because they had been let down by the State agencies who had promised justice. But we were able to convince them of our group’s genuineness.” Ifra’s mother Parveena Akhter, 48, actively supports her endeavour. Akhter, a housewife, is not only a signatory to the petition but also a member of the support group. “I have two daughters and understand the agony of the women of Kunan-Poshpora,” she says. “I volunteered for this campaign and will stick with it till we achieve our goal.” Meanwhile, some victims have questioned the irony of people terming the Kashmiri youth killed by security forces as ‘martyrs’ while the gangrape victims suffer stigma and neglect. “When someone is killed by soldiers in Kashmir, his parents feel proud of him and his ‘martyrdom’. People give the family respect,” says Aisha (name changed). “The army snatched our honour by raping us. We were attacked for the same reason they target the youth. But see the irony; we, the 40 women from Kunan-Poshpora, who were gangraped by the army, feel stigmatised. No one feels proud of us.” In Kunan-Poshpora, that fateful night has become etched in the collective memory. A new generation has grown up since, living with the stigma of the rape of their “mothers and sisters”. The people here talk of their daughters being looked down upon in the neighbouring villages and their sons dropping out of schools and colleges following taunts by their classmates and even teachers. The memory remains raw and painful even today. “Every year, on 23 February, our village plunges into mourning. We hardly cook that day,” Zeba, 55, told TEHELKA. Members of the support group plan to help the villagers deal with the psychological scars. Their road to justice is primarily legal: the group hopes the court order will force the government to set up a fresh investigation. Once the probe begins, they want to monitor it. “We will not allow any agency probing the case to get away with shoddy work or be compromised,” warns Samreena. Besides, the group plan to hold protests, media interactions and launch public awareness programmes.

What is more, their fight has a larger purpose too. “It is also about motivating our community to fight for justice. It is about developing a culture of resistance where impunity is not taken for granted,” says Samreena. “Our fight is less about outcomes and more about sending a message to the perpetrators of human rights abuse that we will perpetually pursue them.” riyaz@tehelka.com “It is also about motivating our community to fight for justice. It is about developing a culture of resistance where impunity is not taken for granted,” says Samreena. “Our fight is less about outcomes and more about sending a message to the perpetrators of human rights abuse that we will perpetually pursue them.”

riyaz@tehelka.com

 

  1. Praful Bidwai
    June 07, 2013 , Rediff.com

    Kashmir is at a crossroads. The post-2006 transition from insurgency to peaceful protests now faces a serious threat, says Praful Bidwai after a recent visit to the valley.

    The security bunkers that stood out like sore thumbs every 50 metres in Srinagar [Images ] for two decades have gone. And the oppressive presence of uniformed men bearing weapons has become less overwhelming. But the shadow of Indian security forces still hangs heavy over the social, economic and political life of the Kashmir Valley.

    During a brief visit to Srinagar, I discovered widespread popular alienation from the Indian State. For the Kashmiri people, the gun remains India’s [ Images ] main face, and coercion or deception by New Delhi [ Images ] dominates their consciousness.

    Sullen anger, discontent, hopelessness and despair lie beneath the calm and normalcy at the surface. The anger is intense among educated young people.

    I wish I were wrong, but my discussions with separatist leaders from both factions of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, mainstream politicians, intellectuals, and above all, articulate young men and women, leave me with no other conclusion. Reading recent publications from the Valley only confirms this.

    It is hard to predict what form the anger will take, and whether it will once again explode into militancy and secessionist violence, as in 1989. But Indian policymakers and the larger public would be dangerously mistaken in ignoring the simmering discontent in the Kashmir valley, or in imagining that it can be calmed or neutralised by incremental or token gestures like the announcement of yet another economic ‘package’.

    The popular alienation is the cumulative result of a number of factors culminating in Mohammed Afzal Guru‘s execution on February 9, and the widespread disgust this provoked in the valley.

    Most Kashmiris believe, like many Indians, that Guru’s trial did not establish his guilt.

    Guru, Kashmiris believe, was killed for ‘political’ reasons — because the United Progressive Alliance [ Images ] wanted to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party‘s [ Images ] charge that it is ‘soft’ on terrorists. They regard Guru’s execution in secrecy as identical with that of Ajmal KasabImages ] — and hence proof that the Indian State equates Kashmir with Pakistan, an ‘enemy’ country.

