Kashmir: ‘More things change, more they remain the same’

COORDINATION OF DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS ORGANISATION
Press Release 19th April,2016

Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation is alarmed at how a demand for justice results again in killing of civilians by a trigger happy Government force in Kashmir. The alleged molestation of a 16 year old girl on April 12th by a personnel of 21 RR posted in Handwara, and resultant protests saw abduction and illegal incarceration by Police of the girl, her aunt and father, the killing of five persons in three days of protests, including a woman working in her kitchen garden, followed by strict imposition of S 144 of RPC , and are a grim reminder that ‘more things change more they remain the same’ in Kashmir. Killings are a direct outcome of treating Kashmiris, as people devoid of any rights, including the Right to live in dignity and freedom.

CDRO wishes to remind the public that in Kashmir events follow a pattern: when allegations are leveled against the Armed Forces of the Union, the effort is to damn the aggrieved, for acting at behest of “separatists”, “jihadists” and “Pakistan’s ISI”, and/or to malign the Indian forces. When protests erupt to demand justice, forces open fire to shoot to kill by aiming fire on head and body. Doctors at Sher i Kashmir Institute of Medical Science, Srinagar where injured and the dead were brought, were aghast at the bullet being fired at vital parts; either head or stomach, and pellet injuries to the eyes. Deliberate use of guns to kill gets justified by claiming that it was done in self-defense as crowd was pelting stones. The disproportionate use of force on unarmed civilians, makes it abundantly clear that in Kashmir guns are preferred against civilians. Handwara was no different.

While three persons Muhammad Iqbal (24), Nayem Qadir Bhat (22) and Raja Begum (70) were killed on 12th April, Jahangir Ahmad Wani was killed at Drugmulla, Kupwara on 13th April and Arif Hassan Dar was shot dead on 14th April at Natnusa village of Kupwara. The fact that a case of molestation of a minor took a bloody turn resulting in killing of five persons and grievousinjuries to 40 othersis evidence of the oppressive conditions on the ground, where Armed Forces of the Union and the J&K Police are empowered to virtually take away lives, at will. The Police claim that 125 of their personnel suffered injuries, yet none of the injuries was severe enough for hospitalization, unlike the civilians who suffered grievously. In keeping with knee jerk reaction, the Central Government promptly announced dispatching 3600 more troops.

Standard Operations Procedure (SOPs) in Kashmir appears to be to kill first and explain it away later. Recently Indian authorities and corporate media were agog with simulated outrage over lathi charge on the non-local students at NIT Srinagar campus by the Police. However, when it came to killing of Kashmiris, the Government extended support to the Army and Police, claiming they had come under attack and reacted in “self-defense”. That heavily armed forces, confronting unarmed civilian protestors shouting slogans and at worse pelting stones, opened fire on them and killed and injured civilians was of less consequence than protecting the reputation of Government forces. What is also important to note is that disclosing the identity of the minor girl including exposing her face, while she was a captive of the Police, is a crime punishable under S 228(A) [Disclosure of Identity of the victim…], apart from the crime of holding a female minor in illegal “protective” captivity. Civil administration was nowhere in sight for five days. In Kashmir the Armed Forces and the Police are their own masters accountable to no one.

Equally alarming was the virtual curfew imposed across large parts of Kashmir. And with internet blocked, uncorroborated news had free play. Locals were coerced into remaining indoors. In Handwara lawyers representing the mother were prevented from meeting her, and for days the girl, her aunt and father were dis-allowed to get in touch with anyone. Media was barred entry. JK Coalition of Civil Society was physically prevented from holding a press conference. Elsewhere in different parts of Kashmir concertina wires, drop gates, check-posts and more troops made their presence felt. The abduction of a minor girl keeping her incommunicado raise not just questions about the arbitrary powers being exercised by the Police, but the killing shows how far Government Forces can go to protect their arbitrary rule. While we welcome the J&K High Court’s order asking the police to explain under which law they had kept the minor, her aunt and father in their “protective” captivity, and barred the disclosure of her statement to the media, which they directed that it be recorded before the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Handwara. In violation of the High Court order the contents of the statement were again leaked to the media. The girl and her family have now been placed under virtual house arrest at a relative’s house and Police is refusing them to return home, instead coercing them to re-locate elsewhere. On 17th April the girl met her mother as well as her lawyers from JKCCS. A statement released by JKCCS on 18th April says the following:

In the limited meeting that was allowed to take place the following key points emerged from the minor girl and her family:

§ The minor girl has on two occasions – in the video recorded and circulated and in the Section 164- A CrPC statement before the judicial magistrate – been pressurized to testify in a manner as directed by the police. Neither of these statements were made voluntarily. § From 12 April to 14 April 2016 the minor girl and family were illegally detained at the Handwara Police Station. From 11 p.m. of 14 April to the morning of 16 April 2016 the minor girl and family were illegally detained at a police personnel’s private residence at Shehlal village who was a complete stranger to the family. On 16 April 2016, the minor girl’s statement under Section164-A Cr PC was recorded before the judicial magistrate at Handwara. Her father was not present in court during the recording of the statement. No lawyer was present in court accompanying her. In the courtroom, besides the judge, there were four other persons who the minor girl couldn’t identify. From the night of 16 April 2016 to this morning the family has stayed at Zachaldara under constant police surveillance and control.

The extraordinary lengths to which Police go to keep the girl and her family sequestered under police guard raises concerns over the safety of the family ,in particular the girl, but also the extent of illegal power that has come to be vested in Police or arrogated by them.

This incident comes at a time when there is no political resolution in sight over Kashmir dispute, and killing of civilians by Government forces remains a recurring phenomena. By remaining mute today, as was done in the past, we only acquiesce in the policy of military suppression and the continued demoralization of the people. The nightmare Kashmiris continue to face will end only when we in India mount a campaign for abolishing legal immunity provided to the armed forces of the union and push for democratically ascertaining the will of the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir. CDRO reiterates its demand for abolishing legal immunity provided to the Armed Force of the Union and the J&K Police, and urges that the long pending dispute be resolved democratically.

C. Chandrasekhar (CLC, Andhra Pradesh), Asish Gupta (PUDR, Delhi), Pritpal Singh (AFDR, Punjab), Phulendro Konsam (COHR, Manipur) and Tapas Chakraborty (APDR, West Bengal) (Coordinators of CDRO). ————-

Constituent Organisations:Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR), Punjab; Association for Protection of Democratic Rights APDR), West Bengal; Bandi Mukti Morcha (BMC), West Bengal; Campaign for Peace & Democracy in Manipur (CPDM), Delhi; Civil Liberties Committee (CLC), Andhra Pradesh; Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), Mumbai; Coordination for Human Rights (COHR), Manipur; Human Rights Forum (HRF), Andhra Pradesh; Jharkhand Council for Democratic Rights (JCDR), Jharkhand; Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), Assam; Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR); Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR), Andhra Pradesh; Peoples’ Committee for Human Rights (PCHR), Jammu and Kashmir; Peoples Democratic Forum (PDF), Karnataka; Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi; Peoples Union for Civil Rights (PUCR), Haryana, Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR),Tamilnadu.

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