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OLD ISSUE
FROM JAMMU & KASHMIR
Cost of the Conflict
The short-term key to peace in Kashmir lies in ensuring zero HR violations
Four years ago, Mohd Yasin Malik of Baramullah district got his passport after a long process. With his relatives living in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, he didn’t waste any time in booking himself on the Samjhauta Express. His family saw him off at the Srinagar bus stand and he began his journey to meet his relatives for the first time since 1947. All was well till he reached the Wagah railway station. His papers were endorsed and he was ushered in to cross the border, when suddenly one policeman decided to check his passport again. The name stuck: Mohd Yasin Malik. Seizing his passport, the policeman gestured him to step out of the line. Malik waited to be called again, but in vain. Finally, the train left without him and he was summoned to the local police station. After questioning him for a few hours, the local police let him go but without his passport, which he was told can only be released by the court. Informally, he was informed by one of the policemen that he could get his passport back right there if he pays adequate price for it.

Frightened by his ordeal so far away from home, Malik couldn’t judge if he should take the offer seriously. He decided to play it safe and came back to Kashmir waiting for the court summons, which came after a few months and he presented himself at the Punjab high court. Since then, his case has been dragging on. Because his passport had been impounded, he failed the screening for the Uri-Muzaffarabad bus also. Having exhausted all options, Malik then approached Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a human rights organisation for help. In any other part of the country, this would have been a case of harassment. Most people would have probably bribed the local police and forgotten about the whole business. But not in Kashmir. Here, Malik has become yet another statistic for human rights violation. His persecution complex is so high that sitting on a rickety chair in the fan-less office of JKCCS, he says, “The Indian government says that Kashmiris are Indians and they have the same rights. Where do I have the same right as you? They are not giving me the passport because I am a Kashmiri.”
Parvez Imroz, president of JKCCS nods sagely as Malik gives vent to his frustrations. Once he is through, Malik politely gets up and takes leave and an elderly man steps in. His heavily-lined face speaks of premature ageing and his voice quivers so much when he speaks that Imroz has to frequently speak on his behalf. He is a poor peasant from Sopore district. One day, his only son did not return from the orchard at sun down. He reported the disappearance to the police station the next morning. The following day, he saw the photograph of his son in the local newspaper. He was dead and labelled as a militant. As his story ends, the old man’s body shakes, swaying gently from side to side, forcing Imroz to steady him. There is complete silence in the room for a few minutes. Finally, the old man shuffles a bit, stands up unsteadily and leaves the room.

It is difficult not to think that all this was staged-managed by Imroz to convey the story of human rights violations in the state. But even if it was, uneasiness hangs in the air as Imroz rifles through mountains of documents rattling out statistics about the numbers killed, crippled and disappeared in the last 20 years. Numbers have a detached coldness about them. They don’t touch you much. Perhaps, Imroz, a civil rights activists and a lawyer, understands this, which is why he got two people to narrate their tales.
Seeing the desired effect on his visitors, Imroz says, “In all other conflicts in the world, there has been some degree of moral accountability. The tragedy of Kashmir is that there is no moral accountability. We cannot seek accountability from the armed forces and the State has become immune to human rights violations.” According to him, there has been no difference between the democratically-elected governments and the Governor’s rule in Kashmir as far as the human rights record is concerned. “Contrary to popular perception, the human rights situation worsened after the 1996 elections,” he says. “The democratically-elected chief minister, Farooq Abdullah introduced the Special Operations Group, which became a law unto itself. It was more feared than the army.”

Mufti Mohammed Sayeed came to power on the plank of disbanding the SOG. Finally, he allowed himself to be persuaded to accommodate them as part of the J&K police. “Nothing changes in Kashmir,” says Imroz, “only the rhetoric changes. But you cannot even blame the state governments because they are helpless. They always need to seek approval from the Centre, because all decisions are taken there. We, after all, are people under occupation.” The gloves are off now, and Imroz continues stridently in this vein.

While it is easy and maybe even convenient to dismiss people like Imroz, it would be more sensible to treat them as the conscience-keepers of the society. Governments have a unifocal attitude towards human rights issues. It is pitted against national security, and consequently always loses out to what the State considers the larger issue. Governments can only order enquiries and pay compensation to the victims. They do not have the time or even resources to see the impact a single violation has on the affected people. More importantly, in a state like J&K, the government does not even have the power to bring the culprits to justice. It can only recommend action against the perpetrators.

For instance, when Farooq Abdullah was the chief minister (1996-2002) he ordered 40 enquiries into human rights violations cases. Mufti Sayeed ordered 77 enquiries in 2002-2005 when he was the chief minister. Ghulam Nabi Azad ordered 28 from 2005 to June 2008. During the Governor’s rule from June 2008 to December 2008 six enquiries were ordered. Omar Abdullah has already ordered 14 enquiries ever since he took charge in January 2009. The number of enquiries itself suggest that occurrence of violations is almost routine. And the government quickly orders the enquiry to take the heat off its head. Nobody really believes, least of all the victims, that something would come out of it.
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