02, Jan 2018 | CJP Team
The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) has released its Annual Report-2017, A Review of Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir. According to the report, 2017 saw “an upward surge in human rights abuses” in the valley, despite the fact that militant Burhan Wani’s killing sparked widespread outrage in Kashmir in the year prior (2016). Overall, 450 killings occurred in 2017 according to the report; these include the deaths of “civilians, militants and armed forces.”
The report noted that “the mass uprising of 2016, contrary to government claims, carried forward into 2017 with widespread student protests witnessed in almost every district of the valley following armed forces’ assault on students in Pulwama Degree College in April.” The report said several hundred students were hurt “in clashes with the armed forces and many were arrested,” adding that schools and colleges were closed for days, and even weeks in certain instances.
The report has alleged that ahead of these student protests, on April 9, at least eight civilians were killed by armed forces in Ganderbal and Budgam during the by-election in Srinagar. On the day of election, the report alleged that, “a civilian was first tortured and then used as a human shield by an Army major in Beerwah after he had cast his vote,” an incident that made national headlines.
The report said that the Indian army’s Operation All Out, which was announced in June 2017, has thus far “resulted in the killing of 217 militants, the highest in the last 8 years.” The report noted that the frequent encounters against militants have also caused “encounter-site civilian killings” in which at least 19 civilians have lost their lives. According to the report, this is the highest ever recorded.
Of the 450 killings in 2017, the dead include 124 armed forces, 217 militants, 108 civilians, and one 1Ikhwani, according to the report. The report explained that given these figures, the ratio of militant killings to armed forces killings is 2:1. “The figures suggest that contrary to government claims that Kashmir’s insurgent movement is ‘under control’ and that they have almost wiped out the remaining militants in Kashmir, the fact remains that the graph of armed forces killings have increased in the valley which suggesting that militant assertion has grown,” the report says.
Violence against women
According to the report, 20 civilian women were killed in 2017 in Jammu and Kashmir, including eight women who were pilgrims to Amarnath who were killed in an attack by suspected militants in Anantnag in July. The report said four other women died because of “cross LOC shelling,” with one woman reportedly dying of suffocation “caused by intense teargas shelling by armed forces in Pulwama.” A girl succumbed to injuries sustained in a grenade blast in Tral in September, the report said.
Particularly disturbing were the numerous incidents of hair and braid-chopping that occurred in 2017. According to the report, up to 150 incidents of braid-chopping were reported in the months of September and October, with the incidents surging significantly in the latter month. It added that in various areas, “people alleged wherever they were able to catch hold of the assailants (braid choppers) that the army and police, mysteriously appeared to rescue these persons.” In fact, the report noted that their “failure” to apprehend braid-choppers prompted “vigilante mobs” that “caught and thrashed many innocent people” over suspicions that they were braid-choppers.
But the report went on to say, “Psychologists and police have termed braid chopping incidents as mass hysteria, reasoning that thousands of such incidents have been reported from various parts of India and mass hysteria has been found to be the reason. Quoting a case of a teenage girl in Baramulla, they stated that the girl was suffering from a psychiatric disorder and that led her to the chopping off her own hair. However, women, stated that their hair was cut after somebody sprayed a chemical on their face that knocked them unconscious.”
Unfortunately, such incidents made people afraid, the report said, with women choosing to be accompanied by a male family member when venturing outside. Braid-chopping also stifled girls’ education, with students avoiding attending school and college because they were afraid of being attacked, according to the report. Braid-chopping also prompted several hundred non-local labourers to leave the valley ahead of schedule, the report has alleged.
The report said that on October 4, the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), while hearing local activists’ petitions, ordered the Civil and Police Administration to “submit a compliance report within 2 weeks,” and also asked the police department to launch a “time-bound enquiry into” braid-chopping incidents.
The horror of pellet guns
According to the report, “The use of pellet guns against civilian protestors continues unabated in Kashmir, with fresh cases of pellet injuries reported throughout the year.” It highlighted that injuries caused by pellet guns used by armed forces in Kashmir have been decried not just within India, but also internationally. According to the report, the Home Ministry established “an expert committee to find alternatives to pellet guns” in 2016, adding that “there were reports that pellet guns should be used as a last resort.” However, the report said that there seems to have been “no apparent change” in the use of pellet guns on civilian protests, with four people being killed due to pellets in 2017; three of these were under the age of 20. According to the report, scores were wounded due to pellets, with many losing their eyesight.
In September, Amnesty International India published a report, called ‘Losing Sight in Kashmir’, which outlined the impact of pellet guns. The report notes that “paradoxically, on March 2, the Ministry of Home Affairs made fresh authorisation of 4,949 pellet guns for CRPF units deployed as Rapid Action Force, and Mahila Batallion in J&K, taking the total number of pump action guns to 5,589.”
The report noted that on March 27, the Supreme Court asked the Indian government to “consider effective means other than” pellet guns “to quell protests in Jammu and Kashmir,” adding that a division bench “also expressed concern over injuries suffered by minors involved in protests” in the valley. On December 19, the Indian government informed Parliament that “armed forces use rubber and plastic bullets in Jammu and Kashmir to disperse ‘violent unlawful assembly'”.
According to the report, 41 individuals reportedly sustained “eye injuries during pellet firing by armed forces” in 2017. Six youth suffered injuries in both eyes. In November, Zahid Manzoor Mir, 16, was acutely injured after “government forces pumped hundreds of pellets into his body,” the report said; Mir was in critical condition in hospital for several days, with doctors having to remove his right kidney and gallbladder.
*** Feature Image Courtesy Rollie Mukherjee