Freedom in the World 2011 - Kashmir [India]
|Publication Date||25 August 2011|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Kashmir [India], 25 August 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e565c5f33.html [accessed 31 March 2015]|
Political Rights Score: 4 *
Civil Liberties Score: 5 *
Status: Partly Free
Indian Kashmir's civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5 due to a surge in state violence against protesters opposed to Indian rule, including the enforcement of onerous curfews and use of live ammunition that caused over 100 civilian deaths in a three-month period.
After a relative lull in violence in 2009, security forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir clashed repeatedly in 2010 with protesters opposed to increased militarization in the region. Separatist opposition parties began the Quit Kashmir protest movement in June after a 17-year-old boy was killed by police, leading to onerous curfews and regular confrontations between armed security personnel and stone-throwing youths. More than 100 civilians had been killed before the violence began to ebb in late September. Although the central government took some conciliatory steps, unrest continued intermittently through year's end.
When British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947, the Hindu maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir tried to maintain his principality's independence, but he eventually ceded it to India in return for autonomy and future self-determination. Within months, India and Pakistan went to war over the territory. As part of a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1949 that established the present boundaries, Pakistan gained control of roughly one-third of Jammu and Kashmir, leaving India with the remainder. The territory received substantial autonomy under Article 370 of India's constitution and a 1952 accord, but India annulled such guarantees in 1957 and formally annexed the portion of Jammu and Kashmir under its control. Since then, it has largely been governed like other Indian states, with an elected legislature and chief minister. Under the 1972 Simla accord, New Delhi and Islamabad agreed to respect the Line of Control (LOC) dividing the region and to resolve Kashmir's status through negotiation.
The pro-India National Conference (NC) party won state elections in 1987 that were marred by fraud, violence, and arrests of members of a new, Muslim-based opposition coalition, leading to widespread unrest. An armed insurgency against Indian rule gathered momentum after 1989, waged by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and other proindependence groups that consisted largely of Kashmiris, as well as Pakistani-backed Islamist groups seeking to bring Kashmir under Islamabad's control.
New Delhi placed Jammu and Kashmir under federal rule in 1990 and attempted to quell the uprising by force. The JKLF abandoned its armed struggle in 1994, and the insurgency was thereafter dominated by Pakistani-backed extremist groups, which included fighters from elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Although opposition parties joined together to form the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in 1993, they boycotted the 1996 state elections, and the NC was able to form a government. The APHC also declined to participate in the 2002 elections, but the NC nevertheless lost more than half of its assembly seats, allowing the Congress Party and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) to form a coalition government.
Despite several setbacks, relations between the Indian government and moderate Kashmiri separatist groups generally improved after the 2002 elections. In 2004, talks were held for the first time between Kashmiri separatists and the highest levels of the Indian government. Moderate APHC leaders reiterated their renunciation of violence in 2005 and called for Kashmiris to become more deeply involved in the negotiating process. However, the talks were hampered by an emerging split within the APHC between those who favored a continuation of the insurgency and those who favored a political solution.
The coalition government collapsed in June 2008, when the PDP withdrew its support amid a high-profile dispute over land set aside for a Hindu pilgrimage site. State elections were held in November and December. Turnout was higher than expected, exceeding 60 percent on most polling dates, as voters largely ignored calls for a boycott from separatist groups. While early voting dates were generally peaceful, some violence marred later polling – particularly in early December – when antielection protesters clashed with security forces. The elections were considered mostly free and fair, however, with significantly reduced levels of voter intimidation, harassment, and violence compared with previous elections. The NC won a plurality of 28 seats, followed by the PDP with 21 seats and Congress with 17. The NC allied itself with Congress to form a governing coalition.
The security situation improved during 2009, with the number of militancy-related fatalities decreasing for the seventh consecutive year. In October, New Delhi announced plans to withdraw 15,000 troops from the Jammu region, granting local police more responsibility over the area. Nevertheless, there were several incidents of violence, including bombings in public places and other attacks directed at security forces, politicians, and minority groups.
In June 2010, after a 17-year-old boy was killed by police, opposition groups organized a separatist protest movement called Quit Kashmir that focused on growing discontent over state violence and the militarization of Indian security forces in the region. APHC chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani said protests would continue until the Indian government recognized Kashmir as an international conflict, demilitarized the region, released all political prisoners, and revoked the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which allowed security forces to shoot and kill civilians with relative impunity. For about three months, police and soldiers engaged in regular clashes with youthful, stone-throwing protesters, leaving more than 100 civilians dead. Tensions began to ease in September, when the central government announced plans to reduce the security presence in the territory, release jailed protesters, compensate the families of slain civilians, and reopen schools and universities. However, police arrested protest organizer Masrat Alam in October, and curfews and unrest continued sporadically for the rest of the year.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Jammu and Kashmir, like India's other states, is governed by an elected bicameral legislature and a chief minister entrusted with executive power. An appointed governor serves as titular head of state. Members of the 87-seat lower house, or state assembly, are directly elected, while the 46-seat upper house has a combination of members elected by the state assembly and nominated by the governor.
India has never held a referendum allowing Kashmiri self-determination as called for in a 1948 UN resolution. The state's residents can change the local administration through elections, which are supposed to be held at least once every five years. The polls are monitored by the Election Commission of India, but historically they have been marred by violence, coercion by security forces, and balloting irregularities. Militants have enforced boycotts called for by separatist political parties, threatened election officials and candidates, and killed political activists and civilians during balloting. More than 800 people were killed during the 2002 campaign period, including over 75 political activists and candidates. However, the 2008 legislative elections were considered generally free and fair, and were largely peaceful despite some cases of violence.
