Srinagar bases human rights defender group, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS) Thursday released its review of Human Rights situation in state in 2015 which is being produced here
On comparison, the frequency of killings remains similar to the previous years. The incidents like HMT youth killing, or killing of three-year-old Burhan, deaths due to littered explosives, or killings by unidentified gunmen are indicative of the trend of continuing violence. This year also marked killing of former militants and political workers in Sopore area in Baramulla district by unknown assailants. The frequency of cross border shelling this year was much higher than what was recorded in previous years. 11 persons got killed due to the escalated Indo-Pak hostilities on the Line of Control and border.
In 2015, the graph of killings witnessed upswing with 219 deaths, which belies the drop-in-violence claims of the government. The month long Kupwara siege by the army to catch or kill trapped militants again points to the tightening noose of militarization which continues to be responsible for widespread violence in Jammu and Kashmir. The gruesome killing of 55 civilians during the year belied the claim of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed Mohammad Sayed, on September 15, that “not a single bullet was fired on civilians” during his 7 month tenure (when the number of civilians killed stood at 41). The statement made by the Government of India on December 16, that 89 militants and its 37 troopers were killed up-to October 2015 is at variance with data compiled by the JKCCS.
In 2015, out of total 58 killings of troopers 52 were recorded up to October 2015. 8 cases of soldier’s suicide were also reported. Out of 106 militants 87 were killed until October this year. Out of 55 civilian killings – 11 died in cross LOC shelling, 5 were killed by army including 3 persons who died landmine blast planted by the army in Rajouri, 5 were killed by J&K Police, 3 died in alleged cross firing between militants and troopers, while as 8 people lost their lives due to littered explosives, BSF killed 1, militants killed 7 (6 by Lashkar-e-Islam), CRPF killed 1 person, VDC members killed 3 civilians including mother and son and 1 person died after being attacked by right wing Hindu goons on Udhampur highway. However unknown gunmen killed 10 civilians.
Nevertheless, there is a considerable drop in cases of enforced disappearances in J&K, however, the cases like three disappearances in Kupwara keep surfacing now and then. As of now, the actual fate of the trio identified as Ali Mohammad Sheikh of Trehgam, Mir Hussain Khatana and Gulam Jeelani Khatana of Dardpora, Kupwara is not known, however, their families suspect that they might have been killed in fake encounter by army. The main accused in disappearing the trio was a Territorial Army personnel, Manzoor Ahmad Khwaja, who is presently under the police custody.
The circumstances in which the trio disappeared refresh the spectre of the Macchil Fake Encounter 2010. It appears there is a deep relation between killing of army’s Colonel Santosh Mahadik of the army’s elite para-commando force and commanding officer of 41 Rashtriya Rifles on November 17 and the disappearance of the trio. The incidents coincide. However, FIR No. 100/2015 under Section 365 RPC has been filed against the disappearances in Trehgam police station and the accused Manzoor Ahmad Khwaja, son of Gulam Qadir Khwaja, a Territorial Army soldier is in police custody but no headway was made. The suspicion that state is involved in disappearing the trio was buttressed when the police threatened a local hotel owner at Srinagar not to allow a press conference arranged by Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) where the relatives of the disappeared trio was supposed to interact with the media. However, the APDP, after a brief disturbance managed the press conference on the bank of river Jhelum outside its office.
The police, on December 8, claimed that the families were called to Police Station Kralpora, Kupwara and shown five photographs of militants killed in encounters since 15/11/2015. However, there was no resemblance between the photographs and their missing family members.
The disappearances of the trio not only confirm, there is no complete stoppage of enforced disappearances in Kashmir but whenever needed the State actors pursue the policy of disappearing people. In past government made every possible effort to obfuscate the issue by making conflicting statements at different occasion. The current Chief Minister, during his first term, in April 2003 pegged the number of disappeared at 60 during a joint press conference with then Indian Prime Minister. And only two months later, the same CM contradicted his previous statement by putting the number at 3744.