    They underline the contrast with the right to appeal granted to members of sandalwood smuggler Veerappan’s gang and to Rajiv Gandhi’s [ Images ] assassins, and believe Guru was singled out because he was a Kashmiri.

    Other factors behind the alienation are innumerable human rights abuses, including the continuing detention of more than 1,000 young people for holding peaceful protests, despite the government’s promise to pardon them; and use of the draconian Public Safety Act — which allows detention without charges for two years — against 12- and 15-year-old boys merely for pelting stones.

    No less important is the disappearance of scores of people detained by the security forces, and many unpunished killings by the army, such as that of three boys at Machil in Kupwara district in 2010.

    All this has strengthened resentment at what large numbers of Kashmiris consider as India’s military occupation of the valley, which violates their freedom and dignity.

    Compounding this is the ruling National Conference-Congress government’s failure to address growing unemployment, prevalence of massive corruption, dilution of the Right to Information Act, and police brutality, reflected in the killing of more than 100 peaceful protesters in both 2008 and 2010.

    Instead of redressing the situation, the state government has drafted the J&K Police Bill, which allows it to set up ‘special security zones’ in ‘disturbed’ areas, where the police acquire magisterial and administrative powers — and impunity for their actions.

    It also allows the creation of Salwa Judum-style militias in the form of ‘village defence committees’. This has bred further resentment.

    No less important is the exposure of the joint civilian-military Unified Command as a handmaiden of the army in ‘security’ matters. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah [ Images ], backed by then Union home minister P Chidambaram [ Images ], has repeatedly called for repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from certain peaceful areas, but the army has contemptuously vetoed that demand — just as it sabotaged a settlement of the Siachen glacier dispute with Pakistan, favoured by New Delhi.

    Army commanders have spoken on such policy issues in gross violation of the democratic principle that only the civilian leadership can do so. They even threatened to suspend counter-insurgency operations if AFSPA is repealed.

    They strongly loath any dilution of their power under AFSPA to kill anyone merely suspected to be about to breach a prohibitory order such as Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code which bans the assembly of five or more persons.

    This only proves, say Kashmiri analysts, that the Indian State has no respect for Jammu and Kashmir’s [ Images ] elected government: Democracy is a ‘mere showpiece’ so far as Kashmir is concerned.

    Irrespective of whether this perception is right or wrong, it is widely prevalent. An important element in it is the memory of repeated rigging of J&K assembly elections and imposition of Delhi’s puppets on the state until recently.

    A watershed was the 1987 election, the manipulation of whose results spontaneously provoked fierce anger, leading to the eruption of the separatist militancy in 1989, which Pakistan cynically exploited, to disastrous effect.

    The militancy and ferocious State repression claimed more than 80,000 lives before they declined after 2002 thanks to popular exhaustion with violence. Things further changed with the 2004 Lok Sabha and the 2008 assembly elections, which saw relatively high polling such as 40 percent-plus.

    In 2011, local body elections were held for the first time in a decade, which witnessed an impressive turnout of 79 percent despite the separatists’ call to boycott them.

    Since then, Kashmir’s economy has expanded, tourism has boomed, and new enterprises have sprouted, including some in information technology, floriculture and banking. Kashmiris started taking and scored well in the all-India services examinations.

    The number of Kashmiri students in Indian colleges has multiplied four-fold over a decade, according to one estimate.

    However, this doesn’t mean that full normalcy has returned or Kashmir’s wounds have healed. Kashmiris have learnt to use the available democratic space without changing their fundamental stance vis-a-vis India.

    There has been a transition from violent to peaceful protest, which became starkly visible in the 2008 Amarnath Yatra [Images ], and again in 2010. But popular alienation hasn’t abated.

    The Indian State’s response to the protest was twofold: Shoot down peaceful agitators or arrest them on fake charges; and when the protests ebb, make conciliatory moves through committees such as the interlocutors group headed by journalist Dileep Padgaonkar.

    This group is only the latest in a series of ‘olive branch’ offers by New Delhi, including visits by Rajesh Pilot [ Images ] and S B Chavan in the 1990s, the K C Pant committee of 2001, the N N Vohra committee of 2003, several rounds of talks with the separatists, numerous economic packages, and the prime minister’s five J&K working groups set up with much fanfare in 2006. One of these, headed by present Vice-President Hamid Ansari, recommended revocation of AFSPA.

