The Quality of democracy in a Country is inversely proportion to the number of political prisoners held in that Country and nothing is more revealing about the situation of human rights in a country than the existence of political prisoners. They embody the denial of the most basic freedoms essential to humankind, such as freedom of expression, assembly and association.
The European Parliament’s Delegation from the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defense Policy, headed by Mr. John Walls Cushnahan, once described Kashmir as ‘the world’s most beautiful prison". In this beautiful prison are the ugly stories of countless Kashmiri prisoners languishing in Jails spread across the length & breadth of India for one single reason-that they want a just & final solution to the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes of the people and as mandated by United Nations sixty five years ago.
Dr. Qasim Faktoo’s incarceration is one such gory story. His details of long detention are revealed in a recently released book titled Dr. Muhammad Qasim–the victim of political Vendetta
On completion of fourteen years in Jail, the matter was deliberated by Honb’le Jammu and Kashmir High Court which directed the Government to place his case before the review board for consideration of his release. In pursuance of these directions, a Review board comprising of seven members presided by then Director General Prison RK Tikoo along with Principal session Judge Hasnain Masoodi was formed which recommended pre-mature release of Dr. Muhammad Qasim on 03-06-2008
Government of Jammu and Kashmir rejected the above recommendations of the board on the basis of Jammu and Kashmir Jail Manual rule 541.The Honb’le High court quashed the said government order and directed the government that convict cannot be debarred from pre mature release on the basis of Jammu and Kashmir Jail manual rule 541 and further directed that the Government should consider his case within 90 days .
Government challenged the said High Court order before Divsion Bench of the High Court which set aside the Single Bench order with the observation that the TADA convict can be released only after twenty years, relying on rule 21.2 of the Jammu and Kashmir Jail Manual. On completion of twenty years in Jail the convict sought High Court’s intervention on the basis of Jammu and Kashmir manual rule 21.2. This time the Honb’le Court held that Dr. Qasim had to spend his entire life in prison? The irony is that this judgment was pronounced by the same Judge who earlier directed the government to consider the release of Dr. Muhammad Qasim on completion of his fourteen years in Jail.
Dr. Qasim’s continued detention raises some important questions. One is the aerie silence observed by UN & other International organizations charged with the task of observing compliance to international human rights covenants to which India is also a signatory. Massive abuses of human rights like mass killings, rapes and destruction of properties is taking place in Kashmir. Pro-resistance leaders are lodged in prisons or incarcerated in their houses without these august bodies even batting an eye-lid leave alone any censure of the State or authorities committing such violations. Even the compliance to “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners” set up by UN itself in 1955 is not being watched let alone enforced.
The other important question raised is the political vendetta betrayed by State in keeping the people behind bars. By keeping Kashmiris confined to prisons, what is India hoping to achieve? One, that Kashmiris would submit to India’s domination, forsaking their claim to a final settlement of the issue. Or, that provoked, grief-stricken, and weary, Kashmiris would take up arms once again, giving India the opportunity to fortify its propaganda that Kashmiri dissent against Indian rule is nurtured and endorsed by external forces and groups in Pakistan. While we have to guard against falling into such trap, we must remain steadfast in our demand to free all political prisoners and end the arbitrary practices of the ruling authorities. Let us hope the conscious Indian citizens, civil society and more and more human rights organisations join us in our call to end impunity and to free all political prisoners, as without this there can be no just peace.
But one thing needs to be said in a loud voice without any fear of contradiction. While continuous alienation of Kashmiris towards India is fast turning into a hatred against that Country , it is also slowly but surely turning against UN and other international organizations for their inaction on Kashmir.
(The reviewer is a practicing chartered Accountant. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)