• Wednesday, Dec 08, 2021
  • Last Update : 12:24 pm

In India-controlled Kashmir, few now dare to speak out

  • Published at 04:48 pm August 22nd, 2021
INDIA-PAKISTAN-KASHMIR-UNREST
File photo: Security personnel stand guard at a roadblock ahead of Muslim's Friday noon prayers in Jammu on August 9, 2019, after the Indian government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy AFP

Many of the 5,000 officially arrested two years ago -- and scores more since -- were booked under the Public Safety Act

Public protests in Indian-controlled Kashmir were once an almost weekly occurrence but two years after New Delhi imposed direct rule on the region, locals say arbitrary arrests and intimidation by security forces wielding batons and snatching phones have left many too scared to voice dissent.

A week before the region's partial autonomy was abolished, and as a massive troop deployment fanned out to help forestall a local backlash, "Rafiq" was one of thousands put in "preventative detention".

He believes he was arrested because in the past he had "protested against injustices".

Freed after a harrowing year behind bars, the 26-year-old -- too frightened to give his real name -- says he is a "broken man".

Echoing accounts from a dozen other Kashmiris told to AFP, he and 30 others were bundled onto a military aircraft to a jail hundreds of miles from his home where they were "abused and intimidated".

"A bright light was kept on all night in my cell for six months... It was hard to imagine that I would come out alive," he said.

He at least was finally released. Activists say that scores of other Kashmiris are languishing in India's notoriously harsh jails.


Also Read - Security tight in Indian Kashmir for 'black day' anniversary


Mother-of-five Tasleema hasn't seen her husband Gulzar Ahmed Bhat, who used to belong to a separatist group but left in 2016, in two years.

Initially when police and soldiers raided his home, Bhat was out. So they held his 23-year-old nephew until his uncle turned himself in.

"I almost beg for work to feed my children," a tearful Tasleema said, with a young child on her lap.

'A tool to silence dissent'

India has for decades stationed more than half a million soldiers on its side of divided Kashmir.

Its troops are fighting rebels demanding independence or a merger with Pakistan, which controls the western part of the region.

Saying it wanted finally to achieve peace, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government scrapped a section of the constitution guaranteeing the territory's partial autonomy in August 2019.

Kasmhiris now no longer have a locally elected government and are ruled by a lieutenant governor appointed by New Delhi.

A legislative blitz has seen new laws applied and others scrapped. There are now hardly any senior Kashmiri police officers or bureaucrats in important decision-making positions.


Also Read - Outcry in Kashmir over ban on Eid-ul-Azha animal sacrifice


Changes in land ownership rules have sparked accusations of "settler colonialism" aimed at achieving an irreversible demographic shift in the Muslim-majority region.

Neither the Home Ministry in New Delhi nor the government's spokesperson in Kashmir responded to requests for comment from AFP for this article.

Many of the 5,000 officially arrested two years ago -- and scores more since -- were booked under the Public Safety Act, a "preventative detention" law allowing two years' imprisonment without charge or trial.

"In the majority of cases, preventative detention is little more than a tool used... to silence dissent and ensure self-censorship," Juliette Rousselot from the International Federation for Human Rights told AFP.

India has also made sweeping use of vaguely-worded anti-terror legislation -- the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act -- which effectively allows people to be held without trial indefinitely.

'Solidarity is no longer possible'

Authorities have raided homes, offices and premises of civil society groups, journalists and newspapers, confiscating phones and laptops. 

One group raided was the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.

"All the state institutions that are supposed to protect human rights and civil liberties have also been silenced now, made dysfunctional or threatened into capitulation," the group's head Parvez Imroz said.

Local journalists say they are under increased scrutiny. Photographers have been assaulted and foreign reporters are effectively barred from the region.

When shopkeepers attempted a shutdown in protest this month, police smashed locks to force them to open.


Also Read - Indian police clamp curbs on media coverage of Kashmir gunbattles


Young people say they are questioned and sometimes beaten up at checkpoints if encrypted apps like WhatsApp or Signal are installed on their phones.

Over a dozen government employees have recently been dismissed for "anti-national activities" or social media posts critical of the government.

Last month police were told to reject security clearance for government jobs and passports to those with past involvement in protests, stone-throwing or activities against "security of the state".

Violence has continued. This month a local official from Modi's party was killed along with his wife, while 90 suspected rebels have died in clashes so far this year.

But while there used to be almost weekly protests, which police would often respond to with tear gas and pellet-firing shotguns, now they are fast becoming a thing of the past.

Relatives and even neighbours of those who have protested in the past -- or just suspected of having done so -- are regularly pressed by police to give written promises to ensure they desist.

"I'm now forced to think of my family and relations before opening my mouth to say anything," said one young man, who spent a year in prison and whose father was made to sign one such undertaking.

"It has separated us. Solidarity with each other is no longer possible."      

50
Facebook 50
blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail