Rhetoric versus reality

United Nations’ International Day for Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict

Saad Malik

Five years ago, on June 19, 2015, the United Nations’ general Assembly proclaimed nineteenth of June of each year to be observed as an international day to create awareness (A/Res/69/293/ 2016). Subsequently, the Security Council adopted resolution (S/ Res/233/2016) to address the nexus between sexual violence and terrorism. The resolution affirmed `that violence committed by terrorist groups should be eligible for official redress as victims of terrorism’.

No tangible action has ever been taken against India for state-sponsored terrorism.

No reporting in Kashmir `prison’: A host of factors militate against reporting of cases. The COVID19 related lockdowns accelerated the under-reporting situation. Even under normal times, about 20 percent of the cases remain unreported. The reporting of cases is next to nil in the Indian Held Kashmir.

About nine lac troops and security forces had converted the disputed state into a prison. With land lines and wireless communication truncated, the state was a real prison. A flurry of draconian laws like Public Safety Act and Armed Forces’ Special Powers Act enable occupation forces to commit all kinds of violent crimes against men and women with impunity.

Types of violations: The human-rights abuses in occupied Kashmir range from mass killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse to political repression and suppression of freedom of speech. … Rape was regularly used as a means to “punish and humiliate” communities (Wikipedia).

Even Mehbooba Mufti, a former BJP ally was compelled to call Kashmir a Guantanamo Bay prison. She called for lifting ban on Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Jama’at-e-Islami, withdrawal of `sedition’ or `terrorism’ cases against Kashmiri leaders or ordinary folk. What else could Mehbooba call Kashmir _ `Kashmiris feel that they are literally imprisoned in a cage from which almost all exit routes are barred save one, to India, which is also not without peril. Kashmiris are distrusted and treated poorly in many parts of India, whether as students or as traders’ (A.G. Noorani, Kashmir, a prison, Dawn January 12, 2019).

Trade across the Line of Control has been stopped and `terrorism’ charges slapped on some traders. Even the tyrannical Dogras and their British overlords facilitated Kashmir trade with Central Asian and other states. Kashmiri markets used to be flooded with foreign traders and their merchandise _books, shawls, gold tillas, Russian textiles, Kokandi silk, Bukharan rumals (handkerchiefs) and coral. Trade from British India would flow through Kulu via the Chang Chenmo route to Yarkand, bypassing the maharaja’s customs officials in Leh. In 1870, Maharaja Ranbir Singh signed a special treaty in Sialkot with Viceroy Lord Mayo to accept this route as a ‘free highway’, later known as Treaty Route. Central Asians intending to perform hajj used to travel through this route to Karachi or Bombay sea-ports to board ships. To facilitate pilgrims, highway provided rest houses, and supply depots jointly supervised by British and Kashmir officials. Now, even the Kashmir Highway stands closed to civilian traffic during military-convoy movement.. A minor, violating road closure, was brutally crushed by an Indian army vehicle.

UN-reported human-rights violations in Kashmir: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights released a report titled ‘Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir: Developments in the Indian State of J-K from June 2016 to April 2018, and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad J-K and Gilgit-Baltistan’.

Major recommendations of the report include: (1) `UN Human Rights Council to consider establishing a commission of inquiry to conduct a comprehensive independent international investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir.”(2) `It is essential the Indian authorities take immediate and effective steps to avoid a repetition of the numerous examples of excessive use of force by security forces in Kashmir’. (3) Repeal of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 (AFSPA) Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 “urgently” and also “immediately remove the requirement for prior central government permission to prosecute security forces personnel accused of human rights violations in civilian courts.’

The report says `Impunity for human rights violations and lack of access to justice are key human rights challenges in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, noting that AFSPA and Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 (PSA) have created structures that obstruct the normal course of law, impede accountability and jeopardize the right to remedy for victims of human rights violations.

Torture: The dramatic arrest of Davinder Singh (torture expert), Deputy Superintendent in the dIsputed Jammu and Kashmir Police, highlights innocent Kashmiris are killed by the Indian army in fake encounters. Justice is a far cry for the hapless Kashmiris. Let us review a few cases of miscarriage of justice.

Afzal Guru’s hanging: He was convicted in the Parliament House attack case. On October 21, 2004, in New Delhi’s Tihar jail, he wrote a letter to his lawyer, Sushil Kumar, a senior advocate in the Supreme Court. In a letter addressed to his lawyer, he had alleged that he had to confess under duress. Guru blamed that Davinder Singh tortured him to confess. One of Davinder Singh’s “torture inspectors” was Shanti Singh. He “electrified him naked for three hours, and made him drink water while giving electric shocks through telephone instrument” Guru claimed that the Designated Court (the trial court) had sentenced him to death on the basis of the police version of the case and under the influence of the media.

Guru made many other startling revelations in his letter. He claimed when he was arrested at Srinagar bus stand following the attack on Parliament House, Tariq (who was another former surrendered militant like Afzal Guru who was allegedly harassed by the police) was there with the Special Task Force (STF).

Guru regretted that the designated court had not provided him an opportunity to tell the “real story”. He hoped Supreme Court to look at “reality through which he had passed”. But it was in vain. He argued that his incrimination was a ploy of the Special Task Force. “Special Police is definitely the part of this game because every time they forced me to remain silent. I hope my forced silence will be heard and justice will prevail. I once again pay heart-felt thanks to your good self for defending my case. May truth prevails,” he prayed in the letter. Guru’s story is corroborated in Davinder Singh’s subsequent interview in 2006. A journalist Parvaiz Bukhari recorded the interview, but could not publish it in the magazine. It was later published in the book, The Hanging of Afzal Guru and the Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament, with an introduction by Arundhati Roy.

