Freedom in the World 2016 - Indian Kashmir
|Publication Date||12 August 2016|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2016 - Indian Kashmir, 12 August 2016, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/57b1ad58e.html [accessed 18 February 2018]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Freedom Status: Partly Free
Aggregate Score: 51
Freedom Rating: 4.0
Political Rights: 4
Civil Liberties: 4
Press Freedom Status: N/A
Net Freedom Status: N/A
Negotiations between India and Pakistan over the divided region of Kashmir were called off in August 2015 following news of an official meeting between Pakistani envoys and Kashmiri separatist leaders. No plans to resume talks were set. The year's stalemate came after a negative turn in India-Pakistan relations that included Pakistani shelling across the Line of Control (LoC) in the fall of 2014. Tensions on the de facto border continued in 2015, though cease-fire violations dropped off in late October after another spate of shelling. Heightened security measures reportedly reduced the infiltration of fighters from the Pakistani side, leading to fresh concerns about militant recruitment from within the Indian-controlled Kashmir Valley.
Elections for the state assembly of Jammu and Kashmir in November and December 2014 gave no single party a majority. The People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) consequently formed a coalition government, and the PDP's Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was sworn in as chief minister in March 2015.
Violence surrounding a September court order to enforce a long-dormant ban on the slaughter of cows and sale of beef included the mob killing of a Muslim truck driver in October. The court order was set aside by a full panel of the state's High Court later that month, after India's Supreme Court asked it to resolve conflicting rulings by the state's courts. Opposition politicians proposed amendments to the penal code that would decriminalize beef in the state, but the leadership adjourned the legislative session before taking them up.
POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES
Political Rights: 22 / 40
A. Electoral Process: 9 / 12
India has never held a referendum allowing Kashmiri self-determination as called for in a 1948 UN resolution. However, Jammu and Kashmir enjoys substantial autonomy under Article 370 of India's constitution. All laws passed by the Indian parliament, except those related to defense, foreign affairs, and financial matters, require the assent of the Kashmiri legislature to come into force in the state. Like other Indian states, it has an elected bicameral legislature and a chief minister entrusted with executive power. An appointed governor serves as symbolic head of state. Members of the 87-seat lower house, or Legislative Assembly, are directly elected for six-year terms; the governor can nominate two additional members to ensure representation for women. The 36-seat upper house, the Legislative Council, has 28 members elected indirectly by the assembly and various local councils, and 8 members nominated by the governor.
Elections for national parliamentary seats and the state assembly in 2014 were broadly free and fair, with reduced levels of voter intimidation, harassment, and violence compared with past elections. However, in the April national elections, turnout was less than 40 percent in all districts in the Kashmir Valley due in part to threats of poll violence; 4,306 of 4,773 polling stations throughout the state were declared sensitive prior to the elections, meaning they received tighter security measures. The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC), the incumbent party at the state level, lost its three seats in the state's six-member delegation to India's lower house. The Hindu nationalist BJP won three after winning none in 2009, and the PDP also won three. The first stage of voting on April 24 was marked by large youth protests and a partial boycott. At least 600 people, mainly youths, were preventively detained prior to the second stage of voting on April 30.
The state assembly elections were held in November and December. Unusually high turnout was attributed in part to anti-BJP mobilization after the party took power at the national level in April. No party won an absolute majority. The most successful parties were the PDP and BJP, with 28 and 25 seats, respectively. The Election Commission and security forces were praised for their handling of the process. The PDP formed a coalition government with the BJP that took office in March 2015.
Panchayat (local council) elections were held across Jammu and Kashmir in 2011 for the first time since 2001, and were described as the first truly open local elections since 1978. Although separatist groups urged citizens to boycott the polls, turnout was reported at about 80 percent. More than 700 panchayat leaders resigned in 2012, facing death threats after several were assassinated. Municipal elections originally slated for 2011 have been repeatedly delayed. The next round of panchayat elections was expected to take place in 2016.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 9 / 16
The state is governed under a multiparty system, but normal party politics and electoral activities are often disrupted by militant violence, intimidation, and separatist boycotts. For more than a decade, state-level power has rotated between the two largest Kashmiri parties, the PDP and the JKNC. The ruling coalition formed by the PDP and BJP in early 2015 marked the first time that the Hindu nationalist BJP entered government in this Muslim-majority state. Observers questioned the BJP's ability to build trust with Kashmiri Muslims. The potential for confrontation was underscored during the beef ban controversy in the fall, in which the BJP speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Kavinder Gupta, adjourned the body without taking up proposed bills that would decriminalize the slaughter of cows and sale of beef.
C. Functioning of Government: 4 / 12
Corruption in Jammu and Kashmir remains widespread and among the worst in India, though the government has taken some steps to combat it. The 2011 Jammu and Kashmir State Vigilance Commission Act established an anticorruption commission with the power to investigate alleged offenses under the state's 2006 Prevention of Corruption Act. Its first commissioners were appointed in 2013, and it has processed more than a thousand complaints, in some cases filing bribery charges against public officials.