COMPARISON OF KILLINGS WITH PREVIOUS YEARS
There have been contradictory claims by various stakeholders regarding the escalation or de-escalation of killings in Jammu and Kashmir. In 2014, a total of 234 persons were killed, which included 53 civilians, 99 militants and 82 armed forces personnel. In 2013, a total of 203, which included 48 civilians, 73 militants and 82 armed forces personnel, while as in 2012, a total of 142 persons were killed, which included 31 civilians, 75 militants and 36 armed forces personnel. Comparing the killings of this year with 2012, there clearly appears to be escalation in the number of killings, but if the figures of killings for 2011 are considered, it appears to be almost consistent, during which total of 227 persons were killed, which included 56 civilians, 100 militants and 71 armed forces personnel.
This year as well the state continued the policy of detaining and arresting people involved in political protests and mobilization across Jammu and Kashmir. This policy of detaining the voices of dissent is being applied far and wide to political space for any pro-freedom activities. The government’s claim of granting amnesty to 118 stone pelters appears to be a gimmick keeping in view the continuous harassment and illegal detentions of youth.
On Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Kashmir visit on November 7th, according to newspaper reports over 1000 people were taken into jails by the state forces to thwart the pro-freedom “Million March” called by Hurriyat Conference. The house detentions of pro-freedom leaders continued this year as well. There are also contradictions in police claims on the Chairman of Hurriyat Conference Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s house arrest by misinforming media about his free movement.
Mostly, youth were arrested in nocturnal raids many of whom were booked under Public Safety Act (PSA) for expressing their dissent by means of stone pelting, as a reaction to police action during protest demonstrations. There are disturbing reports from Shopian and Palhallan areas where youth were taken into custody during night raids. These detained youth complained of humiliation and torture in police lockups. In Shopian district alone 67 youth were arrested in one go during a protest. Even the ruling coalition People Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman while admitting the large-scale arrest said, people have never been arrested on this scale in a single incident but the state government has no choice to deal with people.
Pro-freedom leader Masarat Alam’s re-detention under PSA was in violation of Supreme Court decision dated 22nd March 2013 that mandated, any fresh PSA order against him would not come into force for a week from the date of communication of the order to enable him to pursue appropriate legal remedies. By this preventive detention the government has bypassed the judicial process and undermined its own institutions.
In another disturbing incident, five minor boys, who have been charged under the Unlawful Activities Act, were brought handcuffed in full public view by uniformed policemen to a court in Srinagar in violation of the Juvenile Justice Act 2013.
Even people were arrested for observing their religious duties as the case of a Cleric from Kulgam, who was booked under Public Safety Act (PSA) for offering Nimaz Jinaza (funeral prayer) of a slain militant. Two more boys from Palhalan area of Baramulla district were booked under controversial PSA in December for taking part in protests. If government figures are accurate, 17 persons are currently detained under Public Safety Act (PSA).
There are also allegations of illegal detention and harassment of youth in Sopore area, which remained in focus in May and June this year for being centre of attacks on mobile phone installation by the gunmen of newly formed outfit Lashkar-e-Islam.
According to a young boy, SOG personnel are detaining and torturing him regularly on one or the other pretext. He also accused the forces of coercing him to work as their informer.
As recent as December 26, the arrest and filing of attempt to murder charges against the JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik for lodging protest against the killings by Village Defence Committee members (VDC) in Jammu, reaffirms the state policy of relying on detaining and framing the dissidents.
It seems that the doctors oft repeated warnings and civil society concern over the rampant use of pellet guns failed to make any impact on the Government policy. The new government is no different. This year as well, the use of pellet was widespread to counter the pro-freedom protests. The continuous use of pellet guns has increased the number of injured youth, majority of whom are students, with serious eye injuries. In majority of the eye injury cases, the doctors’ opine chances of normal eyesight recovery are minimal. The doctors also expressed their concern that due to police tailing these injured youth, most of the injured avoid much-needed treatment, thereby, putting their health at high-risk particularly boys with eye injuries. There are also allegations from the families of the injured boys that the Police is impeding the treatment of their injured wards. The statement, dated November 8, made by the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) President was bizarre in a sense that she expressed her unawareness about its use.
