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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??

SHARE
  • 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

Internet Shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir- Longest Lockdown in a Democracy

Kashmir Internet Shutdown Takes Toll on Economy

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Kashmir girl
A Kashmir girl rides her bike past Indian security force personnel standing guard in front closed shops in a street in Srinagar. VOA

By Niala Mohammad, Yusuf Jameel

The internet shutdown in India’s Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, which shows no signs of abating and has been the longest lockdown in a democracy, is taking a toll on the local economy and has led to the loss of thousands of jobs, according to rights groups and analysts.

Access Now, a global digital rights group that has been monitoring the situation in Kashmir, told VOA the “loss of connectivity in the valley” because of the shutdown has been “devastating to the local economy.”

“India’s internet shutdown in Kashmir is the longest ever in a democracy,” Raman Jit Singh Chima, Access Now’s senior international counsel and Asia Pacific policy director, told VOA.

“The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce has gone on record to speak of the immense economic cost that the internet shutdown has caused to the region, undermining the very economic goals that the Union Government promised it would drive through integrating the area into the wider Indian Union,” Chima added.

The lockdown has been in place since August, when New Delhi revoked Kashmir’s semiautonomous status and imposed a curfew on the region, including shutting down the internet.

The government defended its decision, saying it was a temporary measure to prevent possible terrorist attacks.

In a televised address to the nation in August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “The Kashmir decision will bring positive changes in the lives of the common man. It would mean the protection of Indian laws, industrialization, a boost in tourism and, therefore, more employment opportunities.”

India Kashmir
Indian security personnel guard outside the civil secretariat of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir during the annual reopening of the former state’s winter capital in Jammu, India. VOA

However, opposition parties in the country argue the opposite is happening.

“You have redefined the definition of normalcy, the J&K [Jammu and Kashmir] definition of normalcy now prevails in the rest of the country. This is uncaring and unthinking government,” Indian National Congress said on twitter this week in reference to what’s happening in Kashmir and the passage of a recent controversial law.

India’s parliament recently approved legislation that allows Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are living in India illegally to become citizens. The applicants must prove they were persecuted because of their religious beliefs in neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan.

However, the law does not apply to Muslims, which critics say is discriminatory.

Terrorism or protests? 

India’s government, led by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), defends its continued lockdown of internet connectivity in Kashmir as a deterrent to terrorist attacks.

While briefing the country’s lawmakers in November, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, a close ally of Modi, said the internet would be restored as soon as local authorities felt it was appropriate.

“There are activities by our neighbors in the region, so we must keep security in mind. Whenever local authorities see fit, a decision will be taken to restore it [internet service],” Shah said, referring to Pakistan’s alleged interference in the region.

India has accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency of fomenting instability in Kashmir by supporting local militant groups, a charge Islamabad has denied.

Some analysts, however, say the internet lockdown is largely designed to prevent collective political protests.

“The stated reason [by the Indian government] was to contain possible terrorist attacks. In my view, it is largely designed to prevent collective political protests of any sort,” Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science and the Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilization at Indiana University, told VOA.

Other analysts, such as Ashok Swain, a professor of peace and conflict studies at Uppsala University in Sweden who follows Indian politics, said the reasons behind the Indian government’s decision to shut down the internet in Kashmir are multifaceted.

“As I see [it], the real reason for [the] internet shutdown is not to restrict communication within Kashmir Valley, but to restrict Kashmir’s communication with [the] outside world,” Swain said, adding the government is more concerned about its global image as a democracy.

“By taking away the internet, [the] regime is also controlling the local media and its publication as the journalists are dependent on [the] regime’s mercy to communicate with [the] outside world and to contact with their offices,” Swain said.

India Kashmir
A masked boy in Kashmir throws stones at a police drone flying over Jamia Masjid mosque where Kashmiris are offering their first Friday prayers since Aug. 5 in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. VOA

Local economy 

Sheikh Ashiq, the president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told VOA that there has been a rapid rise in unemployment and a significant drop in Kashmir’s cottage industry.

“Our handicraft sector, that is solely based on the internet, is at a standstill. As a result, 50,000 artisans are jobless,” Ashiq said, adding that the export of its heritage industry handicrafts had declined by 62%.

Experts say the action against Kashmir has led to losses in tourism, health care, education and in the communications industries.

“The state economy has lost more $1.5 billion due to [the] lockdown. Several companies, whose operations were internet-dependent, have been closed,” Swain said.

The internet lockdown “has affected education, health service and even regular movement of the people, creating a severe humanitarian crisis. Business, particularly fruit trade and tourism, have [been] affected severely,” he added.

Local voices 

Young Kashmiri entrepreneurs like Muheet Mehraj see a bleak future in Kashmir, as the internet shutdown has placed a cloud over future employment prospects.

“If something doesn’t change for the better with time or our internet isn’t resumed, then I don’t understand what I am going to do in the future,” Mehraj told VOA.

Many businesspeople told VOA they have been forced to leave Kashmir to earn an income.

Syed Mujtaba, the owner of Kashmir Art Quest, shifted his business to Delhi because of the lockdown.

“Eventually, my family and my own logic told me it was best to leave Kashmir,” Mujtaba told VOA.

“Now I am in Delhi, you know … in search of new opportunity … and halfheartedly so, to be honest. My heart is still in Kashmir and will always remain in Kashmir,” he added.

The government, however, continues to paint a normal picture of the situation on the ground.

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“The situation in Kashmir does not need to be normalized. The situation in Kashmir is already normal,” Home Minister Shah told lawmakers last month.

Ashiq, of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce, paints a different picture.

“We are handed a narrative of development. However, we do not see any form of development,” he said. (VOA)