Kashmir: A Caged Paradise
What is the caricature you draw in your mind when you read the word ‘Kashmir‘? Amid the suspended thick fog, you imagine seeing through it a perfect amalgamation of blue and green. In backdrop of snow covered down slopping mountains, a little closer in visibility is a thick green cover and then the still waters which show reflections of the sky and trees. Those living in the valley seem like they don’t have to ask for anything beyond the earthly paradise. But, Alas! it is a “paradise no more”!
There is no fairy tale without a dreadful evil spirit. Here, there are many of them. There are six hundred thousand of them, all clad in khaki, holding automated guns and travelling in heavy vehicles. They are the Indian security forces imposed by the government on their subjects. Does this not seem something unusual for a democracy?
The phenomenon of civilians contending fully armed police forces started in 1989, induced by the government as an attempt to crush a rising movement in valley seeking liberation from the status of a no nation’s territory. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front was formed to liberate its people from stifling between Islamabad and New Delhi. Also there have been widespread charges of election- rigging from 1951 to 1977 with always a Congress party member emerging their leader. The outraged public took to streets only to be handled by the police in most violent manner. The Terror Trail, a movie shot by Jezza Neumann is a perfect depiction of the unspeakable story.
With Pakistan on the other side and with growing terrorist activities in the valley, the army is too vigilant and holds just anybody as a suspect. This is one area which reports a mass violation of Human Rights, of carrying out extrajudicial executions, arbitrary disappearances and forced labour during detention most frequently in Azad Kashmir. After increasing the forces in Kashmir, Enforced Disappearances (ED) is something which emerged under the cover of maintaining law and order. So far, 4294 have been detained for stone pelting and charged with the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). A state law which was meant for the protection of citizens started biting like a snake and stinging like a serpent!
The people who take part in the agitations are largely children and youth. Almost every second family in the valley is screaming blue murder about how their children have been picked by the army when they were returning from school or playing cricket. Many women are waiting with bated breath since years for their husbands to return who have been picked and detained by the army for unknown reasons. The social status of these women is always a question mark. The future graph of their children is inclined towards darkness.
One has to only start a conversation and every Kashmiri has a story to tell. Nazeema Wondroo, who lives in the North of Kashmir, tells how her brother Feroz was shot in the head with a tear gas shell, then detained under PSA denying health facilities. His whereabouts are not known. Ghulam Hasan Bhat recalls how his son was drowned in the river by an army man in full public view. The bystanders at the crime site screamed and cried but none came forward to stop due to fear of being fired by them.
Mothers are too scared to send their children out. Every day the newspapers carry reports of someone being killed or gone missing under mysterious circumstances. They get terrified by merely the word ‘army’. There are a number of such instances where the police arrest individuals without charges. Later, when their relatives approach them, they totally deny the arrests. The place and conditions under which they are detained is unknown. Instead of taking the detainees to the J&K jail, they are deported to Jaipur or Uttar Pradesh jails where they are ill-treated, charged with false allegations or sometimes sentenced to death. The relatives of the detainees undergo a lot of stress while trying to track their loved once running from pillar to post in the hope of seeing them again one day. Most of them are reluctant to fight a legal case.
According to the Public Safety Act (PSA), a person can be detained for any length of time to stop them him from committing a crime. This is a method of preventive detention. The same persons can be detained again and again under this law. The Indian Security Forces have this power under Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. This is called “Revolving Door Detention”. Two young boys, Asif Shaksaz (15) and Sajad Mir (17) were detained under PSA. It is illegal to detain children under 18 years of age under this law. Their parents did not have any documents to prove their age and they were subjected to repeated detentions under similar charges.
In 1944, Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) was formed which is a constituent of Asia Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD). Thousands of Habeas Corpus petitions were filed in the J&K High Court only to be dismissed later. The court was also a victim of the armed conflict as none of its declarations were put into implementation by the executive. Only a few strong families are still fighting in the court. The Public Safety Act has been amended in March 2012 only in principle but not in practice.
Amnesty International had then initiated an action plan in the interest of APDP. In Its open letter to Omar Abdullah on April 5h 2013, the organization has asked a complete repeal of police atrocities, revolving door detentions of suspects from separatists groups and to pass the proposed plan of J&K Police Bill 2013. An online campaign has been initiated in Facebook to press Omar Abdullah to “pick up his pen and stop police abuse!”.
“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you”- Jean-Paul Sartre. When students in the rest of the country are availing various opportunities, education has no meaning to the youth of Kashmir. They are seen as a pocket of resistance by the State and Police. Deprived of freedom in movement on their own land they have been resorting to violence against the Security Forces dedicating themselves to the Kashmir cause and freedom struggle. They are being deprived of a bright future and constantly living in fear. Bur, where there is hope there is life. Many mothers and wives are still living with the hope to see their loved ones walking into the house. The government has to wake up and stop stifling innocent civilians in their never-ending struggle for power over the mountain state. It has to stop meeting out a dictatorship like treatment, silencing voices and suppressing movements. Yasin Malik, chairman of JKLF has been arrested just before he could observe a fast. The government seems far from understanding that one can cage the bird but not its song!