The doctors at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital stated that this year alone 40 youth with pellet injuries were treated in this hospital. There are scores of youth, with some financial strength, who moved to places like Amritsar, Jallandhar and Indore for advanced treatment but many due to lack of financial support continue to suffer. The government’s admission that only two persons, this year, lost eyesight due to pellets is far from the truth and with the aim to play-down the use of it. Alone from Palhalan, Pattan two cases of eye injuries were reported. In both the cases the chances of their eyesight recovery is bleak.
In the case of a youth, Tanveer Ahmed Dar, 19, from Palhalan Pattan, doctors opined he might lose his vision in one of his eyes due to pellet injury.
Another youth, 16-year-old Manzoor Ahmed Bhat from Aglar Pattan was injured by the use of pellet gun by armed forces and Police in right eye and the chances of his proper eyesight recovery are bleak. Another case which came to fore was of Hamid Nazir, a minor aged 16, who underwent eye operation. Several pellets, despite operation, are still stuck in his eyes. According to doctors, the vision of his right eye is almost gone.
In third week of August, over a dozen boys received pellet injuries in South Kashmir’s Kaimoh tehsil. One of the boys had a perforating eye injury; inflicting severe trauma to his eyeball and the visual prognosis seemed to be very bad after pellets hit him.
The Hurriyat Conference (m) stated that until October this year 15 persons suffered serious pellet injuries.
On June 27, a youth at Nowhatta was critically injured in the eye with pellets.
In Kakpora Pulwama, another two persons were injured in the eye by pellet guns.
In November, a minor boy from Nawakadal, Srinagar was operated upon at SMHS Hospital after pellets perforated his abdomen. His hospital file reads that pellets pierced his “wall of gut, jejunum, transverse colon and descending colon. He had three pellets in jejunum.
This year, one case of custodial killing has been reported in the newspapers. The killing reassured that the State actors have not completely given up on killing the people in custody.
On February 11, Nazir Ahmad Mughal, R/O Gujjar Pati village of Zirhama, Kupwara was killed in police custody. Police had detained him for questioning in connection with a kidnapping and murder case few days before his killing. The public outcry forced the police to file FIR No. 41/2015 at Police Station Kupwara and government ordered a probe into the killing, however, no headway was made.
Torture is another form of human rights violation, which continues to remain an institutionalized policy of the armed forces and police. The prime targets are the youth, mostly students. The torture has been used on minors and youth alike to suppress them more than to extract information. The torture not only ruins a person from physical strength but also dents his psychological well-being. While Nazir Ahmad Mugal of Kupwara died of torture in police custody, there are others who survived it.
A case in point is of a boy Salim Beigh, 22, from Sopore who is facing continuous torture and arrests at the hands of the Special Operations Group (SOG) of J&K Police. The SOG surveillance and torture has generated in him suicidal tendencies. Young Salim has lost his physical strength to bear any further torture; therefore, he was provoked to end his life, as there is no end to the harassment against him by SOG. Not only him, his father too was humiliated and beaten by the forces, due to which his father’s left ear got damaged.
In connection with attacks on mobile towers in May and June by the gunmen of Lashkar-e-Islam, dozens of youths were arrested and many tortured on mere suspicion. The youth who were arrested during that period leveled allegations against the police that more than probing the mysterious attacks; police detained the youth for torturing and coercing them to work as informers. Salim Beigh is one of the boys who blamed the SOG of coercing him to work as its extension.
In August, five of the seven persons who were picked up by SOG of police from Karhama village in Kunzer north Kashmir accused the forces of torturing them in the custody. The boys were identified as Raies Ahmad Reshi, a labourer; Firdous Ahmad Reshi a student; Abid Ahmad Rather, a shopkeeper; Younis Ahamd Bhat, an electrician; Hilal Ahmad Wani, a government employee; Mushtaq Ahmad Rather, a medical representative and an elderly farmer, Muhammad Jamal Dar.
Another case of torture surfaced was of a minor Umar Mushtaq Untoo, a student of class 11th, from Sopore. After being caught, he was lodged at police station Pattan, sub-jail Baramulla and Pattan SOG camp for nearly a fortnight, which is a gross violation of the Juvenile Act.
These are the few cases of reported torture. Normally, survivors report torture once the post-torture harassment by the perpetrators aimed to discourage them to report torture ebbs.
KILLINGS OF POLITICAL WORKERS
This year as well the gun remained pointed towards the political activists. Reportedly, gunmen killed four political activists this year. A Congress Sarpanch Ghulam Hassan Dar was killed by Lashkar-e-Islam not for his political activism, but for allowing space to mobile tower in his lawn. A Hurriyat Conference (G) activist Altaf-ur-Rehman Sheikh was killed by gunmen of Lashkar-e-Islam after Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the Chairman of Hurriyat Conference (G) had opposed the actions of Lashkar-e-Islam. Another Sarpanch Haji Karamatullah Hussain lost his life in cross LOC shelling in Poonch and an NC activist Ishtiyaq Ahmad was killed by Village Defence Committee (VDC) members over a land dispute in Rajouri district of Jammu province.
KILLINGS DUE TO UNEXPLODED SHELLS AND IEDS
It seems that the armed forces and Police are not paying any heed to the concerns expressed by the people and human rights group time and again over the littered explosions, which are turning playing fields into death traps. Mostly children died in the explosives scattered unchecked. While eight minors died in littered explosions three lost their lives when they accidently stepped over army planted land mines in Nowshera area of Jammu divisions.
HARASSMENT OUTSIDE JAMMU AND KASHMIR
Kashmiris pursuing studies or involved in professional activities in different parts of India are facing differential treatment and physical assaults. The phenomenon continued this year as well. It seems like previous regimes, the new dispensation failed to exert any pressure to bring down attacks, at times fatal, on Kashmiris professionally engaged across India.
In the beginning of this year, two young Kashmiris, pursuing their winter internships with different media and public relations (PR) organizations, were assaulted. However, the internees avoid naming themselves for fear of reprisals.
In a shocking incident, which serves as a reminder of Meerut University episode of 2014, in February this year, a college in Haryana has served expulsion notice to 60 Kashmiri students after the students who are fully covered by Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS) were unable to pay ‘unjustified’ extra fee.
In another incident, on March 23, dozens of Kashmiri students studying at Maharana Pratap group of institutions, Kanpur were beaten up by a group of local students at a private college in Kanpur for protesting against targeting their classmate for spotting beard.
In August, media reported, Delhi police served notices to the hoteliers not to accommodate Kashmiris in their hotels.
In September, in the backdrop of the protest against an unclean plate at the mess of the Udaipur University by a Kashmiri student, the mess in-charge slapped the student, which was later challenged by other Kashmiri students. In response to this protest, around 1200 students were asked to leave Pacific University in Udaipur.
On October 29, two Kashmiri students in Delhi were thrashed by some youth who were in a Scorpio vehicle near Maa Anandamayee Marg in southeast Delhi’s Govindpuri area. The incident left Mohammed Shakeer (22) and Muneeb Geelani (22) of Srinagar with life-threatening injuries.
This year there have been some cases reported in the media about the rapes and molestations perpetrated by armed forces and police.
On August 24, an SOG cop Babar Ahmad misbehaved with a college girl in the Main Town, Pulwama. The incident triggered fierce clashes between civilians and Police injuring at least seven people including four policemen. To contain the situation police filed a case against the accused cop.
On October 8, an army man was arrested for allegedly raping a woman in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir. The accused, Haq Nawaz, who is deployed with 6 Engineers Regiment and presently posted in Kashmir, was on leave when he barged into the house of a lady in Mankote area of Mendhar tehsil and allegedly raped her when she was alone. The accused had threatened victim to not disclose the incident to anyone and escaped from her house.
A case has been registered following a complaint by the victim, after which the accused was arrested.
In another case, on November 11, a local court in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district has sent a Territorial Army soldier to judicial custody for “kidnapping and raping” a Kashmiri woman. Identified as, Parvaiz Ahmad Khan, son of Ali Mohammad Khan of Halmatpora in Kupwara was sent to judicial custody by a Munsif court. Khan, a soldier of 10 JAKLI posted in Sunjwani in Jammu region, was charge sheeted by police for kidnapping and raping a woman of Kupwara district.
