Aug 6, Sharply criticizing the Government of India (GoI) decision for revoking the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), one of the world’s topmost rights-based NGOs, Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement from New York, has taken strong exception to the manner in which this was done – by refusing to respect the human rights or of everyone, including protesters.
Insisting that this was a “bad start”, HRW said, the measure would, in effect, “eliminate the autonomous status, provided to J&K when it acceded to India seven decades ago, by splitting the province into two separate territories “which will be federally governed, reducing the authority of elected state officials.”
Indian authorities have adopted measures in anticipation of unrest in J&K state that raise serious human rights concerns. The government announced on August 5, 2019 that it was altering the special constitutional status of the state.
Before making the announcement, the government detained several political leaders, imposed broad restrictions on freedom of movement, and banned public meetings. It also shut down the internet, phone services, and educational institutions. The Indian government should take all necessary steps to ensure that security forces act with restraint.
“The government has a responsibility to ensure security in Kashmir, but that means respecting the human rights of everyone, including protesters,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government got off to a bad start by detaining political leaders, banning public meetings, and shutting down the internet.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led national government has deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to the region since last week, citing security reasons. The authorities also ordered tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave J&K because of a “terror threat.” Orders issued to public officials, including hospital staff, caused panic in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir valley, with people stocking up on food and currency, anticipating that services would be shut down.
The government’s decision to revoke special status for the state provided under Article 370 of the Indian constitution prompted condemnation from political leaders in Kashmir and generated tensions in the state. On August 5, Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament that “not all the provisions of Article 370 will now be implemented in J&K.” In effect, these measures eliminate the autonomous status provided to J&K when it acceded to India seven decades ago and splits the province into two separate territories which will be federally governed, reducing the authority of elected state officials.
Kashmir has witnessed a spike in violent protests and militant attacks in recent years. Indian security forces have often used excessive force to respond to protests, including using pellet-firing shotguns as a crowd-control weapon, even though they have caused a large number of protester deaths and injuries. The Indian government should review its crowd-control techniques and rules of engagement, and publicly order the security forces to abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
Indian troops have seldom been held accountable despite serious allegations of human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) gives soldiers effective immunity from prosecution for serious human rights abuses.