TORTURE TRAIL IN KASHMIR

Indian government cannot keep on rejecting violations that are morally wrong and not mandated by the Indian constitution.The latest report on torture by a Kashmir based civil society group JKCCS is a glaring indictment of the State in repression and employment of unlawful means to subjugate and suppress the entire population of the Valley. The report which focuses primarily on the use of torture on prisoners, including teenagers and women, and the abuse faced by them during their incarceration documents brutal forms of torture including sexual abuse and electrocution.

The horrifying reality that prisons in Kashmir have become and the manner in which detenues, often arrested on flimsy grounds or the draconian public safety act, has already been well documented. Use of torture has no place in a civilised society. It is an even bigger cause for concern if torture is being practiced as a norm by the agencies of the state. Torture is violative of the right to live with dignity guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. It is also not sanctioned by international humanitarian laws and UN conventions. Despite much international pressure, India has failed to ratify the UN Convention on torture and continues to remain evasive and in denial of the continuing human rights abuse particularly in Kashmir. This is not the first time that cases of widespread abuse and torture have come to light. This fresh report is much in line with several international reports including last year’s United Nation Human Rights Council report which the Government of India abjectly rejected as “fallacious” and even accused the then UNHRC chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of having acted on his “individual prejudices”.

The report had also called for establishing a Commission to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir. In March last, three special rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) wrote to Indian government asking for details on steps taken to punish or provide justice to victims and their next of kin in 76 cases of torture and arbitrary killing in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990. The letter also reminded Indian government about the UNHRC report and also took note of the terror attacks in Kashmir by non-state actors. However, a response from the government a month later completely rejected all the charges and called the UNHRC report a “closed chapter”.

Such denials do not amend the ugly picture of abuse, blood-shed and daily violence in the Valley. The security forces have been accused of many of these cases of violence and in some there is clinching evidence to nail the former but the legal justice mechanisms do not appear to be working. In fact an officially sanctioned culture of impunity forbids any of the excesses to be probed with the promise of dispensing justice. The record of the Indian administration in addressing the allegations of abuse has been abysmal and pivoted around camouflaging torture with terrorism. There is no denying that non-state actors wielding the gun have been responsible for many acts of abuse including murders. This fact, however, does not exempt the security agencies and the Indian state who need to act more responsibly in keeping with both the constitutional laws of the country and international conventions. India is morally obligated to rein in its forces and fairly investigate all cases of human rights abuse.

It also needs to be borne in mind that abuse and torture in an already suffocating Valley, where all spaces are choked, are perpetuating an atmosphere that encourages more and more youth to pick up guns against the State. Militancy cannot be ended militarily alone. Both from the humanitarian point of view and strategic interests, the issue of human rights can no longer be treated frivolously. It needs a serious dispassionate engagement; and, to begin with atleast an official acknowledgement of the wrongs being perpetrated in Kashmir is long overdue.