Speaking of human rights in a ‘Resisting Valley’: Kashmir before the UN Review

By Mohammed Sirajuddeen for Twocircles.net

The Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (Third Cycle) of the 27th session is going to be held in early May 2017. Along with India, Bahrain, Ecuador, Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia, Finland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Brazil, Philippines, Algeria, Poland, Netherlands, and South Africa are the other member states whose human rights records are under consideration in the session. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the ‘Periodic Review’ will assess the member states’ commitment to the universal human rights obligations as expounded by the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Human Rights Instruments to which the states are party or Human Rights treaties as ratified by the states’ concerned, international law and the voluntary pledges on rights.

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Individuals and civil societies are to put shadow report prior to the review. Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) had submitted their report in September 2016. Govt. of India, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also submits their respective reports to the Council. JKCCS representatives’ visit to Switzerland in September last year was to submit their report on state excesses in Kashmir and lobby different government representatives to bring Kashmir situation to limelight. Before attending the 2016 Geneva Session, JKCCS delegation had approached many embassies in New Delhi to garner opinion in favor of Kashmir. In Geneva they sought to consult UN mechanism and representatives of the international community. Despite the absence of Khurram Parvez who was ‘stopped’ at the behest of ‘Intelligence Bureau’ at the Delhi Airport before his departure, the participation got a logical conclusion with the efforts of Parvez Imroz even though former’s arrest had put immense ‘pressure’ on the delegation from Kashmir. The session was dominated by the uncertainties born out of Khurram’s arrest and the JKCCS delegation tried to lobby for garnering support for the release of Khurram Parvez and they took the matter to the ‘UN Special Rapporteur’. On their way back to India, Kartik Murukutla the lawyer who was part of the delegation was questioned by authorities in India.

Valley of ‘Resistance’

In the 2016 turmoil Kashmir witnessed an intense clash unlike the sentimental reactions of early 1990s. As opposed to the previous unrests of 2008 and 2010, Kashmiris this time knew why the protests were important and were highly motivated by the zeal of ‘sacrifice’. While earlier protests were primarily issue based reactions that triggered massive outburst of discontents, in 2016 the discontent permeated to every cell of Kashmiri life and it is considered as a fight for survival and it didn’t leave the more pertinent political issues like ‘Pandit-Sainik colonies’ to the back burner. It is reckoned that the state response to ‘protests’ rendered 15,000 injured, 8,000 or more arrested, 500 or more blinded and around a hundred or more people got killed. The ‘unrest phase’ also witnessed a militant attack in Uri Army Camp (Indian soldiers were killed in the incident) in September 2016 and security forces in India asserted a ‘surgical strike’ beyond the ‘border’ to destroy what they termed as the terror launch pads. Even though the killing of Burhan sparked the unrest, signs of major outbursts were simmering in Kashmir since early 2016 when the alleged ‘Handwara molestation’ by Army personnel had propped up in Kupwara. The state could then tactfully contain it by force before budding into an upheaval and the overall accumulated anger came all together with the fall of Burhan in early July 2016. For Kashmiris, Burhan was a revered ‘mujahid’ and he is considered as the ‘hero’ of rising rage against the State violence. The significance of Burhan lies in his role of bring into the forefront the accumulated discontent in mainstream through protracted glorification of what Kashmiri people call ‘resistance’. It seems that the ‘resistance’ leadership streamed by All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is fully aware of the historical precedents of what they call ‘national resistance’ movements around the globe. They believe that until and unless the ‘sacrifices’ are glorified the movement won’t consolidate in full swing. For that matter ‘Burhan moment’ in Kashmir’s history will be remembered as a case of spontaneous outburst with severe cascading effects on India’s Security establishment and the world is testimony to the ‘ill treatment’ meted out to people of Kashmir in the past decades.

