The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir’s (FHRJK) annual report on the regions’ 11-month lockdown condemned an “across-the-board violation of human rights.” More specifically, the report highlights the detrimental impact of India’s “draconian” policies on the region’s economy, media, public health, civilian security, and educational access. The territory of Jammu and Kashmir has been under lockdown since their status as a state was revoked in August 2019. In the first half of this year, 229 people have been killed in conflicts. Notably, on July 25, a shooting broke out between militants and security forces on the outskirts of Srinagar, killing two militants. Over the past two weeks, two other shootings have occurred in Kashmir.
While the FHRJK’s report notes the lockdown led to a decline in “terrorist-related incidents” and overall fatalities, there has been an increase in ceasefire violations from 449 in 2016 to 3,168 in 2019. Over the past year, there have been 37 terrorism-related civilian deaths. Since the start of the lockdown, 6,607 people—including three former chief ministers and at least 144 minors—have been detained. The Indian government, per the report, has denied Kashmiris’ “right to bail and fair and speedy trial” and implemented “draconian legislation, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent.”
Moreover, the regions’ statutory oversight bodies were closed when Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood was revoked. Although Union Territories are also entitled to independent statutory bodies, the Union Government decided not to reinstate them. As the FHRJK notes, this leaves citizens without an outlet to seek redress for issues such as “women and child rights, anti-corruption, and the right to information.” The FHRJK report thus argues that the lockdown has ultimately caused “a near-total alienation of the people of the Kashmir valley from the Indian state and people.”
Forcible internet service suspensions are a major facet of the lockdown in Kashmir. The report highlights the detrimental effect of service suspensions in the region, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. When the lockdown started in August 2019, the government suspended internet service for 213 days. The government has since used service suspensions as a “precautionary tool” following “sensitive” events. On July 17, for instance, according to the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), internet service was suspended as a “precautionary measure” after three militants were killed in the Shopian region. Even before the pandemic, suspensions have greatly disrupted public health, media, and day-to-day life more generally. The effect on education has been “particularly severe” with schools and colleges functioning just 100 days from 2019 to 2020, according to the FHRJK report.
Today, with hundreds of Kashmiris diagnosed with the virus each day and schools indefinitely closed, internet service is an especially vital resource. A month after schools reopened in February, they were forced to close and move classes online due to the outbreak. Yet the report notes that 4G internet service is still suspended in the region, making online classes nearly impossible, and “the 2G facility made the classes a charade, since online group sessions require 4G and even downloading assignments or papers is extremely difficult without 4G.” Furthermore, school children in Jammu and Kashmir could only access online classes in 27.62 percent of households (compared to the national average of 41 percent).
The insecurity and disruption of normal life has severely impacted mental health, particularly for students. Even before the lockdown, conflict had adversely impacted mental health in the region; a 2016 Doctors Without Borders study found that nearly one in five Kashmiris experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. A November 2019 report from the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) found that the lockdown lowered access to mental healthcare, while harming children’s development. “There is no school, no routine or structure, no healthy recreation, and no sense of safety or predictability, which are essential for normal growth and emotional development.” Notably, the PUCL’s report also found a “marked increase in psychological distress in 70% (as estimated through a recent survey) of the population.” Due to the pandemic and lack of internet access, mental healthcare access has further fallen—at a time when it is desperately needed. The FHRJK’s report emphasizes that these “restrictions on mobile telephony and internet connectivity have enormously impacted public health, and caused trauma and stress” to the public.
Moving forward, the FHRJK rightly urges India to “balance security consideration with public interest, giving utmost consideration to humanitarian concerns.” More specifically, allegations of human rights abuse must be investigated, political detainees released, and statutory oversight bodies reinstated. 4G internet access must be restored, furthering access to education and healthcare. Peace and security cannot be achieved through oppression—the government must respect citizens’ constitutional and human rights.