The scars of human rights violations in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) are showing no signs of healing. Despite increasing global attention on the human rights situation in the region, state-sponsored violence and repression remain rampant, roiling tensions and exacerbating animosity. In its recently published annual report, the Legal Forum Kashmir (LFK) has provided a brief overview of the grave violations of the fundamental human rights occurring in IIOJK during the year 2022.
These include extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, prohibition of public assembly, mass imprisonments, curbs on the press and freedom of speech, illegal land grabs by the Indian military, and demographic changes aimed at creating a larger settler colonial design.
The Right to Information Act governs that citizens have a fundamental right to access information and yet, a report released in December 2022 revealed that in India, the right to access information is severely restricted with more than 164 instances of internet blockades from January to December 2022.
Freedom of expression is essential to open and informed debate on matters of public interest, and such enforced closure of the internet is a major violation of this right.
Adding to the list of human rights violations in India is the revival of the state-sponsored militia, known as the ‘Village Defense Groups’ (VDG). VDGs have been accused of serious human rights abuses, including rape and murder. Official data tells us that as of December 2022, a total of 221 criminal cases have been filed against VDG personnel.
The human rights situation has been especially grave in Jammu and Kashmir since the illegal revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. A large number of Kashmir’s political detainees, who have been illegally imprisoned under draconian laws like the Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act (UAPA), were also shifted from Kashmir to jails in mainland India where they are subjected to inhumane, unsanitary living conditions.
The local people in these areas have continued to suffer due to prolonged internet suspension and curfew. In June 2022, protests by Kashmiri Muslims against the offensive remarks made by BJP spokesperson Nurpur Sharma on Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) were met with a curfew and the immediate snapping of internet services in Srinagar, Kishtwar, and Bhaderwah districts.
It is inarguable that the government must provide its citizens with equal rights and access to credible information, without fear of repercussions. We call upon the Indian government to repeal internet restrictions and oppressive laws, stand up against human rights abuses, address the concerns of the Kashmiri people, secure the immediate release of political detainees, and promote a culture of informed debate and dialogue in the country.
It is time the government takes cognizance of the collective right of the people to access information and stops impeding the right to freedom of expression.
IIOJK has long been the victim of decisions made without consulting the local population, with the revocation of Article 370 proving to be an extreme example of depriving citizens of their fundamental right to dignity and freedom. In 2022, the plight of Kashmiris in India has worsened, with numerous attacks occurring in universities and other educational institutions.
In a controversial move, non-residents have recently been awarded voting rights following a ‘delimitation exercise’ which increased the Hindu majority share of seats in the 90-member Indian-controlled assembly of IOJK and decreased the number of Muslim-majority seats. In addition, illegal land acquisitions by the Indian military and paramilitary forces remain a serious human rights violation in the region. The declaration of thousands of acres of land in Gulmarg and Sonamarg as ‘strategic areas’ in January 2022 serves to further highlight the grave injustice facing the people of IIOJK.
Historically, IIOJK has endured unilateral decision-making by India, with the revocation of Article 370 intensifying this trend and reducing its inhabitants’ rights to dignity and freedom within their own territory. In 2022, the persecution of Kashmiri people in Indian states has risen. Most of these assaults have happened on college and university campuses.
Subsequently, Indians have recently granted non-resident voting rights following a controversial ‘delimitation’ – increasing Hindu-majority Jammu’s 4 percent seat share in the 90-member Indian-ruled assembly and reducing Muslim-majority Kashmir’s 3.4 percent. Land seizure by the Indian military and paramilitary forces has also been a major violation of rights in IIOJK.
Thousands of acres in the Gulmarg and Sonamarg areas of IIOJK were unlawfully declared as ‘strategic areas’ and given to the Indian military in January 2022. This is a serious violation of International Law, as the region is disputed, and the 900,000 Occupying Forces stationed in IIOJK are given absolute impunity under the Armed Force Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Despite 8,000 documented cases of enforced disappearance in IOJK, the courts failed to hold perpetrators accountable.
Therefore, the international community must take these issues seriously, and investigate the evidence presented in this report – including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torturing of civilians, curbs on freedom of speech, press, and religion, and demographic changes. Such measures, aimed at the ethnic cleansing of Kashmir Muslims, must not go unheeded.