    These initiatives may have temporarily calmed tempers in the valley and even averted a deeper crisis. But none of them produced results. Their recommendations either fell short of a solution, or were rejected outright. That was the fate of the interlocutors’ report too.

    Its story not only provokes derision, but worse, further cynicism in Kashmir and convinces people that the Indian government has no intention of changing course or reforming its J&K policy.

    That was the message from the India-Pakistan back-channel talks too, based on General Pervez Musharraf’s [ Images ] four-point formula. These very nearly succeeded in 2006-2007 and could have clinched a solution which involves demilitarisation, regional autonomy and self-rule without a redrawing of the borders.

    But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [ Images ] didn’t seize the moment. Soon, Musharraf’s position became untenable thanks to his confrontation with the judiciary. The moment passed.

    To return to the present, Kashmir is at a crossroads. The post-2006 transition from insurgency to peaceful protests now faces a serious threat amidst the perception that New Delhi remains as unresponsive to these as it was hostile to the militancy.

    There have been more than a dozen attacks on security forces by gunmen and suicide bombers, as well as armed encounters, in different parts of the valley in recent weeks.

    These attacks were not led or coordinated by organised groups like Hizbul Mujahideen [ Images ], but conducted by educated professionals — engineers, science postgraduates and MBAs — motivated by azaadi (freedom, autonomy, independence, nobody knows exactly which), and convinced that normal, peaceful, dignified life is impossible under Indian ‘occupation’.

    A majority of the young people I interviewed expressed sympathy for the attackers, while admitting that a heavy price would have to be paid for militancy and the State’s retaliatory response.

    Some even said that peaceful protest has exhausted its potential, and armed resistance may be necessary to highlight the cardinal truth that the Kashmir problem remains unresolved after 66 years.

    These are dangerous signs. New Delhi must heed them and correct course — even as it responds positively to Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s [ Images ] welcome offer of talks.


 

By BETWA SHARMA
School children running for cover during a protest in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, on Apr. 28, 2011.Dar Yasin/Associated PressSchool children running for cover during a protest in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, on Apr. 28, 2011.

NEW DELHI – In October 2011, a Kashmiri boy who was throwing stones in a protest against Indian security forces found out very quickly that what it was like to be treated as an adult by the local police.

He recalled that after he was arrested in downtown Srinagar, officers removed his shirt and pants at the police station. His wrists were then struck with a scale and trampled on by officers wearing boots.

The boy, 14 at the time he was interviewed last fall and who asked to remain anonymous because he feared retaliation by the police, recalled that he sang Pakistan’s national anthem after being beaten all night. “I knew it would hurt them more than anything,” he said.

Growing pressure from human rights groups, which have documented similar cases of police brutality against minors, prompted Jammu and Kashmir lawmakers to pass a comprehensive bill in March that raises the age of juvenile jurisdiction in the state to 18 years, from 16.

The bill, which was signed into the law by the governor in April, also creates a special police force for handling minors, sets up special homes for sheltering them and establishes judicial boards to exclusively hear their cases. The law won’t go into effect until the state’s social welfare ministry crafts the final rules.

A policeman holding stones to throw back at protestors in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, on March 29.Dar Yasin/Associated PressA policeman holding stones to throw back at protestors in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, on March 29.

Child rights activists welcomed the bill since it brings the state law in line with the national law. But they are also concerned about its implementation in the conflict-hit Kashmir Valley, where violence is seen as a legitimate response by security forces to curb unrest and previous attempts to set up legal protections for arrested minors have seen decade-long delays.

The abuses of juvenile detainees in Kashmir came into focus after the militancy of the 1990s gave way to civilian protests. Young boys took to throwing stones in mass demonstrations that rocked Kashmir Valley in 2008 and 2010.

Since then, stone pelting has become a popular way for youths to express their anger against the government, and the government has been constantly looking to stamp out any repeat of 2010. Minors who were accused of throwing stones were detained in police lockups, appeared in regular courts, sometimes in handcuffs, and lodged in jails.

“There has been a phenomenon of detention and torture of youth as young as 10 years old, particularly after the protests of 2008 and 2010 in Kashmir,” the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the United Nations said in its 2012 report.

Human rights activists say that minors are still being arrested under the state’s Public Safety Act even after it was amended in 2012 to apply only to persons over 18.

Govind Acharya, Amnesty International’s Kashmir expert, said that during a visit to Kashmir last year, the organization found three cases in which the age of minors were falsified to book them under the act. But their detentions were later thrown out by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.

“If there are any security forces who have deliberately falsified ages, then they need to be held to account,” said Mr. Acharya.

Ashok Prasad, director general of police for Jammu and Kashmir, denied that the police routinely arrested children, only the “habitual offenders.”

“Children are not picked up randomly but on the basis of video footage,” he said. “We also show these videos to their parents.”

Mr. Prasad also dismissed allegations that minors were beaten in police stations. “It could only be an aberration. We have not received any specific complaint from parents or the courts,” he said.

Some provisions in the new law, like setting up of special homes and judicial boards for juveniles, were also in the current juvenile justice law, passed in 1997. But these were never implemented. The first juvenile home in Kashmir was set up only in 2011. No such facility for girls exists yet.

Following a visit to the juvenile home in June last year, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights found that not all the children were provided with a toothbrush and that they had to share a towel. “The heavy grilled gates gave a feeling that the children were kept in a jail,” the commission said in its report.

A week before the new bill passed, the Asian Centre for Human Rights released a report that said that Jammu and Kashmir state was among theworst of the 16 conflict-hit states in India in terms of providing juvenile justice.

Suhas Chakma, the center’s director, pointed out that it has taken the Jammu and Kashmir government almost 30 years to enact laws to protect juveniles. The 1997 state law, he noted, was passed 10 years after the national law for juveniles was enacted in 1986. And then it took the state government until 2007 to draft the procedural rules that brought the law into force.

Now, Mr. Chakma said, Jammu and Kashmir lawmakers passed the new bill 13 years after the central government adopted a revised national law in 2000 to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18, bringing Indian law in line with international law.

“The government in Delhi and in Srinagar have security concerns about children in a variety of protests in Kashmir,” he said. “It was a political decision not to have juvenile justice for so long.”

Arun Kumar, an official in the state’s Social Welfare Ministry, said that it would take a couple of months more to frame the rules, which would then need to be vetted by the Law Ministry. “We will try to do it as quickly as possible,” he said.

The prevailing sentiment among human rights groups and lawyers is that an overall change in attitude is necessary for the juvenile justice to be taken seriously by security forces. Many child rights activists are expecting this to be a gradual process since civil liberties have been pushed aside in the government’s fight against militants over the past two decades.

Vrinda Grover, a prominent human rights lawyer, said the first step of securing rights of minors was not legal but political. “New Delhi has to make a choice. Does it want to support the rule of law or continue to boost the morale of the police and troops?” she said.

source- http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/

 

Justin Podur

MAY 28, 2013

india_kashmir_rebel_attack

Indian Army soldiers at an encounter site with militants in Kashmir on Friday. AP photo

Guest post by JUSTIN PODUR: I spent a week in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, at the end of April 2013, talking to people among whom there was a wide range of opinion. While almost everyone supports freedom, some are resigned to India never letting Kashmir go, others believe that the struggle will go on and take different forms, some are just trying to survive. It seemed to me, at the end of a calm week during tourist season, that India is bringing about all of the things that it fears: Pakistani influence, violence,  radicalisation of youth, political Islam, and hatred of India.

The Kashmir conflict has been going on for decades. When India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, both new states wanted Kashmir. The ruler of Kashmir acceded to India. India and Pakistan fought their first war over the state that year, establishing a partition of the territory into an area controlled by Pakistan and an area controlled by India. The part controlled by India includes Jammu, Ladakh, and the Kashmir valley. When Kashmir acceded to India, the Indian Constitution made a special provision to allow for Kashmir to have certain national rights, and to allow for the future of Kashmir (in India or Pakistan) to be settled by a plebiscite. The plebiscite never happened. The special autonomy provisions in the constitution have not been honoured. Today, Kashmiris have fewer rights than the rest of the Indian union and they get less respect for the rights that they do have. An insurgency in the 1990′s was brutally suppressed by the Indian army, with thousands killed, tortured, and disappeared. In 2010, a series of popular protests in the valley were also suppressed. Most recently, the government shut all communications down and imposed curfew for several days after the political hanging of Afzal Guru in February 2013. It has taken many different forms, but the conflict between the aspirations of Kashmiris and the Indian state has remained.

