On 5 August, India abrogated Article 370 from its constitution through presidential order. The erasure of the Article ceased the autonomous status of Indian held Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and bifurcated the Muslim-majority state into two union territories with Buddhist-majority Ladakh getting detached from J&K. The Indian decision of revoking Article 370 came after days of uncertainty and massive military build-up in the disputed territory. Coupled with massive military build-up, a crackdown was imposed in the state by virtually cutting it off from the rest of the world both physically and virtually. This piece of writing will analyze the violations of fundamental human rights in J&K by the imposition of crackdown through international human rights law.
The erasure of the Article ceased the autonomous status of Indian held Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and bifurcated the Muslim-majority state into two union territories with Buddhist-majority Ladakh getting detached from J&K.
Following India’s imposition of crackdown in the Valley, the major constraints faced by people were as follows:
- Cutting phone lines and the Internet.
- Detaining top political leaders and massive imprisonment.
- Imposing an indefinite curfew.
A day prior to abrogation of Article 370, internet shutdown occurred across the Muslim-majority state. It was the 51st internet shutdown (now increased to 55th ) of the year in the region. Access to 2G services was restored in various parts of Jammu on August 17 and 18 but Kashmir valley continued to face both internet and phone communication blockade. The United Nations Human Rights Council has termed the communication clampdown as a ‘form of collective punishment.’
Internet access disruption constitutes as human rights violation according to a non-binding resolution passed by United Nations Human Rights Council in July 2016.
Internet access disruption constitutes as human rights violation according to a non-binding resolution passed by United Nations Human Rights Council in July 2016. At the time of passing this resolution, India joined 16 other countries including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia in opposing the resolution primarily because of the clause which stated that it ‘condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to our dissemination of information online.’ Legally speaking, such resolutions are not enforceable but put pressure on governments in terms of reputational cost and give credence to actions of digital rights advocates globally. Moreover, internet access disruption does not allow people to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, which is recognized as a fundamental human right (Article 19) by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). India was among the signatories when UDHR was put to vote in 1948. Failing to abide by the Declaration, which does not have its own legally binding obligations, is a source of moral and political failure for any country.
Meanwhile, Indian authorities have detained several political leaders, including former Indian-administrated J&K Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, bureaucrat-turned-politician Shah Faesal and J&K Pradesh Congress Committee Chief Ravinder Sharma. While justification was provided for detaining Faesal, no reasonable justification was provided for detaining three former Chief Ministers.
Additionally, 2000-4000 individuals were detained including political leaders, elected representatives, lawyers, activists, businessmen and students in days leading to August 5 and afterwards. Majority of the detainees are held under a controversial J&K Public Safety Act, which allows authorities to book a person without a charge or trial for up to two years. The Article 9 of both UDHR and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) does not allow arbitrary detention. The ICCPR, which was signed in December 1966 and entered into force in March 1976, was ratified by India in April 1979.
According to Washington Post, at least five children have been arrested since the start of crackdown without any reasonable explanation. This situation runs contrary to Article 37 of Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which India ratified in December 1992, which states that ‘no child should be subject to torture and be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily’.
Failure to ensure provision of basic human rights of people residing in J&K continues to hurt India’s global image as the world’s largest democracy. The repressive measures undertaken under the claim of maintaining public order has resulted in hindering access of local populace to emergency services and is further alienating local population.
Immediate curfew withdrawal, ending communication blockade, releasing arbitrarily detained political leaders and other individuals can be the first of many steps in easing off the crisis in J&K. Indefinite continuation of curfew will be detrimental for India itself as it will radicalize the locals to take arms and alienate pro-India Kashmiris. With the increasing presence of affiliates of Islamic State and Al Qaeda in the region, the situation post-Article 370 abrogation has been tailor-made for international terror outfits to convert Indian-administrated Kashmir as their new hub for terrorist activities not only against India but also against other neighbouring countries.