Speaking Rights in Kashmir

In the last three decades, we heard stories on cycle of violence in Kashmir sponsored by the state. By the interventions of the civil society groups, issues came to the realm of discussions at the international plane. In early 1990s, Human Rights activism in Kashmir was a limited exercise. The coming of organizations like APDP and later JKCCS introduced in Kashmir a new culture based on a belief in ‘non-violent’ resolution of conflict. They wanted that the right to dissent be acknowledged, reason, truth and justice should prevail. As far as extrajudicial violence is concerned, various patterns emerged as a chronicle resulting mass massacres, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, and torture. In Kashmir various human rights groups have estimated torture survivors that run in lakhs in numbers. Around Globe, Commissions were appointed to investigate the cases of disappearances but in Kashmir that did not happen till now. State sponsored vigilante force popularly known as ‘Ikhwans’ or ‘renegades’ was introduced in Kashmir that had aggravated the violence since mid 1990s. The militants hunted by Hizb-ul-Mujahideen surrendered, anti-social elements also joined the ‘informal’ force created by the Security Forces. By the virtue of weapons, power and institutional backing of special cells aided from Delhi they reigned terror and extorted money in Kashmir. While many were forced to join others were lured with inducements.

Human rights activism started strengthening since the campaigning of APDP from 1994. Thousands have become the victims of enforced disappearances but the Government at different junctures did not accept it more than 4000. When JKCCS was formed since 2000s their volunteers started dealing with all kinds of human rights violations bringing the cases of enforced disappearances as well as the issue of mass graves to the forefront. The coalition is a broader network identifying and documenting such cases. The state-crimes in Kashmir which was once systematically institutional have now become a policy. Vibrant civil society activism in Kashmir has sought the accountability of perpetrators by documenting the human rights violations. By investigations, they brought into picture thousands of mass graves which is also confirmed by the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). An ‘early day motion’ tabled in the British Parliament dating January 2012, had commented on the discovery of unmarked graves and expressed its sadness and regret over 6,000 unmarked graves, majority of which is believed to be consisting of the bodies of thousands deemed disappeared in Kashmir. The European Parliament had passed a resolution on 10 July 2008 offering technical expertise and monetary assistance for conducting the DNA tests.

By engaging with both Indian and Global civil Society, they sought to move ahead in bringing justice for the victims through concrete demands. The Human Rights collectives in Kashmir also believe that theirs’ is a case of ‘occupation’ and desire an end to the current ‘disciplinary state’. Like the popular perceptions in Kashmir these groups also point to the ‘broken promises’ with regard to the question of ‘self-determination’. They attribute this back out to the nefarious designs of the ruling dispensations in India which wanted to convince the dominant national conscience. Moreover, the mutual relationship of these organizations with other political groups is based on ‘consensus and differences’ that focus a democratic culture. While they constantly exposed the ‘violations’ by the security forces, they also had projected the ‘mistakes’ committed by militants in Kashmir.

Time to Introspect

Government is convinced that in the face of instant exposition of state crimes throughout the years, only crackdown is the way to evade from responsibilities and it has now intensified the tangible control mechanism through different ways. The ‘resistance peak’ in Kashmir therefore is reminiscent of what Parvez Imroz calls the ‘Newton’s law’, that is ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction which the security establishment has to bear in terms of its behavior’. The government according to him is therefore loosing the ‘state of mind’ in Kashmir and it seems ‘no one can stop an idea whose time has come’. Human Rights defenders claim that the past decades were filled with institutional injustice in Kashmir. Post 2010 unrest, only few cases of state crimes were allowed to be questioned institutionally and justice is not delivered yet. In that respect, given the nature of crackdowns in 2016, there seems a negligible space for legal interventions for impartial results. Surprising is the fact that even in the case of Israel, the worst perpetrators of extrajudicial crimes were convicted. Kashmir is unique of all conflict zones in terms of day today surveillance technologies and militarization. Why is always disproportionate force maintained in Kashmir? Why always asymmetrical responses to protests in Kashmir while all prolific protests were met with soft actions in other parts of India starting from the cases of demonstrations in Haryana to Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu? It is not the question of lethal and non-lethal weapons used that matters, more important is the mindset of the ‘political class’ in India and their approach on ‘Kashmir question’.

The author is a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.