When a conflict seems intractable, it is because someone is benefiting from it. Those who proposesolutions to the conflict are therefore inevitably proposing to take some benefit away from someone – in this case, from those who are benefiting from it and who have the power to end it. Any proposed solution can then be dismissed as infeasible. In the case of Kashmir, this has been the most reliable way to keep the conflict going. Propose greater autonomy within India? Infeasible, India says, because the rest of India won’t tolerate it. Propose independence? Infeasible, India says, because India would never allow it. Propose demilitarising the area somewhat? Infeasible, India has security concerns.

Then, having dismissed any of the obvious solutions, we can throw up our hands in frustration and ask: But what do the Kashmiris really want?

Although the parallel has been over-used, and there are a dozen ways to break the analogy, there is an instructive comparison to Israel/Palestine. For many years, advocates for Palestine were divided into one-state and two-state advocates. The one-state advocates, who argued that Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza should all be a single state with equality for Israeli Jews and Palestinians, were accused of utopian dreaming, since Israel would never be willing to sacrifice its Jewish character and become a democratic state for all its citizens. The two-state advocates, who believed they were advocating a world consensus, had to watch Israel continue to grab more territory and tighten the noose that was suffocating Palestinian life. Every few years, Israel would massacre some Palestinians. Israel and its backers would throw up their hands and say: but what do Palestinians really want? One state, two states, an Islamic state?

In the Palestinian context, this intellectual impasse was broken by the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Inspired by the struggle against South African apartheid, one of the BDS movement’s greatest contributions was not in its selection of BDS tactics. Instead, it was the advocacy of a rights-based program, instead of a solutions-basedprogram. The argument was simple. If Palestinians have the same rights as everybody else – freedom from military occupation, equal rights to live, work, study and travel, the right to return to homes from which they have been displaced – then any solution that accommodates these rights is acceptable. Conversely, any proposed solution has to respect the rights of the people, or it is a false solution.

What if the Kashmir conflict were re-framed in the same way? What if we thought about Kashmir in a rights-based, as opposed to a solutions-based, framework? It seems to me that if India wanted to respect the rights of Kashmiris, it would have to stop doing several things immediately. Whether India thinks that territorial control is paramount (and therefore wants to keep Kashmir in the union at all costs) or decides that the democratic principle is more important (and therefore wants to give Kashmiris the space to decide for themselves) there can be no progress without respecting the rights of Kashmiris.

I am not going to suggest things that many states are incapable of doing anywhere, like ending corruption or following its own laws consistently. I am just going to suggest things that are allowed and routine in other states. So here are eleven things that India should do to protect people’s rights in Kashmir.

11. Stop using soldiers as police. Troops are for borders. If the army deployment is because Kashmir is the border with Pakistan and China, then army troops shouldn’t be seen in Srinagar or other valley towns. They should be at their border posts. Let the state police do the policing, and leave the troops at the border.

10. Stop messing with Kashmir’s communications. The refrain that ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India’ is constantly heard. But Kashmir is not an integral part of India’s communications network. I have traveled all over India, and paid fairly low roaming fees with my Delhi-based SIM card. When I didn’t want to pay them, I got myself a local SIM card by giving my passport, visa, and a photo ID (all of which seemed excessive to me). But prepaid SIMs from outside Kashmir simply don’t work in Kashmir. And you can’t just get a SIM card the way you can elsewhere. And you can’t send SMS messages within Kashmir, much less out of Kashmir. And of course, when the Indian state does something that they know will horrify Kashmiris, like executing Afzal Guru in secret after denying him legal rights and admitting that he’s being hanged not because of evidence against him but because ‘the conscience of the nation’ demands it, the Indian state also shuts all communications down inside Kashmir.

Kashmiris have taken to Facebook and other social media to communicate, but they feel that they can be hunted down if they write things the state doesn’t like.

9. Stop suppressing student politics. One complaint I heard many times was that the Kashmir University Student Union (KUSU) was banned, while the campus Congress Party was allowed to organise. I asked a University administrator why student politics were not allowed. He told me that it was because students were vulnerable to being used by off-campus elements, and that student politics would be extremely disruptive on campus. Until the situation calms down, he said, they could not allow campus politics. And anyway, he added, there was no tradition of campus politics, unlike say, in Delhi.

I disagree. Administrations always have adversarial relationships with student movements, and if student politics were allowed, there would no doubt be times when the administration suspended students or gave academic punishments for disrupting classes, etc. – but there are ways of dealing with all of this, of negotiating it, that every other campus knows.