Police while acknowledging the incident stated, that on the promise of marrying her, Khan took the woman to Srinagar on October 5 for three days where he raped her, police said. After three days of agony, the woman managed to escape from Khan and reached her home.
PROBES AND INQUIRIES
This year, in nine cases of human rights violations, the government ordered probes. The perception that probes are ordered to deflate the public anger has been proved yet again as findings are still withheld in 8 out of 9 probes. This year, only in one case the government probe was concluded. In the case of Farooq Ahmad Bhat of Palhallan, Pattan the enquiry report finds police involvement and declared the youth innocent. However, it could not be ascertained whether any action was initiated against the guilty or not.
The victims, who were assured action against the guilty by the government in so-called time bound inquiry at the time of the incident, have to suffer and face harassment from the perpetrators and State. Take the case of Suhail Ahmad Sofi of Narbal who was killed by police on April 18 this year, his family has accused the police of trying to force them into a comprise to prevent two of their men accused in the killing from being tried in a court of law and to subvert the investigations.
VILLAGE DEFENCE COMMITTEE
The Village Defence Committees (VDC) militia continues to indulge in unaccounted human rights violations. This year, May 22 statement by Indian Defence Minister to “neutralize terrorist through terrorists” has embolden such a force. The VDC member’s actions now and then come into limelight when they kill civilians; otherwise, there other crimes like harassment and intimidation to common people escape the media watch. Several times in 2015, now particularly after the killing of mother and son by VDCs in Rajouri, the demand to disband the militia grew louder but at the same time the rightwing Hindu organisations in Jammu, have been threatening the government against banning of VDCs. These right wing groups feel emboldened by the support expressed by the statement of the Deputy Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, who happens to be from BJP.
It is pertinent to mention, that in the 10 districts of Jammu province the 26000 VDCs have more than 90% members from Hindu community, which has led to communal polarization and also increase in the militarization.
On June 30 a Territorial Army soldier Liyaqat Ali and VDC member Tariq were arrested for firing and creating panic among people in Targie area of Kotranka belt of district Rajouri. On June 30 a Territorial Army soldier Liyaqat Ali and VDC member Tariq were arrested for firing and creating panic among people in Targie area of Kotranka belt of district Rajouri.
On August 12, Ramban police arrested a Village Defence Committee (VDC) member Beer Singh for shooting dead his colleague Tirath Chand in the mountainous district of Ramban. This killing served a pointer that how dangerous this group could be to unarmed civilians.
Four months later, in December, two gruesome incidents took place in the same district. On December 20, a youth leader of National Conference (NC) Ishtyaq Ahmad was killed by the VDC member Kewal Sharma in Potha village. Merely five days later, on December 25, in another gruesome incident a woman and her four-year-old son were killed in cold blood by this unbridled force.
The firing and killing incidents inject deep fear particularly in Muslim community of Jammu who find themselves highly vulnerable to this force.
The statement made by the Deputy Chief Minister ruling out disbanding of the VDC while responding to the December killings was deplorable. The continuation of this force poses a disturbing question, as to how the government is comfortable with such a force having a long track record of human rights violations like rapes, killings, abductions etc. It appears the group was created to infuse terror and curb the Muslims populace of the Jammu province on the name of countering militancy.
Pertinent to mention here, followed by the 2013 riots in Kishtwar and widespread allegations against the VDCs, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Srinagar Bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The PIL besides seeking complete ban on VDCs also sought an investigation into the creation, existence and the crimes perpetrated by pro-government militia – Ikhwan, and the disarming of Special Police Officials (SPOs), and limiting their functions.
SUICIDE AND FRATRICIDES
This year as well, the trend of suicides continued in the ranks of Indian military, paramilitary and police forces despite certain mechanism claimed to have been put in place by the government to prevent such cases. As many as eight cases of suicide by military, paramilitary and police forces came to fore this year. Out of eight cases four were from army, one from Air Defence Regiment, two CRPF and a policeman, committed suicide. However, no incident of fratricidal killings incident was reported.