In this interview, Davinder Singh, without compunction, confessed torturing Guru during interrogation in his camp at Humhama (Budgam district) for several days. He admitted that he never recorded Afzal Guru’s arrest. He says in the interview “His (Afzal’s) description of torture at my camp is true. That was the procedure those days and we did pour petrol in his arse and gave him electric shocks. But I could not break him…,”

Davinder Singh also denied that he knew Mohammad, the terrorist involved in the Parliament House attack, or captured him, and claimed that he would not have released him had he captured him.

Davinder Singh’s 2006 interview appears to have given a clean chit to Afzal Guru. Davinder Singh told his interviewer thus: “His (Afzal Guru’s) description of torture at my camp is true. I had a reputation for torture, interrogation and breaking suspects. If anybody came out of my interrogation clean, nobody would ever touch him again. He would be considered clean for good by the whole department.” But the fact remains that Davinder Singh did admit that he could not break Afzal Guru and that he sent him back after his torture wounds healed. Why did the investigation into Afzal Guru’s role in the Parliament House attack not consider the involvement of Davinder Singh in the conspiracy?

Guru was hanged to death on February 9, 2013. A few words about the background to the attack are in order. In the attack on Parliament House, five terrorists and nine persons, including five Delhi police personnel, were killed on December 13, 2001. Guru was accused of providing logistical help to the terrorists in Delhi. He was apprehended in Srinagar and brought to Delhi within a few days of the attack. The trial court, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court confirmed his death sentence.

UN Secretary General’s message: The United Nations’ Secretary General Antonio Guterres says, `On this International Day for the Elimination f Sexual violence in Conflict, we stand in solidarity with survivors. We vow to listen to them and act on their experiences and decisions.

Rhetoric versus reality: The UNO remains a silent spectator to the plight of the Kashmiris under Indian yoke. The secretary general’s special representative never looked at or listened to victims of violence in Kashmir prison.

Asia Watch, A Division of Human Rights Watch, & Physicians for Human Rights , have published RAPE IN KASHMIR: A Crime of War. The report laments, `Although Indian human rights groups and the international press have reported on the widespread use of rape by Indian security forces in Kashmir, the use of rape in the conflict has seldom attracted much international condemnation’.

Al Jazeera dated 21 Aug 2019 reported, `At present everyone in Kashmir is being immensely subjugated. But women are the biggest victims of this inhumane siege’. A woman told,`The men somehow manage to sneak out for prayers … We can’t even do that. The sight of armed forces “petrifies me”. Phone and internet lines were shut off, leaving more than seven million people in the region unable to contact the outside world. On August 10, Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of Haryana, was quoted as saying: “Some people are now saying that as Kashmir is open, brides will be brought from there. But jokes apart, if [the gender] ratio is improved, then there will be a right balance in society.” Earlier, the BJP’s Vikram Saini, a Member of the Legislative Assembly, said: “Muslim party workers should rejoice in the new provisions. They can now marry the white-skinned women of Kashmir.” Nivedita Menon, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said: “These are proclamations of conquest and plunder, and reveal the real intention behind the abrogation of 370.”

And according to reports, “How to marry Kashmir women” was increasingly Googled after August 5. “The way women of Kashmir are exoticised and objectified on a daily basis in India, the way their bodies are portrayed as vulnerable and used to create fear and intimidation, has heightened the sense of being preyed upon,” said Samreen, a 22-year-old make-up artist from Srinagar. “We feel persecuted, even more than the men of the valley today. “Previous allegations of mass rape. On February 23, 1991, as India carried out a large military operation, soldiers allegedly raped more than 30 women in two villages, Kunan and Poshpora, in the Kupwara district The Indian Army has always denied the allegations. But in a July report, the UN said: “There has been no progress in the Kunan Poshpora mass-rape case from 1991, and authorities continue to thwart attempts of the survivors to get justice. (‘Kashmir women are the biggest victims of this inhumane siege’. Al Jazeera, 21 August 2019. Sense of fear deepens as Indian politicians stoke misogyny with talk of freedom to marry ‘white-skinned’ Kashmiri women. <”https://www.aljazeera.com/ indepth/features/women-biggest-victims-inhumane-siege-190820122327902.html>.

Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui has rightly raised fundamental questions about India being elected as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. She pointed out `India stands in flagrant violation of several resolutions of the Security Council that prescribed an UN-supervised plebiscite to enable the people of Jammu and Kashmir to exercise their fundamental right to self-determination.’ She added that India’s gross and systemic violations of human rights in occupied Kashmir have been documented by several international organisations. “India has incarcerated 8 million Kashmiris, including [the] top Kashmiri leadership, with 900,000 occupation troops. The people of occupied Kashmir have been suffering under [an] inhumane lockdown and military siege for over 10 months, following India’s illegal and unilateral actions of August 5, 2019. The entire region has been turned into a large prison, with unprecedented restrictions which continue despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic’. “Indian actions aimed at illegally altering the demographic structure of occupied Kashmir are in violation of multiple UNSC resolutions and international law, in particular the fourth Geneva Convention. Over and above, the current Indian leadership has perpetuated massive violations of human rights against its minorities, in particular Muslims, threatening them with statelessness’.

`The imposition of the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, initiation of the National Register of Citizens process, and the targeted killings of Muslims in repeated pogroms in Mumbai, Gujarat and New Delhi are various facets of this phenomenon.’

Conclusion: Without follow-up action, UN’s determination to redress incidence of violence in conflict would remain a lip service.

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