Human Rights in Kashmir   Click here for detailed version

It is well known that militants engage in human right violations- an officially estimated 6673 civilians killed by the militants as of 1998. However, human rights record of the Indian security forces has been equally appalling- grave violations such as arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and extrajudicial killings have been extensively documented by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and PUCL(People's Union for Civil Liberties). Most of these human right violations routinely go unchecked and unpunished, "justified" as unavoidable in a proxy war against Pakistan; only a handful cases have been brought to justice. Often, the government's response to the reports by various human rights organizations has been evasive; Kashmiris continue to suffer brutalities by the Indian forces on the one hand, and the excesses of the militants on the other.

Let us take a snapshot of this record. 2477 civilians had been killed by the Indian forces in the period 1990-1998[ PTI release, 13 September 1998 ], according to conservative estimates by official sources which mostly exclude thousands of custodial killings. In April 1997, the Minister of State for Home Affairs admitted that 454 persons were missing since 1990.

Civilian killings in firings:

The 1989 insurgency in the Valley arose as a result of genuine grievances among the people due to the denial of the promised plebiscite, erosion of autonomy promised under Article 370, consistently rigged elections since 1951 and unemployment; this insurgency started off as a popular one with hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris marching on the streets of Srinagar between January and May 1990. Under Jagmohan's regime, India's response to the protests was brutal with indiscriminate firings at unarmed protesters; The human right violations by India has been acknowledged by senior Indian officials including the Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi, Chandrashekhar and P.V. Narasimha Rao during their tenure and the State Governor Girish Saxena ; the trend continues till date albeit at decreased rates.

Torture and Custodial Killings:

Civilians suspected of having information about militants, many of them innocent, are routinely detained,tortured and killed in custody, besides militants. Methods of torture include severe beatings, electric shock, crushing the leg muscles with a wooden roller, and burning with heated objects. In 1995, Amnesty International documented 706 cases of custodial killings in the period 1990-1994, nearly all after gruesome torture<; In its response to Amnesty, the Government of India(GOI) responded to 519 out of 706 cases in an evasive manner , dismissing half of them as "encounter killings" without supporting evidence despite eye-witness reports to the contrary; The government indicated that there was prima facie evidence of human rights violations in 85 other cases which were said to be under investigation, however no one has been brought to justice till date. On 26 April 1993, The Kashmir Times run by Ved Bhasin carried a report of police records listing 132 persons to have been killed in custody in the preceding 33 days alone. The Kashmir Monitor, a human rights group, has reported[2] around 220 custodial deaths for the period June'94-April'95 which represent the bare minimum. Estimate of the number of custodial killings since 1990 by human rights organizations runs in several thousands, many of them are innocent civilians.

"Disappearances" in Kashmir

In August 2000, Amnesty International reported that the fates of up to 1,000 persons reported missing in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990 remain unexplained by authorities. Few of the hundreds of habeas corpus petitions filed by families of the "disappeared" before the judiciary in Jammu and Kashmir have been brought to a resolution. The Kashmir Monitor has also documented around 300 cases of disappearance during 1989-95.

Rapes in Kashmir

Hundreds of women have been raped with impunity and most of them go unreported given the social stigma and fear of retribution by the State; The government has been quick to deny and cover-up most of those cases which do get reported; The reported gang-rape of nine women at Shopian in October 1992 by an army unit was dismissed off-handedly after investigation by army and police, the very units charged with the crime, despite solid medical evidence to the contrary; no independent investigation by an impartial agency was carried out. The reported mass rape of over 20 women at Konan Poshpura in February 1991 was also handled in a similar evasive manner; the complaint was not investigated in a timely manner by an impartial agency and the medical evidence was dismissed without good cause and Amnesty's request for medical records were ignored; the women still remain unmarried or have been deserted by their husbands and one of the victims who was nine months pregnant during the incident delivered a baby with a fractured left arm; Governor Girish Saxena who denied the incident admitted to mass rapes in the past by the indian forces however. Rapes continue to be reported, an example being the April 17 gang-rape of a 17-year old girl in Pahalgam and May 2009 rape and murder of two young women by Indian armed forces in Shopian village.

Pro-India Renegade Militants:

The phenomenon of renegade militants has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch. Renegades are former militants who have surrendered and changed sides to the Indian forces. Since the 1989 insurgency in Kashmir, renegades have been used for extrajudicial executions of militants (besides human right activists, journalists and other civilians) and later conveniently dismissed as "intergroup rivalries". Many of these groups have been responsible for grave human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and illegal detention as well as election-related intimidation of voters. They are never arrested or prosecuted and go scot-free. In 1997, the Director General of Police Gurbachan Jagat acknowledged that the continued services of the renegades had become counter-productive in view of their excesses; an estimated 5000 renegades were reportedly 'rehabilitated' as Special Police Officers (SPO) in the State police and many others were absorbed in the security forces. The present number of renegade militants continues to be significant and the estimates vary; In 1999, Gurbachan Jagat acknowledged that there were 1,200 renegades in the payroll of the government; According to a renegade representative Javed Shah, the number of renegades exceeded 2,000;

The massacre of 35 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora in Kashmir Valley in March 2000 and subsequent events are examined in detail in a separate article on Renegade Militants.

Government's Response:

While the Government did take certain positive steps by taking action against a fraction of the human right violations and instituted a National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) to look into such violations, such actions have not been effective in improving the human rights record; For instance, the NHRC lacks the jurisdiction to investigate complaints of violations by the army and paramilitary forces. The Government continues to deny permission for various human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and UN Special Rapporteur of Torture, to visit Jammu and Kashmir and investigate the violations. Indian forces also have severely beaten 17 journalists in May 2001.

Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitley acknowledged that while disciplinary action was taken against security personnel involved in large massacres in the mid-1990s, no prosecutions take place as no witness will dare step forward. What action is taken is not made public. In the past, the Indian government has made public a number of prosecutions of members of security forces for rape. However, even these amount to no more than a handful; many other incidents of rape have never been prosecuted. In its 1999 report, Human Rights Watch stated that was not aware of a single prosecution in a case of the torture or summary execution of a detainee in the ten years since the conflict began. The fact that the officer indicted in the 1996 murder of a human rights lawyer Jalil Andrabi, has not yet been arrested, illustrates the impotence of Kashmir's judicial institutions and the fraudulence of the government's claim that it has ensured greater accountability from its forces in Kashmir.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 and the Disturbed Areas Act of 1976 give police extraordinary powers of search and arrest without warrants and detention. According to one NGO, there were 1,300 writs of habeas corpus pending in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in 1999 in such detention cases. The government is also known to abuse such powers, an example being the case of Yasin Malik, chairman of JKLF(political group since 1994). He was arrested under POTA on 23 March on charges of accepting illegal money, a charge which he refuted as a frame-up; Intriguingly the prosecution failed to present the mandatory challan within ninety days of his detention under POTA despite repeated directions by the court and the judge ordered his release on bail; subsequently he was rearrested under the Public Safety Act(PSA). The events clearly show that the POTA case was indeed a frame-up.

Kashmiris are alienated from both countries given brutal repression by India and violence by pro-Pakistan militants. In a recent poll by MORI [BBC News, 31 May], only 9% and 13% of people of Kashmir Valley, where the discontent and insurgency is concentrated, have preferred to join India and Pakistan respectively Caught in the crossfire between militants and Indian security forces, Kashmir continues to bleed.