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Public Safety Act: The real sorrow of Jammu and Kashmir

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By Meghna Nair

Shikara_in_Dal_Lake_in_KashmirA news magazine once spoke about an incident from 2004 when a delegation from European Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy visited Kashmir. The delegation was led by Mr. John Walls Cushnahan and they described Kashmir as one of the “most beautiful prisons in the world.”

This is a sad reality. The civil society of Jammu and Kashmir has always been plagued with incessant problems. On one hand, there is Pakistan, constantly sending infiltrators, claiming that Kashmir belongs to them. On the other hand, there is the Indian Army, along with the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the much debated Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

The PSA is, in fact, one act that has continuously disrupted the harmony of many families and has given them sleepless nights.

The Public Safety Act

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The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act is, like AFSPA, a draconian act. This was first introduced in the year 1978 and covers the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir under its ambit and the jurisdiction of the same remains under the state government.

The basic premise of this act is that the security forces can arrest anyone who, according to them is “acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order.” This law allows the government to arrest and detain people without trial for two years.

Each sub point of the acts “prejudicial to the maintenance of public order” is quite ambiguous and this has been taken into advantage by the state government and the armed forces.

As reported by change.org, the State Government authorities have imprisoned thousands of people over the years under this act. As many as five thousand people were imprisoned in the summer of 2008 alone and approximately 1,332 people were detained between 2009 and 2012.

“The state police and the army work in tandem to enforce this law. Say, if any group is mobilizing people and the police comes to know of it, they will hunt their place down at night and raid them, book them under PSA and then for years these people might rot in prisons somewhere,” Shahnaz Bashir, who teaches Journalism at the Central University of Kashmir, told NewsGram over the phone.

The list of detainees is very long and contains famous cases like that of Masarat Alam, the separatist leader belonging to Hurriyat (who was detained in 2010 and then released earlier this year in March) and is filled with the common civilians as well.

“Majority of the political prisoners of J&K have been arrested under this act. The prisons where such people are kept captive are spread all over the nation. Some people have also been kept on house arrests,” Rahul Jalali, senior journalist and an expert on Kashmir, told NewsGram.

In a report published in Kashmir Information and Research Centre, it was stated that an RTI was filed by a journalism student, Ahsan Shafi demanding the details of political detainees. The response from the state government just mentioned the number of people detained, which was 17, without giving further details.

The fact worth mentioning is that perhaps, this is the most misused law of J&K. Thousands of innocent civilians continue to rot in prison because of this act. More than five thousand were arrested during the uprising of 2008 and again many others were arrested in 2010. Minors below the age of 16 are currently behind the bars. This has been going on since the ‘90s. Many women have fallen into destitution. Some don’t even know if their husbands are dead or alive. The situation is pretty grave,” said Hashim (name changed) a resident of Jammu and Kashmir, while speaking to NewsGram.

Who are political prisoners?

Anyone who is “acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order” can be called a political prisoner.

“Political prisoners in Jammu and Kashmir are of two categories. Firstly, there are those who are classified as separatists. Separatists can be either violent or nonviolent. Their agenda remains the same- a free Kashmir. Secondly, there are the militants who resort to violence with arms and ammunition,” adds Jalali.

Ironically, reality deconstructs this definition.

“Once, there was a young man who came from Pakistan. He had all the valid papers and everything. He had come over to meet his relative. The moment he arrived, he was arrested by the police and PSA was slapped on him. He has been in custody since years. No one knows about his present whereabouts. The forces wanted to extract some shared information from him and that is why he didn’t even get a trial,” Bashir added.

The security forces can arrest anyone. AFSPA and PSA together have undoubtedly made these forces omnipotent.

A report published by the Daily Mail cited an incident wherein a twelve-year-old was booked by the security forces on charges of sedition in 2012. The boy was arrested on charges of stone pelting and attempt to murder and was also charged with involvement in the violent protests which happened after Eid prayers in Srinagar in August 2012.

