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.
According to Imroz, JKCCS had filed 458 cases in the high court seeking permission to prosecute the security forces for human rights violations. Of these, it got the clearance to pursue 270 cases of which 46 were against the army. Despite the court clearance, most of the applications have been stone-walled because the central security forces (army and the Para-military) operating in the state are protected against prosecution under the AF(SP)A.
Earlier this year, when two unarmed civilians were killed by the army in the case of mistaken identity in Bomai, the state government ordered a judicial enquiry which implicated a few army men. The army refused to accept the report of the judicial commission, ordering its own enquiry instead. Talking to FORCE in March 2009, chief minister Abdullah expressed his helplessness. He said, “It is the army that will have to take action. Either they believe in what they say about zero tolerance for human rights violation or they don’t… From the highest level downward, from the Prime Minister to the army chief, all have said that there is zero tolerance for such incidents of human rights violation… We want the army to send out the message that suits them, that’s all. Now if the message that suits them is the one that we will not tolerate incidents of human rights violation, that one stray black sheep will not be allowed to call the reputation of the entire army into question, they can respond accordingly. But if they want to respond in routine by transferring the guilty to another theatre, we will also respond in routine. How will that help us in conveying the right message to the people?” In this case alone, the chief minister had to use all his influence and personal rapport with senior Union ministers, including the defence and home affairs to get a commitment from the army that it will punish the guilty.
The picture from the other side is equally poignant. Most human rights violations are not deliberate, but inadvertent mistakes. The security forces, hence, are reluctant to punish bright and courageous young officers for minor lapses. One young CRPF officer, whose course mate was recently suspended for a human right violation, asks, “Is it fair to ruin a person’s career only because he acted on wrong or motivated information?” Perhaps not. But, unfortunately, these minor lapses or momentary mistakes cost a person his life and reduce his school-going children to beggary. Adequate compensation can ensure that they stay in school, but what about the rage that festers inside. Only a sense of justice can heal that over time.
Last year, FORCE met a dentist in Srinagar. In the early Nineties, when young Kashmiris were crossing the LC in hordes, his father sent him to Bangalore to study. While he stayed in Bangalore for over five years till he finished his education and became a dentist, plenty happened in his home. One day, the security forces raided his house as part of cordon and search operations. His parents were humiliated and his teenaged brother was taken for questioning. He returned the next day, badly bruised as a result of torture. The dentist says that his brother was so shaken up that he could not sleep for several nights and finally succumbed to the calls to cross the LC. Leaving a note for his parents, he left in the middle of the night. His house was immediately marked as security forces kept returning to enquire about his whereabouts. Three years later his body was brought home. He was killed on the LC soon after he infiltrated. He was not yet 20. While the elderly parents are stoic, the dentist is bitter and angry. All the good that five years of exposure in Bangalore did to him, was undone when he buried his brother.
“I knew that my brother would not come home alive the day I learnt that he has joined the Mujahids,” he says. “But who made him join them? If only he was not tortured so badly he could have gone to Bangalore instead?” Today, the family is the ardent supporter of Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Though they can just about manage to make ends meet, the dentist enthusiastically shuts his small clinic every time Geelani gives a call for a shut down. “That is all I can do for the cause of Kashmir. I cannot embrace martyrdom like my brother because I have to look after my parent,” he says.
Human rights is a sensitive subject, and most often the so-called violators or the security forces are themselves the victim of circumstances. But in places like Kashmir, it is hugely important, even at the cost of personal peril, to ensure that each act of violation reaches an honest closure for the simple reason that every such act alienates the people even further. Given that, there is very little movement on resolution, the key to keeping the peace process going in the state lies in ensuring zero violations. Moreover, long-term anger and a sense of victim-hood can only lead to a psychologically-skewed generation which cannot be an asset to any country.