Yashwant Sinha Led Delegation to Kashmir Releases Report
NEW DELHI : A five member delegation to Kashmir has released a report underlining the increasing “despair” in the Valley.
The delegation comprising former Minister Yashwant Singh, former Chairman of the Minorities Commission, Wajahat Habibullah, Retired Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, senior journalist and Editor Bharat Bhushan, Esecutive Program Director of Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation Sushobha Barve, was in the Valley for three days from October 25-27. They had meetings with a cross sections of society, political leaders, the Chief Minister and Governor. Excerpts from the report released by the delegation today:
“Across the political spectrum, the Kashmiris we met spoke to virtually the same script about the history of the Kashmir issue. They may have varied in the exposition of a particular issue but basically all of them argued for a political solution to what they perceived as a political issue. They made the point that this is the fifth generation of Kashmiris which was protesting but to no avail.
Each one spent a considerable amount of time recounting the activities of the security forces which had alienated the population of the Valley. Our interlocutors told us the reasons for the immediate anger and the long term anger which we are quoting below without endorsing them -
REASONS FOR IMMEDIATE ANGER:
1. Excessive use of force by the security forces
The violence which began with the funeral procession of slain militant Burhan Wani has so far resulted in the death of nearly a hundred people. The question that most Kashmiris are asking is: Why were unarmed people going to offer last prayers for Burhan Wani fired at? They were not carrying any sticks, firearms or grenades that they represented a threat to the security forces. Nor did they attack the security forces. The firing at the funeral processions (there were nearly two lakh people gathered for the funeral and the last Namaz Janaza for Burhan Wani had been offered 40 times) is being seen as action of unaccountable security personnel and is being projected as an example of India’s ‘inhumanity’.
The business and trading community is claiming that in the current situation it is not bothered about profit and loss but human loss and about the worsening situation in the Valley. They want an amicable resolution and end to violence by the security forces.
2. Use of pellet guns
Use of pellet guns for crowd control was the sorest point of all conversation with Kashmiris we met. They want the pellet guns banned and cannot understand why GoI is delaying this decision and why Indian security establishment is reluctant to give up this weapon.
The use of pellet guns has led to several people, including children – some as young as 4-years-old – being blinded or partially blinded. These weapons, the Kashmiris point out, are not used in the rest of India even under grave provocation. They were not used in the Jat agitation in Haryana, the protests against Cauvery water sharing in Karnataka or the Patel agitation in Gujarat. All these agitations had resulted in large-scale damage to public property and in some cases even in gang rape of innocent women as in Haryana. Yet pellet guns were not used against the protestors. The fact that the use of pellet guns was reserved only for Kashmir elicited the most amount of anger against India and Indian security forces in the people we talked to.
Asked about stone-pelting, most Kashmiri leaders denied that youngsters were being paid to throw stones. They claimed that this was being done in ‘self-defence’ by unarmed people protesting against India.
3. Night-time raids by security forces
These are ostensibly search operations which have resulted in destruction of property at Kashmir homes --windows, doors, and household goods. Apparently electrical and electronic gadgets are destroyed in the name of search operations. This continues even when the search operation yields nothing.
One explanation we heard of this was that because the security forces get pelted with stones while returning to camp in the evening, they go back at night in anger to take revenge. That revenge in the form of wanton destruction of property to punish the people.
4. Misuse of Public Safety Act (PSA)
The PSA is seen as a revolving door process by the Kashmiris to keep people in jail. Brought into being to deal with timber smugglers by Sheikh Abdullah this draconian law, which does not require the victim to be produced before a magistrate and charged for up to a year, is used to keep trouble-makers in jail for longer than a year. As they are released in one case, another one under PSA is slapped on them in a different police jurisdiction.
However, the major misuse of the PSA is against minors. The amended Juvenile Justice Act for the state does not allow the police to arrest minors under PSA. Yet this has happened on a significant scale. The separatist leaders claim the number is about 6,000 while government sources place the figure at slightly less than half at 2,500. Even this is a large number of children. As there are no juvenile homes or Borstals for confining minors in J&K, they are kept with hardened criminals which can have long term deleterious impact on the minors imprisoned.
Kashmir leaders also allege that people arrested from the Valley are being housed in jails in the Jammu region so that their families cannot get easy access to them. This they claim is against a Surpeme Court order. Kashmir, they claim, has also become the only state which has run out of jail space and seeking to transfer the overspill to jails in MP and other states………..
RECOMMENDATIONS: WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE:
Steps that the J&K state government can take:
1. Start the process of reopening schools and as a precursor to this, release forthwith all first time offender school children and minors arrested under PSA.*
2. Consider postponing school examinations to a later date instead of insisting on holding them from November 15. Children who have been in jail have not probably had access to textbooks and other teaching material. They should be given sufficient time to prepare for exams.*
3. Repeat offenders amongst minors must be shifted out of adult jails and put up in temporarily designated juvenile detention centres and given psychological counseling.
4. Compensation must be announced for the next of kin of the civilians killed and for those wounded in police or action by the other security forces. This money may be transferred as DBT to designated accounts to prevent extortion and rent-seeking from the suffering families by the state bureaucracy.
5. Rehabilitation packages must be announced to ensure the life-time income needs of those permanently blinded by pellet guns…..
….Steps that the Union government can take
1. Ban the pellet gun with immediate effect as a crowd control weapon. This will have a salutary impact on the Kashmiris. This is not something that should be left to committees or to the security forces.
2. Work with the media not to escalate the situation in Kashmir. Educate media owners about the sensitive nature of the Kashmir issue and not add fuel to the fire in search of viewers and revenue.
3. Dispel the perception that Kashmir and Kashmiris are mere tools to be used for electoral purposes.
4. In its interactions with Kashmiris the centre might reiterate the approach enunciated by the Hon’ble PM that Kashmiris are Indians.
5. GOI move quickly to give facilities of migrants to Pandits continuing to reside in Kashmir Division of J&K.
Although separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq talked of being prepared for a dialogue (Geelani talked of “unconditional” talks), it was not within the competence of this group of concerned citizens to suggest when or if such a dialogue process should be started.
(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR: JKLF leader Yasin Malik on way for Hurriyat meeting in Srinagar)