Corruption remains widespread despite apparent government efforts to combat it. The Jammu and Kashmir State Vigilance Commission Bill, introduced in 2010 to establish an anticorruption commission under the state's 2006 Prevention of Corruption Act, was still under consideration at year's end. Higher officials are seldom prosecuted for graft, and convictions are rare. Education Minister Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed resigned in 2008 after being charged with receiving a bribe, but he rejoined the cabinet the following year. Several whistleblowers have reported harassment after filing complaints.
India's 1971 Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act, which is in effect only in Jammu and Kashmir, gives district magistrates the authority to censor publications in certain circumstances, though it is rarely invoked. In response to the separatist protests that began in June 2010, owners of newspapers in Srinigar suspended circulation. Separately, the Congress Party was accused of forcing the shutdown of an Urdu-language newspaper that allegedly insulted the party's national leader, Sonia Gandhi. Curfews imposed during the protests prevented journalists from covering important stories, and the authorities revoked reporters' curfew passes. Nevertheless, newspapers did address controversial issues such as alleged human rights abuses by security forces. Foreign journalists are generally able to travel freely, meet with separatist leaders, and file reports on a range of issues, including government abuses. As in the rest of India, print media are thriving in Kashmir, with 145 dailies available across the state.
Journalists remain subject to pressure from militants, and many practice some degree of self-censorship for this reason. Militant groups threaten and sometimes kidnap, torture, or kill journalists. Reporters are also occasionally harassed or detained by the authorities. Incidents of violence against the press declined in 2009, but a number of attacks were reported in 2010 against journalists trying to cover the separatist protests and related events.
Freedom of worship and academic freedom are generally respected by the authorities. Since 2003, the state government has permitted separatist groups to organize a procession marking the prophet Muhammad's birthday. However, Islamist militants at times attack Hindu and Sikh temples or villages.
Freedoms of assembly and association are often restricted. Although local and national civil rights groups are permitted to operate, they sometimes encounter harassment by security forces. The separatist APHC is allowed to function, but its leaders are frequently subjected to short-term preventive detention, and its requests for permits for public gatherings are often denied. Security forces broke up multiple anti-India protest marches and demonstrations during 2010, and the enforcement of curfews led to increased violence between police and protesters. The death toll of more than 100 civilians was far higher than during previous years' protests. Protesters also marched in response to news that a Christian pastor in the United States was planning to burn copies of the Koran. Protection of labor union rights in Kashmir is generally poor and has resulted in prolonged strikes by both public and informal sector workers. According to the Jammu and Kashmir Trade Union Centre, half a million people in Jammu and Kashmir organized state-level strikes between 1990 and 2006 – the most of any region in the world during that period.
The courts in Kashmir, already backlogged by thousands of pending cases, were further hampered by a prolonged lawyers' strike that began in the summer of 2010 and continued through year's end. The boycott was called after police arrested the president of the Kashmir High Court Bar Association, Mian Qayoom, under the Public Safety Act for proclaiming that he did not believe in the Indian constitution because the country had eroded its meaning and principles through its treatment of Kashmir. Qayoom was also accused of instigating the lawyers' protests. The government and security forces frequently disregard court orders, including those quashing detentions. Two broadly written laws – the AFSPA and the Disturbed Areas Act – allow Indian forces to search homes and arrest suspects without a warrant, shoot suspects on sight, and destroy buildings believed to house militants or arms.
In a continuing cycle of violence, hundreds of militants, security personnel, and civilians are killed each year. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 55 civilians, 78 security personnel, and 242 militants were killed in militancy-related incidents during 2009, marking a significant decrease from the 2008 death toll of 541. The overall figure remained essentially flat in 2010, though the SATP's tallies excluded protest-related deaths.
Indian security personnel based in Kashmir, numbering about 500,000, carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, forced disappearances, and custodial killings of suspected militants and their alleged civilian sympathizers. Official figures released in August 2009 estimated that 3,429 people had disappeared between 1990 and July 2009. Human rights groups have suggested a number closer to 8,000. As part of the counterinsurgency effort, the government has organized former militants into progovernment militias. Members of these groups act with impunity and have reportedly carried out a range of human rights abuses against pro-Pakistani militants and civilians. Fake "encounter" killings, in which security forces execute unarmed suspects but claim to have killed them in battle, have been common. In July 2010, the bodies of three missing civilians were found at the LOC, and it was later discovered that an Indian army major had ordered their abduction and murder. The government has faced growing pressure to repeal the AFSPA, under which the central government must approve any prosecutions of security personnel. Such prosecutions have been rare in practice.
Militant groups based in Pakistan continue to kill pro-India politicians, public employees, suspected informers, members of rival factions, soldiers, and civilians. The militants also engage in kidnapping, rape, extortion, and other forms of intimidation. In September 2010, the proindependence JKLF criticized Pakistani militant groups for "hijacking" their nationalist cause.
Violence targeting Pandits, or Kashmiri Hindus, is part of a pattern dating to 1990 that has forced several hundred thousand Hindus to flee the region; many continue to reside in refugee camps near Jammu. Other religious and ethnic minorities such as Sikhs and Gujjars have also been targeted.
As in other parts of India, women face some societal discrimination as well as domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Female civilians continue to be subjected to harassment, intimidation, and violent attacks, including rape and murder, at the hands of both the security forces and militant groups.
* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.