8. Stop banning and deporting people. Allow free movement. Arundhati Roy wrote about this in 2011. When I told people I was going to Kashmir, I was told, “Hope they don’t ban you from India like they did with David Barsamian”. A US-based activist and radio personality, Barsamian has a long connection with India and comes very often, interviewing people and doing journalism on a wide variety of topics. He was deported in 2011, supposedly for doing professional activities on a tourist visa. Richard Shapiro (see this piece where he makes the argument for demilitarisation), an American professor, was deported from Kashmir in 2010, with the same pretext. These pretexts are flimsy. There are probably millions of visitors who come on tourist visas and write things about India. I doubt anyone has been deported for writing about saris, handicrafts, or even for complaining about pollution or noise. But write about Kashmir, and suddenly you are in violation of your visa. In any case, leaving Barsamian and Shapiro aside, what visa terms do Indian citizens violate? When Gautam Navlakha, an Indian citizen, tried to enter Kashmir in 2011, he was stopped at the airport and put on the next plane back to Delhi. Effectively, he was deported, something that should not be possible from one ‘integral part of India’ to another.

7. Let Kashmir control its water resources. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) controls the water and sells it back to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The J&K government wants several power projects returned to it, and accuses NHPC of retaining these projects illegally. In these joint ventures, the NHPC gets the power, which it then distributes according to its own logic, which includes selling some of the power back to the state. From the NHPC perspective, this is efficient allocation of resources. From Kashmir’s perspective, it is internal colonialism, and given the physical geography of the state, leaves people freezing in the dark when they have ample hydroelectric capacity. Let Kashmir control its own water resources and sell to the centre, as other states have negotiated.

6. Regulate the yatras. The Amarnath yatra brings Hindus from different parts of India to Kashmir to worship. The yatra has grown immensely over the years and, like many other religious festivals, has become politicized. In the context of Kashmir, it has also become militarized. The yatra is controlled by a board that is ultimately controlled by India. Even though the board was constituted in 2000 by the governor of J & K, the composition of the board is heavily weighted towards the Centre, effectively disenfranchising the locals in an event with an increasingly high impact. The growing size of the yatras has become a grievance. Why generate the perception that India is trying to change the demographics of Kashmir? If other yatras can be regulated on ecological grounds, why can’t the Amarnath yatra? Why can’t the board be controlled from within the state?

5. Punish crimes, not people. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) means that (as activist Vrinda Grover has argued instead of being held to a higher standard, representatives of the state have more privilege than others. This has to be repealed. Crimes are crimes, whether they are committed by security forces or citizens. Instead of punishing crimes, the government punishes people. Soldiers are immune from prosecution even for torture, murder or rape. Kashmiris who aren’t committing crimes, whether they are shouting slogans, attending demonstrations, or just are in the wrong place at the wrong time, can be punished. If the Indian state doesn’t know what a crime is, why would anyone want to be a part of it?

4. Count the dead. Hundreds of unidentified and mass graves have been uncovered throughout the state in the past few years. Families whose children have been disappeared want to know if these mass graves contain their children. But instead of testing all of the bodies and identifying them, India has demanded that the families submit to DNA tests. What should have been the Indian state apologizing and trying to make repair for ghastly violations has thus turned into a further ghastly violation, a further intelligence gathering exercise. India should do the DNA tests on the mass grave and provide the information. The denial of what everyone knows is true is insanity-inducing. Nothing good can come of it.

3. Make amnesty meaningful. India wants former militants to surrender, but surrendered militants’ lives become surreal and horrifying. Afzal Guru’s ordeal since he surrendered is perhaps the most dramatic example, but there are many others. In order to demonstrate progress in counterinsurgency, India’s military forces have used surrendered militants as ‘false positives’: men are killed and arranged to look like they were insurgents killed in encounters. Their lives are expendable, their corpses a resource. This must stop.

2. Increase connectivity. Allow people to travel. India is supposedly worried about ‘cross-border terrorism’. The phrase has two parts. The ‘cross-border’ part is not a crime in itself. Anything you can do that is a crime on one side of the border is also a crime on the other side. It is the crime that is the problem, not the border-crossing. The same goes for terrorism. The entire framework of anti-terror legislation that was enacted around the world after 9/11 was basically unnecessary. The crimes that terrorists commit – mainly murder – were defined as crimes in the law before the anti-terror laws were passed. Terrorists can be punished for crimes, and efforts to prevent violent crimes can take place, while trying to minimize disruption of people’s freedom of movement. Instead, India’s approach is to besiege the population and deny them freedom of movement unless they can prove that they are not criminals.

