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Is The Public Safety Act In Kashmir Being Misused By Those In Charge Of Law Enforcement?

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By Natasha D’Mello

A Tale Of Two Teenagers

In the summer of 2017, I was seventeen years old. My days were spent actively lazing around, all “stressful” thoughts of holiday homework pushed to the back of my mind. The nights were my favourite. Summer holidays are, in essence, a free pass to sit up all night binge watching obscure shows that you’ve missed during the school year. And perhaps on one of those nights as I lay in bed, safe and secure, in a seemingly different world 17-year old Rauf Ahmed Wagay was being ripped away from his home and family by the police. Over the next five days, he was beaten and tortured. Instead of the carefree summer that most children look forward to all year, Rauf Ahmed spent the next 5 months in a prison, hundreds of kilometres away from his family.

Confused? I was too. The Indian criminal justice system doesn’t allow children under the age of 18 to be put in prison. It’s the law. But Rauf found no such recourse to our famed ‘child-friendly’ judicial process. Neither did 17-year-old Zubair Ahmad Shah, or 14-year old Mohammad Ibrahim Dar, for that matter.

All three boys fell victim to the Public Safety Act (PSA), which is widely applied in Jammu and Kashmir. Although they were later released by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court on the grounds that they were under-aged, one has to question why it was so easy for these young boys to be picked up and kept in jail for months at a time.

The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) allows for the arrest and detention of people without a warrant, without any specific charges being filed, and often for an unspecified period of time. While the law does make provisions for the detained person to be informed about why they have been detained, and also provide them with a chance to make a case against their detention, this does not seem to be followed.

It is also not uncommon for the PSA to be used as a catch-all by law enforcement, because while criminal law proceedings require meticulous adherence to process, a PSA order can stand on ‘vaguely prepared grounds’. There is also evidence of the PSA being used to keep people in police custody even after the order against them has been quashed. Read Amnesty India’s briefing on the Public Safety Act here.

I would imagine the experience of being in prison – the fear and uncertainty of what could happen – is extremely traumatic for a child. For Zubair Ahmad Shah, the experience was even more heart-breaking. His mother had passed away while he was being illegally detained. What made it worse was that none of the orders against him were found to be valid. This meant that he was unnecessarily put in jail. Calling it ‘the biggest tragedy’ he says, “…this will always hurt me in my life”.

The PSA is a law intended to be used only in exceptional cases, but the law itself is so broad that it lends itself well to arbitrary misuse. A fact to which Rauf Ahmed, Zubair and Mohammed Ibrahim can testify.

But even if you were to discount their words, it’s harder to ignore fact. Almost 80% of all PSA orders between March 2016 and July 2017 were quashed by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. In essence, it means that 80% of all those people who were picked up, beaten, tortured, sometimes stripped naked and humiliated, and spent month after month in jail, should not have been arrested, or were wrongly arrested in the first place.

The disproportionate rate at which the PSA orders have been quashed also points to a larger issue – the widespread misuse of the law by the entire government machinery. The process starts with the Police who arrest and detain people without following proper procedure. This is followed by District Magistrates who issue detention orders without carefully considering the details of each case. When cases are put before an Advisory Board to be reviewed, 99% of the detention orders are confirmed. Over and above this, the state Home Department that oversees the implementation of this law rarely steps in to course correct the misuse.

As young children in school, we were always taught to believe that laws – in their entirety – were inherently good, and designed to protect the people of the country. But as a young adult, I find myself questioning the veracity of a law that routinely strips people of their human rights. I find myself questioning why – when there is evidence of misuse and overuse, over and above it being against international human rights law – why is such a law allowed to perpetuate?

In the 42 years of its existence, the PSA has ruined countless lives. The families of those who are detained face severe financial difficulties because they spend all of their life savings on legal procedures to get their loved ones out of jail. Finding work after being detained under the PSA is a herculean task. Zubair found it impossible to find a job since all employers require police verification, and his detention under PSA remains a permanent blot on his record. Rauf Ahmed still lives in fear of the police, who occasionally show up and harass him. Yet this law has never been repealed. The officials who perpetrate it have never been punished. The victims have never been compensated, even though their lives are forever changed.

Rauf Ahmed and I share very little in common, other than that we were both teenagers in 2017. But I will never be constantly looking over my shoulder, afraid that the police will turn up at my doorstep, with a free license to plunge me into the horrors of administrative detention once again. Because I was not born in Kashmir, and Rauf Ahmed was.

Note: The author is currently interning at Amnesty International India. The views expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Amnesty International India.

 

 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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