“Since the AFSPA and PSA shield the security forces considerably with their ambiguities, they can arrest anyone. People can be arrested on the minor grounds of suspicion. To detain anyone easily, the forces quickly bring them under PSA. Though on paper, it is mentioned that the forces cannot detain anyone for a period longer than 2 years, the fact is, people have been arrested and kept in jails for 8 – 10 years. Majority of these political prisoners are those who protested during 2008 and 2010 uprisings,” Bashir said.

Organizations expressing solidarity with PSA victims

The people who have been worst hit by PSA are the families of the arrested people. The Act give the forces enough power to knock on any person’s door and take away anyone from that house after invoking PSA.

Photo credit: www.prokerala.com
Photo credit: www.prokerala.com

Once arrested, tracing the whereabouts of a person is an impossible task.  The trauma hits the family members who don’t directly approach the court at first. After the arrest is made, generally no one knows what happened to the person.  Most of the times, the person is termed disappeared.

“By the time they (families of the victims) do approach the court, a considerable amount of time has generally elapsed and the authorities change within such time periods. Due to red-tape and communication gaps between successive authorities, they wouldn’t know and won’t help the victims at all. Many such relatives of the victims meet in courts and that’s how they come together. One such organization created by the families of victims is Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP),” says Bashir.

Currently APDP is headed by Parveena Ahanger, whose son was picked up by the forces in early 90s and is missing till date. She has taken the cause of APDP to a global platform in the past years and was also nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

“The fact remains that there aren’t more than 200 militants in Jammu and Kashmir at present. The number of security forces in the state at present is roughly 7 lakhs, whereas the population is a few crores at the most. These are the facts given by the Army. The question is, do we really need these many security personnel?”  asks Bashir.

The authorities justify AFSPA and PSA by saying that these acts are needed for the safety of the civilians of Jammu and Kashmir, as they are in a constant threat owing to the international border and militant elements. However, the suffering of the people under these laws cannot be pushed into a corner.

These cases mentioned could, to an extent, imply a type of turf war between the state and the militants where the innocents suffer, their families despair. Where is the answer, what is the solution, can anything justify it as fair?

 

  • Dr. Kallol Guha

    Why not try to solve the problem of KASHMIR by adopting Indian philosophy that asks:
    who is the greatest? Ans: One who is immensely powerful yet harmless. If the people of India along with Kashmir is culturally conditioned to think and believe in that philosophy, the nagging problem will phase out. But that is not possible because those who are to address the problem both in India and in Kashmir are conditioned to imitate Western masters and are trying solve the problem by adopting borrowed methods of the West. It is not working and it will not work.

  • How about letting the people decide what they want??

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  • Dr. Kallol Guha

    Why not try to solve the problem of KASHMIR by adopting Indian philosophy that asks:
    who is the greatest? Ans: One who is immensely powerful yet harmless. If the people of India along with Kashmir is culturally conditioned to think and believe in that philosophy, the nagging problem will phase out. But that is not possible because those who are to address the problem both in India and in Kashmir are conditioned to imitate Western masters and are trying solve the problem by adopting borrowed methods of the West. It is not working and it will not work.

  • How about letting the people decide what they want??

Next Story

Rising State-Sponsored Terror, The History of Abduction in J&K

Several national and international organisations issued appeals to Al-Faran to release the tourists. Representatives of the embassies of the victims' countries also visited Kashmir frequently to seek their release, without success.

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The kidnappers demanded the release of Pakistani militant Maulana Masood Azhar who had been imprisoned by India and 20 other prisoners. Pixabay

Considering the threat percept to India’s crown jewel – Jammu & Kashmir – India’s deep state knows its intensity and while it has developed responses, how does one deal with a fidayeen who is ready to die? State-sponsored terror now dovetailed with rising levels of local militancy are taking their toll on Indian security forces, asymmetrical warfare bleeding us through the famed military doctrine of death by a thousand cuts stratagem.

While this may have paid handsome dividends to ISI C Wing and the Jihadi complex that it nurtures, Kashmir Valley was thrown into chaos with a different tactic in the winter of 1989. The template was abduction and it paid handsome dividends.

Terroism/militancy/extremism was birthed out of this strategy. Since then the game plan has been changed repeatedly with great felicity and precision. The play list has seen many signature moves like the round of ethnic cleansing where well-known Kashmiri Pandits were systematically gunned down as ethnocentrism came centre-stage in Kashmir. For brutalising the psyche of the minority Hindu community to stampede them out of their home and hearth in the Valley, instilling the fear factor through a combination of kidnappings and race extermination — the power of the gun was unleashed.

The bleed India strategy has been predicated on keeping the pot boiling as nearly 700,000 Indian troops and paramilitary forces are at hyper vigil in Kashmir at very low cost to Pakistan, ensuring enormous expenditure to keep our military and polity bogged down.

Rewind to December 8, 1989, after much tumult and controversy with a V.P. Singh National Front government recently in place, a tumultuous event takes place. Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya is abducted by JKLF militants and the world is turned upside down. Top erstwhile Jan Morcha leaders arrive at the house of Sayeed, where he is inconsolable as Arun Nehru, Arif Mohammad Khan and Satya Pal Malik (now Governor of J&K) are trying to convince him to appear on the national television to say that she is the nation’s daughter and it’s imperative that she be set free.

But a tearful Sayeed has lost all reason to think, overcome by extreme emotion, for obvious reasons. He refuses to do anything – stunned and struck by inertia.

Just six days earlier Mufti Saheb had taken oath as the first Kashmiri Muslim Home Minister in V.P. Singh’s government. At the same time, JKLF’s Asfaq Majid Wani wanted to do something spectacular in Kashmir Valley. His charter was to kick-start the “revolution” and he didn’t know where to begin.

Watching the oath-taking of Mufti Saheb, he thought of an audacious PLO-type of plan to rattle the newly formed government. The original plot, conceived by Wani, was to kidnap Mufti’s son, reportedly a doctor in Lal Ded hospital. But once recces were carried out, the son turned out to be a daughter – Dr Rubaiya Sayeed. As she finished her shift and left for home around 3 p.m. on December 8 boarding a bus at Exhibition Crossing, JKLF militants took over the bus with Wani and others following in a car.

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A note released by the kidnappers a day after the kidnappings read, “Accept our demands or face dire consequences. We are fighting against anti-Islamic forces. Western countries are anti-Islam, and America is the biggest enemy of Islam.” Pixabay

Around 5.30 p.m., JKLF top brass Javed Mir called up ‘Kashmir Times’ and relayed the news of abduction of the Union Home Minister’s daughter. All hell broke loose, with phones ringing non-stop in the Valley and Delhi. The triumph of V.P. Singh slaying Rajiv Gandhi was lost in translation as panic gripped the security mavens.

After 122 hours in captivity, against the wishes of then J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, five top separatists were released for Rubaiya. It became a watershed moment for Kashmiris as they brought India to its knees.

Since then the trajectory in Kashmir has been southwards.

One would think that the next big play was the hijacking of IC 814, taking it to Kandahar and securing the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, but then we are missing the wood for the trees.

The swapping of three militants for 155 hostages of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane was not the first incident of its kind after Rubaiya Sayeed’s kidnapping in 1989, but one of several high-profile kidnappings which have gone unnoticed. Following the Rubaiya playbook, innumerable abductions took place and the release of many militants took place. The period between December 1989 and January 1992 saw frenetic abductions.

Prominent among them was the abduction of Tassaduq Dev, brother-in-law of then Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad by Al Umar Mujahideen in January 1992. Three jailed activists of Al Umar were set free in exchange for Dev’s release on January 17. Before this came the abduction of Nahida Soz, daughter of then National Conference MP Saifuddin Soz, by Jammu and Kashmir Students Liberation Front (JKSLF) in August 1991. Nahida was released when the government set free a Pakistan-trained hard-core militant, Mushtaq Ahmed.