1. Allow separatism. One of Canada’s major provinces, Quebec, has a different official language (French) from the rest (English) and the majority of its French-speaking inhabitants want independence. It has a provincial party, the Parti Quebecois, that is devoted to independence, and a federal level party, the Bloc Quebecois, that, while seeking independence, also seeks to press Quebec’s interests at the federal level. Demographically and in terms of voting blocs, Quebec is much larger relative to Canada than Kashmir is relative to India (Quebec and J&K have about the same population, but the whole of Canada, with about 30 million people, has the population of one of India’s smaller states). But the point is that in the past few decades the Canadian state has not taken an iron fist approach to separatism, and the Canadian state has not collapsed.

Indeed, during one of the Quebec referenda (Quebec has had 3 of the plebiscites that have been denied Kashmir), a very intelligent urban thinker, Jane Jacobs, pointed out that Norway had peacefully separated from Sweden through a referendum in 1905, and the world didn’t end. Obsessed with Pakistan, the Indian establishment is looking in the wrong direction for examples. Kashmir doesn’t have to be Bangladesh. It could just as easily be Norway or Quebec.

(Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and professor at York University, and was recently a visiting professor at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. His blog is www.killingtrain.com and twitter is twitter.com/justinpodur)

 

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.

Despite the call by human rights organizations to stop the use of weapons such as pellet guns and chilli grenades in tackling riots or mob fury, security forces in the Kashmir Valley continue to deploy the same with impunity. This has led to debilitating injuries and even death, reports Freny Maneksha. 
 

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25 April 2013 – “Killing us is better than making us blind.” This cry in total despair by a Kashmiri youth, who recently lost his vision, after a pellet gun injury, highlights the devastating manner in which seemingly “non lethal” weapons are continuing to be deployed in the Valley. In 2010 when security troops used pellet guns to quell protests and incidents of stone pelting, at least 45 youths suffered loss of vision because of pellet gun injuries, according to the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar.

Media reports estimate that in the current 2013 protests, following the execution of Afzal Guru, there have been at least 12 such cases of youths receiving very serious eye injuries with slim prospects of regaining vision. The youngest of them is a 13-year-old boy, Muzammil Qayoom Rather, who was hit in the eye as he stood at the window of his home in Baramulla district, North Kashmir. On 12 February, according to media reports, he leaned out of the window of his home in Sheeri to shout slogans even as protests were taking place in the streets below. He then received a hit in the eye by security forces who aimed at him.


Air gun pellets can cause serious eye injuries and can penetrate the skin, bone and even internal organs. Pic credit: Wikimedia

It was also on 12 February that nineteen-year-old street hawker, Tariq Ahmad Gojri of Sheeri, Baramulla district, received a hit in the eye. Gojri told the media he had ventured out only to buy bread for the family. He adds that he was unable to seek proper medical attention because of the curfew that was clamped then. By the time he got to a hospital, the tiny pellets had spread through the eye. His entire eyeball had to be removed. Doctors say that these types of penetrating injuries cannot always be treated effectively in district hospitals. But, patients from remote districts are hindered from seeking prompt or timely medical attention because of the oft-prevailing curfew and also because, they say, security troops detain ambulances and vehicles ferrying the wounded.

It is this kind of deliberate and inappropriate use of non- lethal weapons that has evoked widespread criticism by human rights organisations including Amnesty International. Pellet guns, which use hydraulic force to pump hundreds of bullets, can cause widespread injuries across the body. When aimed upwards they can cause serious eye injuries. Besides piercing the eyeball, pellet guns can cause penetration of skin, bone and even internal organs.

One major problem for doctors and medical teams treating such injuries is that since the pellets come out in scores, it hits large numbers of persons in many parts of the body. In 2010 Dr Syed Amin Tabish, medical superintendent of the Sher-I-Kashmir Medical Institute (SKIMS) Srinagar, explained to this correspondent that pellet injuries necessitated a big team of doctors attending simultaneously to a single person who may have suffered hits in the head, abdomen and limbs.