Civil Liberties: 29 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 9 / 16
The 1971 Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act gives district magistrates the authority to censor publications in certain circumstances but is rarely invoked. Conditions have improved since protest-related violence in 2010 led some newspapers to suspend circulation and related curfews inhibited journalists. Foreign journalists are generally able to travel freely, meet with separatist leaders, and file reports on a range of issues, including government abuses.
Print media thrive in Jammu and Kashmir, and online media have proliferated, providing new platforms for public discussion. There are more than 1,000 registered publications in the state. However, threats of government reprisal, including the detention of journalists under the Public Safety Act and the withdrawal of official advertising from publications, continue to intimidate the media. Journalists also face threats from militant groups, and authorities sometimes impose internet blackouts in an attempt to prevent unrest. During the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in September 2015, when communal tensions were high following the court order to enforce a ban on the sale of beef, the government suspended internet service for 80 hours.
Freedom of worship is generally respected by the authorities. However, communal violence between Muslims and Hindus periodically flares up, and many have been injured and killed as a result. After the October 2015 mob killing of a Muslim truck driver, apparently due to a rumor that he was transporting beef, a number of protests ensued, and some demonstrators clashed with police. In addition, a Muslim state legislator was assaulted by BJP colleagues and later by Hindu activists after he served beef at a private party to protest the ban.
Academic freedom is circumscribed. Authorities monitor the research produced at Kashmiri universities, and a combination of official and self-censorship discourages students and professors from pursuing sensitive topics of inquiry. Private discussion is somewhat more free, though fear of reprisal by government or militant forces can serve as a deterrent to uninhibited speech.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 6 / 12
Freedoms of assembly and association are often restricted. Although local and national civil rights groups are permitted to operate, they are sometimes harassed by security forces. The separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (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. Separatist leaders are frequently arrested prior to planned demonstrations. After separatist groups called for protests against the September beef-ban order, a number of leading figures were placed under house arrest. Nevertheless, businesses and other services were temporarily shut down in much of the Kashmir Valley as part of the protests, and young demonstrators clashed with police in some locations.
Although workers have the right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining under Indian law, protection of labor union rights in Kashmir is generally poor.
F. Rule of Law: 6 / 16
Courts are politicized and act as an extension of Indian executive and military authority. The courts in Jammu and Kashmir, already facing large backlogs of cases, are further hampered by intermittent lawyers' strikes. The government and security forces frequently disregard court orders, leading to low levels of public trust in the judiciary.
Broadly written legislation such as the unpopular Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Disturbed Areas Act allow security forces to search homes and arrest suspects without a warrant, shoot suspects on sight, and destroy buildings believed to house militants or arms. Under the AFSPA, prosecutions of security personnel cannot proceed without the approval of the central government, which is rarely granted. The state's Public Security Act allows detention without charge or trial for up to two years, though 2012 amendments barred the detention of minors under the law. Indian security personnel based in the state have continued to carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, forced disappearances, and custodial killings of suspected militants and their alleged civilian sympathizers. Newly elected chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said in March 2015 that the AFSPA would eventually be revoked in Jammu and Kashmir, but the BJP-PDP government did not pursue the matter during the year.
Militant groups based in Pakistan have killed pro-India politicians, public employees, suspected informers, members of rival factions, soldiers, and civilians. The militants also engage in kidnapping, extortion, and other forms of intimidation in Jammu and Kashmir. However, overall violence in the state has declined significantly in the past decade. A total of 147 civilians, security personnel, and militants were killed in militant-related violence in 2015, down from 193 deaths in 2014 and more than 1,000 in 2006.
A pattern of violence targeting Pandits, or Kashmiri Hindus, has forced several hundred thousand Hindus to flee their homes in the region over the years. Many continue to reside in refugee camps near Jammu. Other religious and ethnic minorities, such as Sikhs and Gurjars, have been targeted in the past, but such reports have dissipated in recent years. Local Sikh organizations expressed solidarity with the aspirations of the state's Muslim majority in the 2014 state assembly elections.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 8 / 16
Freedom of movement is curtailed by both state and federal authorities. The Indian government restricts the travel of foreigners and other Indian citizens to sensitive areas within Jammu and Kashmir, and internal movement is disrupted by roadblocks, checkpoints, and periodic protest-related shutdowns or curfews. Kashmiri residents face delays of up to two years to obtain and renew passports due to heightened levels of scrutiny. Property rights are undermined by displacement and military activity related to the conflict, and the regulatory environment constrains the establishment and operation of new businesses.
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. In 2014, a telephone service was established in the state to provide support free of charge to women who have been victims of harassment or abuse. Women are underrepresented in government, though the chief minister's daughter, Mehbooba Mufti Sayeed, is president of the PDP and a member of the Indian parliament.
Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year