By Zafar Aafaq
SRINAGAR — Jammu and Kashmir has registered economic losses to the tune of a staggering Rs 40,000 crore (USD 5.3 billion) since August 2019 when the Indian government revoked the special constitutional status under the Article 370 and enforced a military lockdown in the region, says the latest report by a civil society group of prominent Indians, including Justice Madan B Lokur, former judge of the Supreme Court of India, Prof Radha Kumar, former interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir.
The data is based on the estimates by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI).
“Estimated industry losses during the period January-July 2020 amount to another Rs.22,000 crores (roughly USD 2.9 billion), bringing the total losses for the period August 2019-June 2020, as estimated by the KCCI, to almost Rs. 40,000 crores (USD 5.3 billion),” says the report.
The significant report on the Himalayan state that has been under an unprecedented lockdown since last August notes that the local and regional industries have suffered heavy losses in almost every sector. “Before the lockdown of August 2019, Jammu and Kashmir was one of the better performing states. However by the end December 2019, the economy of the valley was in dire straits. In four months of the lockdown, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) said, Kashmir’s industries suffered a loss of Rs.17,878.18 crores (roughly USD 2.4 billion), while job losses in the valley were just under half a million (497,000).”
Fruit Industry Hit
The fruit industry, the mainstay of Kashmir economy, lost around 1.35 lakh metric tons of its crop due to restricted transport facilities, it adds.
Talking about the situation in the region, particularly Kashmir since August last year, the report titled ‘Jammu and Kashmir: The Impact of Lockdowns on Human Rights’ notes that there have been “systematic violations of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir from August 4, 2019 to date.”
The civil society group called ‘The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir’ that has prepared this report includes leading intellectuals, former bureaucrats, retired generals, and academicians including Nirupama Rao, former foreign secretary, historian Ramachandra Guha, Major General Ashok Mehta, Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak (retd.), Justice Bilal Nazki and Gopal Pillai, former Home Secretary, Government of India.
The report has taken cognizance of detentions of political and civil society leaders, young children, recurring Internet shutdown, unprecedented economic losses, and destruction of civilian homes and properties during gunfights between the security forces and militants.
The authors of report point out that their findings have been arrived at with an eye on the human rights provisions and protection provided by the Indian constitution and international human rights law.
The report notes that the Modi government at the Centre has been prioritising counter-insurgency concerns over human security which has led to an across the board violation of human rights, including the vitiation of protections such as habeas corpus, prevention of illegal detention, strict restrictions on arrest and detention of children, right to bail and fair and speedy trial.
The report criticises the Modi government for “misusing draconian legislation, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent.”
Detention of Children
Raising questions at the statistics offered by the government, the report released Wednesday expressed sadness over the observation of the Supreme Court on the detention of children in Kashmir in December last year that petitioners should not be overly alarmed if children are detained for a few hours or for just a day, because in certain situations it is for their own good. “However, in law, illegal detentions still remain illegal, whatever the quantum of time,” point out the authors.
In March 2020, 437 people were detained, 389 of them under the PSA. As these figures show, less than a quarter of those detained under the PSA between August 2019 and March 2020 were released. Moreover, political detainees were not allowed visits by their families and/or colleagues for several months, points out the report.
While criticising the arbitrary enforcement of section 144 to impose restriction on public movement in the state, the report notes that Supreme Court’s guidelines as set out in the January judgement were not followed:
“Section 144 cannot be imposed merely because of likelihood of danger, but only to immediately prevent specific acts that may lead to danger,” It asserted, “Indefinite restrictions under Section 144 are unconstitutional.”
Death Blow to Kashmir Media
While commenting on the situation in the media, the report says the local media has been one of the worst sufferers. It terms the newly inducted media policy as “a death blow to an independent media and the freedom of expression”.
The report also mentions the UAPA cases against Kashmiri journalists. While commenting on the case against photojournalist Masarat Zahra, the report states: “Telling such a story through photographs has not been classified as an unlawful activity and any attempt to do so would clearly violate the freedom of the media.”
According to the report, between August 2019 and March 2020, the number of days that schools which were open came to a mere two weeks. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the ban on high-speed Internet has made the online classes “a charade”.
An unnamed teacher quoted in the report says: “As a consequence of the abrogation of Article 370, Kashmiri students had to remain away from school for a period of 8 whole months. Now, as these students were ready to go back to school and resume education, the (COVID) outbreak pushed them inside their homes once again, that too with just 2G internet. To battle this prolonged shut-down, while the teacher’s community, along the lines of the world, is trying to conduct classes online… It is a major task.”
The continued disruption of Internet services has impacted the mental health of children. The report has found that the children feel “mentally drained,” “less tolerant and aggressive,” and a sense of “desperation at not being able to access the internet”.
While talking about the impact of Internet shutdown, the report quotes a PhD student as saying, “intermittent complete shutdown of internet services has created unpredictability whether we will have internet services in the next hour or day or week is uncertain here.”
The impact on education has been particularly severe. Schools and colleges functioned for barely 100 days between 2019 and 2020. After the pandemic lockdown, limiting networks to 2G has made it impossible for online classes to function adequately, the report says.
New Domicile Rules
The report states that the new domicile rules announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs in March 2020 allowing residency to non-locals have created fears of even greater unemployment.
The report urges the Indian government to take several steps in addressing the human rights situation in Kashmir. These include: release of political leaders, amendment of the PSA, strict implementation of juvenile protection legislation, withdraw UAPA charges against journalists and activists and rollback the new media policy and encourage all shades of opinion to be freely and peacefully expressed.
The report further recommends that the authorities curb the application of Section 144, compensate families whose houses have been destroyed in gunfights, hold police and paramilitary personnel who harass civilians at checkpoints accountable, restore 4G internet and mobile services in toto, reinstate Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission and the Jammu and Kashmir Women and Child Rights Commission, compensate local businesses that were forced to shut down due to the government lockdown between August 2019 and March 2020.
The exhaustive report by leading Indian intellectuals, academics, former bureaucrats and generals talks of “systematic violations of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir since August last year
“Kashmir has in many ways been the litmus test of Indian democracy. As this report indicates, we have failed miserably,” observe the authors.