According to media reports, at least three people died in March because acrid fumes of the pepper gas grenades used to disperse crowds in many parts of old Srinagar exacerbated their medical conditions.
•  Maimed by the state, quietly
•  A death in the family

In the same year a medical study on pellet gun injuries was brought out by SKIMS based on the 198 patients who were brought in with pellet gun injuries. The study notes, “Whilst the pellet wound itself may seem trivial, if not appreciated for the potential for tissue disruption and injuries to the head, chest and abdomen, there can be catastrophic results.” Significantly it observed, “Patients should be evaluated and managed in the same way as those sustaining bullet injuries.” The study cautioned that pellet guns should not be used unless extremely necessary and personnel using them may be better trained so that people do not receive direct hits.

Other “non lethal” weapons like pepper gas and pepper grenades (also called chilli grenades) have also been deployed in the latest round of turmoil in Kashmir. According to media reports, at least three people died in March because acrid fumes of the pepper gas grenades used to disperse crowds in many parts of old Srinagar exacerbated their medical conditions. Among them was a sixty-year-old woman from Bemina, named Hazira. Her family members say that on 8 March, a stray pepper grenade landed in her home which worsened her asthma. She died the next day. Another pregnant woman reportedly suffered a miscarriage after she stumbled and fell ill on inhaling the fumes. Whilst these grenades may be aimed at youths protesting on streets, the elderly and young children can be particularly vulnerable to the gas that engulfs the atmosphere, according to doctors.

A doctor at the Soura Institute of Medical Sciences in Srinagar told the press that while they did not know the exact chemical composition of the gas its effects were particularly lethal for people with acute asthma or allergy.

Uzma, a young woman told this correspondent that the intensity of the gas was such that its effects can be felt within a radius of up to three or four kilometres from where it is deployed. �Your throat starts burning and itching and you can go on coughing violently for almost an hour and a half. The eyes start watering and this, too, continues for hours. It is really a horrific and frightening sensation.�

The use of pepper gas and resulting deaths rocked the assembly and the opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, staged a walkout on 11 March. The Jammu & Kashmir State Human Rights Commission castigated the police and state. In its order, it said the “state is duty-bound under constitution and law to protect the lives of the citizens and in no case are at liberty or have license to adopt such measures which would endanger the health of its subject in the name of maintaining law and order.”

On 21 March, Amnesty International told the government to suspend the use of pepper spray grenades until rigorous independent investigations have been carried out to assess its effect. It has also asked for a proper investigation into the cause of deaths of the three persons. Shashikumar Velath, programme director of Amnesty International India, said the J&K government and police departments have clearly not established any guidelines for monitoring the use of this gas and it is yet another example of “unregulated and excessive use of force by police in J&K.”

Use of pepper sprays is permissible in India and it has been marketed as an effective means of self defence, but it was the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that in 2008 announced it would begin work on its use as a non-lethal weapon against terrorists. Scientists told the media that they would be using Bhut Jholakia, a chilly grown in the North East, that is recognised as one of the world’s hottest chillies. India’s Defence Research Laboratory rates it as having 855,000 heat units on the Scoville range (which makes it 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce). These scorching chillies are used to make tear-gas like grenades. On ignition the oleoresin or thick, oily liquid which is absorbed in a composition reacts to liberate heat which evaporates and releases irritants in the atmosphere along with smoke.

The DRDO went ahead with its plans for such weapons even though Amnesty International and other organisations had declared that use of pepper sprays against peaceful protesters was “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” It described the severity of its effects as “tantamount to torture.” Its use has been rejected in the United Kingdom because of potential carcinogenic properties.

In May 2011, according to a report in India Today, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) placed an order for as many as 10,000 chilli grenades at a whopping cost of Rs 1.51 crore to be deployed in Kashmir to disperse mobs. Besides the CRPF, the UP state police last year applied to the ministry of home affairs to purchase these pepper grenades which had not yet been tested. Kashmir is the first state in India where these untested grenades are currently being deployed. Interestingly whilst defence personnel and the DRDO have on various blogs and websites held discussions on its efficacy for crowd control, there has been little evaluation of its lethal effects and the fact that its use on unarmed civilian populations is considered a transgression of human rights in many other parts of the world.

Freny Maneksha 
25 April 2013

Freny Manecksha is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.

REFERENCES

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/crpf-orders-10000-chilli-grenades-for-kashmir-valley/1/142098.html

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/on-police-demand-list-untested-chilli-grenades-to-control-crowd/974344/

http://defenceforumindia.com/forum/indian-army/13244-low-intensity-conflict-laser-dazzlers-tackle-kashmiri-protesters-1.html

http://www.nag.co.za/forums/archive/index.php/t-13684.html