Nyla Ali Khan
State actors as well as non-state actors have done tremendous damage to the sociocultural and political fabric of Kashmir, but state actors can be held accountable because they are supposed to adhere to the Constitution, laws, and international conventions as well. The belligerence and trigger-happy attitude of state actors must be curbed by those in decision-making positions. And gun-toting non-state actors cannot be glorified either.
Custodial disappearances and deaths
continue to occur, and official orders regarding the protection of detainees are brazenly rubbished.
While condemning the impunity with which paramilitary forces and the police conceal the illegal of a detainee, the acting chairperson of the State Human Rights Commission observed:
“The growing incidences of torture and death in police custody have been a disturbing factor. Experience shows that the worst violations of human rights take place during the course of investigation, when the police, with a view to secure evidence or confession, often resort to third-degree methods including torture. It [the police] hides arrest either by not recording the arrest, or terming the deprivation of liberty merely as a prolonged interrogation.”
The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (1978), is now interpreted to permit law-enforcing agencies to detain a person for up to a period of two years on grounds of vaguely defined suspicion. The Act originally stipulated that a detainee could be kept in custody for up to a year without being formally charged if public order was in jeopardy, and for upto two years if the security of the state was jeopardized. A modification to the Act in 1990 made it non-obligatory for the authorities to provide the detainee with reasons for his/her arrest. The International Commission of Jurists, in its report, has drawn the inference that victims of the aforementioned Act have undergone terrible trauma. The discriminatory nature of this Act undermines efforts to discover the whereabouts of such persons (Human Rights in Kashmir 1994).
Another stringent measure was the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act 1987, which was designed to forbid terrorist acts. In the zeal of the moment, the Act defined disruptive activities in the following words:
“any action, whether by act or by speech or through any other media or in any other manner, which questions, disrupts the sovereignty or territorial integrity of India, or which is intended to bring about or supports any claim for the cession of any part of India or the secession of any part of India from the Union.” (Section 4, as quoted in Human Rights in Kashmir 1994)
This rather high-handed definition was a violation of the freedom of speech. Under the Act, two special courts were established, in Srinagar and Jammu, to try arrested persons.
The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act was enacted in 1990, giving the Union government in New Delhi and its representative in the state, the Governor, the authority to arbitrarily declare parts of J & K “disturbed area” in which the military could be willfully deployed to quell legitimate political activity. The military was entitled to shoot to kill, which involved “a potential infringement of the right to life” (ibid.). The introduction of other severe laws by the Government of India has made it further non-obligatory to provide for any measure of accountability in the military and political proceedings in the state. Despite these highly discriminatory and unpopular measures, the support enjoyed by some of the militant organizations in the early 1990s abated by the mid-90s.
But the mushrooming of militant organizations, the disarray within their ranks, disagreements regarding their ultimate objective, and Pakistan’s vacillating attitude toward the insurgents had contributed to the steady decrease in their verve and influence up until this new cycle of violence.
Nyla Ali Khan