Kashmir Committee chairman Ram Jathmalani’s comparison of Kashmir to Nazi Germany is quite apt. He was referring to a case of detenue in prison for 18 years without trial. There are hundreds of such cases in Jammu and Kashmir where people have been picked up on mere suspicion and they have been languishing in jails for years without any case against them or fabricated charges are leveled against them. Public Safety Act is used as a weapon against anybody, from a distinguished separatist leader to an unknown teenager to keep them, as Amnesty International report pointed out, out of circulation. Many men, youth and teenagers, a large section of them totally unconnected with militancy, have simply vanished in custody and the government’s security agencies are neither held accountable nor expected to reveal the truth about what happened to these people who disappeared thus . In the last 20 years of armed insurgency and counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir, people have been sandwiched between guns of militants, security forces and their patronized surrendered militants, village defence committee members and PSOs. An estimated 70,000 people have been killed, many of them civilians in cross firing, fake encounters and in custody. Besides, there has also been a high incidence of rapes, molestations as well as forced marriages. Despite an increasing pattern of human rights violations, majority of which are perpetrated by security forces, the latter are just not held accountable for their brutalities, and mostly the cases are not even registered against them. Even when cases are registered, the legal sanction required, as per provisions of laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act, is never accorded. In the case of police, the laws are easily abused to give them that extra protection. Even when the graph of militancy declined, the human rights abuse by security forces, whose presence in the state itself is quite disproportionately high has continued. When the people reposed their faith in a peace process and shunned the culture of gun, not only were they not involved in the process, the vicious cycle of human rights violations continued, fuelled and propelled by the impunity enjoyed by security forces. It is this history of gross abuse which lies at the core of the anger seething among the people bringing youth to protest on the streets, often in mildly violent ways.
In the backdrop of this scenario, Jethmalani’s remarks are like hitting the nail on the head. But such concern will be quite futile if it is only an endeavour to score brownie points or improve the stature of the Committee in Kashmir. Similar concerns, though in more subtle ways, have also been voiced by the Dilip Padgaonkar headed Kashmir Panel but such lip sympathy never gets converted into some concrete confidence building measures to end human rights violations or atleast ensure legal justice in even a fraction of the cases of abuse. As compared to the K-panel, the Kashmir Committee’s role may be far too limited since unlike the former, the latter is not an all out sarkari group, though it does have the blessings of the Centre, both when it was first formed during the tenure of Vajpayee as prime minister and now in its new avatar. In that respect, Kashmir Committee stands aloof from many other civil society initiatives in Kashmir, since it also carries the additional burden of some kind of tacit support of the government. And with that it is responded to by people of Kashmir with a mixed bag of expectations and skepticism. In a rather dismal scenario where excessive repression and years of denial of justice has led to a situation where government needs to exercise drastic measures, the lip sympathy being doled out becomes totally meaningless, unless such groups are able to exert pressure on the government to act in accordance with the needs and aspirations of the people. The Kashmir panel, with its own set of rigidities and its cold war with the separatists, has already failed in doing so. The only way that the Centre has responded so far is in deeming Kashmir as an economic issue, totally skirting the human rights problem that lies at the core of the anger and disillusionment of the people, and simply talking about addressing unemployment and doling out economic packages. Even for the sake of its own credibility, the Jethmalani Committee may have to do much more than engage with Kashmiris in a rhetoric that sounds sensitive and sensible.