Amnesty International has begun its much needed campaign for zero tolerance to human rights violations in Kashmir, something that was promised years ago by no less than prime minister of India but without adequate action to either arrest the trend of abuse or investigate such cases. The continuum of human rights abuse, in newer forms of excessive use of undemocratic laws like Public Safety Act (PSA) and ruthless crowd control measures, and the abject denial to probe fairly even a single case of state sponsored violence is in absolute contrast to that promise. The non fulfillment of the promise has only seen the anger, stemming from sense of alienation and humiliation coupled with shock and horror, spiraling upwards.
Ever since 2008, when the Valley has been on the boil, after a period of comparative respite due to dwindling number of militants and militancy related incidents, repressive policies of the government and its security agencies have assumed a new form with crackdowns, raids, random arrests and ruthless measures to unsuccessfully control protesting mobs. The latest in series is the much publicized use of non-lethal weapons, added to the usual fare of stone pelting, rampaging, bullets and targeted smoke shells.
The so called “non-lethal” weapons were introduced for controlling mass protests after the experience of 2010 when over 120 civilians were killed during protests. In late February, when the state legislative assembly session began, the Governor’s address listing the achievements of the state government made only a brief passing reference to the issue of human rights, detailing that ‘non-lethal weapons will be used to combat protesting mobs to check human rights abuse. The government has been not only justifying the wrongful and unethical use of these weapons, it has also been trying to project its policy of liberal use of pepper guns and pepper sprays as some kind of an effort in pursuit of human rights.
Pepper gun shoots projectile balls contains super irritant Capsaicin II, the burning component in chillies, in the form of concentrated dry powder that bursts upon impact. The dry powder creates dust around the target, temporarily blinding people for 3-5 minutes. Those directly hit by pepper-filled gun pellets suffer a spray of injuries with just one burst and doctors are finding it an extremely difficult task to extract the pellets. The so-called non-lethal weapon has become a major health hazard causing eye damage, skin lacerations and asthama. Several deaths and severe cases of impairment have been reported due to excessive use of such non-lethal weapons. However, the officials are still in denial about these deaths or the collective damage that the pepper spray is particularly causing. This, even as State Human Rights Commission has cautioned against use of such weapons causing severe health hazards. Two PILs have been submitted before Jammu and Kashmir High Court seeking ban on pepper gas and pepper guns. The dangers of the use of pepper gas in law enforcement have also been recognized world-wide and several countries have banned the use of these toxic chemical weapons. However, these are not only being liberally used in Kashmir, they are even being celebrated as attempts to upkeep human rights, much to everyone’s shock and horror.
Clearly, in these recent years, the periods of uneasy calm following bouts of public rage have been wrongly construed by the government as return of normalcy, manifesting that the Indian state is not serious in resolving the Kashmir issue but only in buying time to initiate a meaningful peace process, rather wriggle out of it by putting the entire onus on the Kashmiri public, being consistently demonised through their anger, outrage and pushing them towards violence or religious extreme. It is in the light of such a dismal scenario that the role of groups like Amnesty International becomes significant. The Indian government has recently voted for a resolution against Sri Lanka for its role in war crimes on Sri Lankan Tamils.
The resolution was necessitated by complete arrogance of Sri Lankan regime towards the issue of the Tamils and their human rights. A brief glance at recent history in Kashmir, points out to streaks of similar arrogance in the Indian establishment when it comes to dealing with Kashmir, also north-east. The Indian state needs to read the signals correctly, dispassionately and accordingly act, both to prevent Kashmir from slipping into a helpless rot as also to save itself from any future embarrassment.