Indian Oil Corporation Executive Director K. Dorraiswamy was abducted by activists of Ikhwan-Ul Muslimeen in Srinagar on July 29, 1991. His release on August 21 was possible when the government set free six militants. The released militants, included Javed Shalla, main accused in the kidnap and murder cases of Kashmir University Vice-Chancellor Mushir-Ul Haq and HMT General Manager H.L. Khera in 1990. Seven more militants were set free to seek the release of Mir Nassar Ullah, son of former J&K Minister G.M. Mir Lasjan, A.K. Dhar, scientist and T.K. Raina, retired Deputy Commissioner, abducted in March 1992.

There have been many other such instances – kidnappings of Dr Mustafa Aslam, son-in-law of then PCC President Ghulam Rasool Kar (February 24, 1992), Fayaz Ahmed Sheikh, son of then Additional Chief Secretary Sheikh Ghulam Rasool (March 21, 1992) and Ghulam Hassan Zia, assistant station director of AIR (April 1992). It is not known how the Government made their release possible.

Similarly, Allah Tigers militant outfit abducted former Member of Legislative Council (MLC) Habib-Ullah Bhat on March 2, 1992 and released him a month later on April 3. The number of militants, if any, set free in exchange for his release is not known. Likewise, J&K Bank chairman M.S. Qureshi was abducted on June 28, 1992 and later released unconditionally.

The Rubaiya Sayeed case had set a precedent for kidnappings for seeking release of jailed militants. According to government statistics, the state witnessed an upsurge in abductions after Rubaiya’s kidnapping. While only one kidnapping, that of Rubaiya, was reported in 1989, 169 abductions were reported in 1990, 290 in 1991, 281 in 1992, 349 in 1993 and 368 in 1995. It virtually became a cottage industry.

Incidentally, in one of these kidnapping cases, no militant was released for seeking release of Kashmir University Vice-Chancellor Mushir-Ul Haq and HMT GM H.L. Khera in 1990. They were killed by the captors.

In a first, six Western tourists were kidnapped by Al-Faran, an Islamist militant organisation from the Liddarwat area of Pahalgam in the Anantnag district on July 4, 1995. The government refused to succumb to their demands. The six victims included two British tourists, Keith Mangan (from Middlesbrough) and Paul Wells; two Americans, John Childs of Simsbury, Connecticut, and Donald Hutchings of Spokane, Washington; a German, Dirk Hasert; and a Norwegian, Hans Christian Ostr�. Mangan’s and Hutchings’ wives were left behind by the kidnappers as their husbands were abducted.

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After 122 hours in captivity, against the wishes of then J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, five top separatists were released for Rubaiya. It became a watershed moment for Kashmiris as they brought India to its knees. Pixabay

A note released by the kidnappers a day after the kidnappings read, “Accept our demands or face dire consequences. We are fighting against anti-Islamic forces. Western countries are anti-Islam, and America is the biggest enemy of Islam.” Childs managed to escape and was rescued four days later. Ostr� was beheaded by his abductors and his body was found near Pahalgam on August 13, 1995. His body was taken to AIIMS, New Delhi, where a postmortem was conducted by Professor T.D. Dogra, who established the beheading as ante mortem and reported that the words ‘Al Faran’ were carved onto his chest.

The kidnappers demanded the release of Pakistani militant Maulana Masood Azhar who had been imprisoned by India and 20 other prisoners.

Several national and international organisations issued appeals to Al-Faran to release the tourists. Representatives of the embassies of the victims’ countries also visited Kashmir frequently to seek their release, without success.

Also Read: Guidelines For Filing Conflict Complaints, BCCI Comes Up With Its List Of Ethics And Regulations

In December 1995, the kidnappers left a note that they were no longer holding the men hostage. Mangan, Wells, Hutchings, and Hasert have never been found and are presumed to have been killed. In May 1996, a captured militant told Indian investigators and FBI agents that he had heard that all four hostages had been shot dead on December 13, 1995, nine days after an Indian military ambush that killed four of the original hostage-takers, including the man said to have been leading them, Abdul Hamid Turki.

Journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark claim, however, in their book ‘The Meadow’, that the remaining hostages were sold from Al-Faran to Ghulam Nabi Mir, also known as Azad Nabi, who held them for months before shooting them dead on December 24, 1995. (IANS)