STATE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) remained dysfunctional for the entire year. Despite the High Court direction, the government “deliberately” continues to render the Commission defunct. On November 18, the four-week deadline set by the High Court on October 14 to make the Commission functional was observed in breach by the government.
The Commission, which serves as a recommendatory body, embarrassed the government by its finding into unmarked graves and mass graves and re-opening of Kunan Poshpora Mass Rape case, since then has received the neglect of the government. Immediately after the judgment by SHRC on unmarked graves and Kunan Poshpora mass rape case, the then Chairperson, Justice Bashiruddin retired. Since then in SHRC no new members were inducted and neither did the government appoint any Chairperson. Keeping in view the role of the Commission, to some extent in exposing the state agencies, it appears the government has decided not to allow the Commission to function.
No fresh matters are being filed in the SHRC and it’s unlikely that the appointments for the Commission would be made within reasonable time. Pertinently, this is for the first time since the establishment of the SHRC that it would be without a member for such a long time.
Viewed as irritants by the state forces the media persons have to face the wrath of the state forces while performing their professional assignments. The revelation made by Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta during a programme in Srinagar on October 15 that he would often receive threats from the Indian Army and other government establishments for covering Kashmir, was nothing new to the local journalists. In fact the locals are used to it.
On January 23, a police officer damaged the camera of a photojournalist associated with Kashmir Reader while he was discharging his professional duties in Reshi Bazar area of Islamabad (Anantnag). The journalist was also threatened by police official of Sub Inspector rank to frame him in a false case.
In another incident, on June 21, some guards of a Minister allegedly beat a journalist Javaid Malik, of Greater Kashmir. Malik had alleged that he was thrashed by the cops for objecting to lewd remarks passed at his wife by one of the guards.
On November 2, a photojournalist Shuaib Masoodi associated with New Delhi-based, The Indian Express, was assaulted by the army and Special Operations Group at Bandipora. He was thrashed near Wullar Vantage Park at Gurura. Bandipora Journalist’s Association protested against this incident.
On November 08, policemen in Bandipora ruthlessly beat up another Kashmir Reader reporter Owais Farooqi when he was covering a protest in the town. He was detained at Bandipora police station for nearly six hours despite the police was shown the professional I-card.
In view of the controversy erupted after the Beef ban judgment, Kashmiris faced attacks from Hindu right wing goons on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, particularly around Udhampur district. The highway assaults against Kashmiris resurfaced leaving one person dead and many injured, which is a chilling reminder of year 2008 economic blockade imposed by rightwing Hindu groups of Jammu region. Pertinently, in September, the state chief of the VHP Leela Karan Sharma threatened economic blocked if the ban on cow slaughter was not imposed in J&K.
On October 9, Hindu goons using petrol bomb on Udhampur highway attacked a truck driven by Kashmiri driver. In the attack carried by over a dozen goons, two persons including the truck conductor Zahid Rasool were seriously injured. A week later on October 18, Zahid Rasool succumbed to his burn injuries. The method in which the attack was carried was not a random but a planned one.
In another attack, on November 22, a Kashmiri driver of an oil tanker was beaten up by a mob in Nandni area on the Jammu-Srinagar highway during night. The driver was accused of smuggling cows by the attackers. This assault also appeared pre-planned as the two cars halted in the middle of the road a few meters ahead of the tanker. The Swift car in which the assailants were travelling was without a number plate. At least six of assailants came down and surrounded the tanker and brought the on-board down and started beating them.
On December 03, in another incident of highway attacks, a mob demonstrating against the rise of “anti-India activities in the Jammu and Kashmir” set ablaze a Kashmir-bound vehicle in Kalakote area of Rajouri district after beating up six passengers. The vehicle was on its way to Kashmir valley via Mughal road.
These incidents have unnerved the transporters and Jammu bound drivers, who reluctantly ply their vehicles on Srinagar-Jammu highway, the only route connects valley with India. According to a driver, if there would not be bread-earning compulsion, nobody would take Jammu highway. There is no security whatsoever to Kashmiri drivers.
A brief by: Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
The Bund, Amira Kadal, Srinagar 190001