AI’s umpteenth intervention underlines the gravity of humanitarian situation in J&K

It is shameful that the Jammu and Kashmir government has once again incurred the wrath of the Amnesty International (AI) for brazen misuse of draconian preventive detention laws and rampant victimisation of teenage boys in the Valley. In this particular instance, the AI has pleaded the case of 18 year old Mohammad Mubarak Bhat who was ordered to be released by the court but who continues to be behind bars and lodged in a notorious prison far away from his home place. Like hundreds before him, Mubarak has been framed and slapped with all sorts of vaguely defined charges after he was allegedly held for stone pelting. Stone pelting has, by now, come to be viewed by the state authorities as grave enough offence to justify indefinite detention of young boys, including minors in gross violation of safeguards provided in the Juvenile Justice Act. Ironically, the present government has been promising but doing nothing about updating its own anachronistic juvenile justice system. It is with great reluctance and under mounting pressure from the judiciary that some minor children held in detention were shifted to a make-shift facility near the capital city where there are no arrangements prescribed by the Act.

Rampant misuse of Public Safety Act (PSA) and other so-called ‘preventive’ measures in J&K is old history. Perhaps it would be no exaggeration to conclude that the extent of victimisation of innocent persons and families under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is nowhere near the number of those suffering inhuman hardship on account of unbridled misuse of the PSA. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s crocodile tears over the AFSPA fail to impress when compared to the uglier reality of his government’s shameful record in relation to the PSA. Judicial orders including those from the high court are being flouted with impunity.

Just because there is this tendency of unaccountability and culture of impunity running right across the state administration, normal laws of the land as well as universally accepted norms of civilised behaviour are being thrown to the winds. In effect, the administration has arrogated to itself the authority to arrest citizens including minor children on charges without any ground, virtually convict them without trial by slapping draconian measures like the PSA and effectively sentencing them without valid conviction by holding them in prolonged illegal detention in violation of court orders. This is nothing but grave subversion of the system of justice as well as that of the judicial process. That is the precise reason for the agencies like the AI to step in and plead the case of victims that come to its notice. The number of such cases is too small, however, to make any difference, considering that the number of detenues languishing in different jails of the state keeps on mounting year after year.

The so-called restoration of ‘normalcy on the ground’ which is being held out as an argument against the central government’s refusal to relent over the AFSPA issue is conveniently forgotten when it comes to justifying the state government’s own unreasonableness in the matter of misuse of the PSA. Mubarak’s case taken up by the AI underlines the gravity of humanitarian situation in Kashmir. The AI has appropriately called the PSA as a device for ‘revolving door detention’. Security agencies including police never run short of ‘new grounds’ to put behind bars those whose detention has been invalidated by the judicial court and whose release orders have been issued. This state of affairs makes mockery of the pretension that J&K is an ‘integral part (atoot ang)’ of democratic India where supremacy of judiciary is an acknowledged fact of life. This concept is alien to the rulers as well as the ruled in this part of the world. That is the precise message behind the AI’s latest intervention on behalf of (yet another) victim of governmental highhandedness.