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The case for reinstating Kashmir's Human Rights Commission

January 24, 2023
topic:Human Rights
tags:#Kashmir, #human rights, #India
by:Sameer Mushtaq, Suhail Bhat
Three years after Kashmir's State Human Rights Commission was abolished, the future of people who suffered human rights violations at the hand of the government remains uncertain.

A low-voltage lamp hanging from the roof cast a soft golden glow around the room. Filorio Jan’s little neck was covered by a shawl; she had a lifeless, worn-out visage. She appeared to have entered a profound trance as her eyes remained locked on the light bulb.

This has been a usual scene in Jan's room in Nipora village in the southern Kulgam region of Kashmir ever since a stray bullet severed her spinal cord and left her bedridden 25 years ago. 

She left her home that day as an eager 13-year-old when government forces had entered their village, most likely in search of separatist militant who were involved in the armed struggle for self determination that began in 1989. Since then, Indian government forces have conducted anti-militancy operations throughout Kashmir's villages; these operations, which still take place today, are now known as Cordon and Search Operations, or CASO.

As Jan reached the village square she heard indiscriminate gunfire and anxiously tried to return home. "However, I am unsure if I took a step back or was shot while making the decision to go back," she told FairPlanet. "I was lying in a pool of blood in a matter of seconds. I regained consciousness after several months only to discover that my lower half was dead."

The defunct Human Rights Commission

Jan had hoped to receive compensation from the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) so that she could live the rest of her days in dignity. However, her hopes were dashed when the Indian government made the decision to disband the commission as part of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act of 2019, which gave the legal basis for the split of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories under federal control and abolished the region's constitutional autonomy.

When the split of Jammu and Kashmir went into effect on 5 August, 2019, the SHRC had more than 600 pending cases.

The commission was the only quasi-judicial body established by the government of Jammu and Kashmir under the now-abolished Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act of 1947 to investigate claims of human rights violations by state forces and other officials in the valley after the resurgence of separatist militancy in 1989.

Claims included allegations of torture, rape, forced disappearances and custodial executions. The creation of an investigation branch led by the inspector general of the police in 2007 had temporarily strengthened the commission.

Now, since Jammu and Kashmir no longer enjoys special status, these complaints fall under the purview of the Human Rights Commission in New Delhi. But this provision is only valid for fresh cases, and the specifics of cases that were reported to the commission are unclear.

Back when Jan first sought compensation for her injuries nine years ago, SHRC commented on the government's refusal to pay, referring to it as brutal and inhumane, and urged the government to grant Jan adequate compensation.

"The attitude of the government is inhumane and barbaric," reads a piece from a local newspaper called Greater Kashmir, citing a study by SHRC. "A young girl becomes permanently disabled and cannot stand on her legs because of the injury she sustained. She has been given compensation of [$]30.65, with which she cannot buy a wheelchair."

The article was published in the 21 September, 2017 edition, but is not available online. It should be noted that many Kashmiri newspapers removed from their websites any articles expressing critical views of the government that were published prior to 5 August, 2019.

Delivering justice 

About 60 kilometres away from Jan's house, Javid, who resides in the Eidgah neighbourhood of Srinagar, Kashmir's capital, is attempting to attach his prosthetic leg to his hip.

Javid's leg was seriously injured by a bullet allegedly fired by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel attempting to disperse protesters on 12 August, 2008. 

Javid had left his house when the curfew - which had been imposed to quell protests over a land transfer to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board for the purpose of building amenities for Hindu pilgrims - was loosened. The valley was on fire at the time and street protests against the land transfer raged, as residents were concerned that it would jeopardise the region's autonomy and environment.

The frequent, tense confrontations that broke out between protesters and security personnel during the 2008 unrest resulted in numerous injuries and fatalities. Javid was caught up in one of these battles that occurred close to his neighbourhood.

"I walked across the bridge that joins our neighbourhood to the main road, and as I was about to pass the security bunker there, I felt a protest march coming towards the banker," he told FairPlanet. "When security forces opened fire to quell the protestors I was still unsure whether to move forward or turn around."

Javid was lying in a pool of blood after a bullet sliced through his hip and lower abdomen. His leg had to be amputated after several medical interventions. "The doctors wanted me to use a prosthetic leg, but it was expensive and my family couldn't initially arrange money," he recalled. "Finally, in order to pay for my prosthetic leg, my mother had to sell her jewelries."

Javid had then filed a claim with SHRC, which determined that he was not at fault for the incident and was entitled to compensation because he was only 15 at the time of the injury and had no adverse reports against him. 

"The matter was investigated by the commission," an order of the Jammu and Kashmir SHRC reads. "The enquiring officer concluded in the report that the boy was innocent and had been injured. I have seen his medical record as well as his injury. He has lost his right leg below the hip, which means he has lost the leg along with the knee joint, and it is difficult for him to lead a normal life.

"I believe this is a suitable case for compensation, and accordingly, direct compensation of Rs 3 lacs be paid to the petitioner, along with expenses on the limb, after every eight years." 

The legal experts who have been handling these cases believe that the only way to address the delay in delivering justice in these situations is by reactivating the commissions.

"I think the administration is actively considering reinstating these commissions," a lawyer who wished to remain anonymous told FairPlanet. "This is the only manner in which justice can be served."

Echoing him, Javeed Tak, who has been assisting the victims by organising legal aid and other services, told FairPlanet that the commission had given victims hope and that it should be restored to function. 

"In cases like Filori Jan's, the victim has waited 25 years for justice, which is a very lengthy period," he said. "The victim was set to receive compensation following a protracted court struggle. For such victims, it is asking for a government job and social security."

Tak added that many of these cases were in their final stages, but since the commission was disbanded, all of the paperwork has been sitting in offices, collecting dust.

Yet despite the commission's abolishment, victims appear to have faith that the government would act to solve the issue and provide them adequate support so they can live out the remainder of their lives in dignity.

Javeed, for instance, believes that being awarded a substantial sum of money would allow him to start a business and live independently. "I am unable to lead a normal life as a result of my impairment," he shared. "Therefore, getting paid would enable me to live the rest of my life with respect and on my own." 

He said that his father had high expectations for him and that he needs government aid in order to live up to them. "Since my sisters are all married and I am the only one left to take care of the family after my father, I want to provide for them in the same way that a typical son would have," he said.

Back in her room, Filori Jan remains dejected, as the idea of going through life without any assistance haunts her constantly. According to Jan, her sister Saima, who has been caring for her, will soon get married, and her brother too will be busy caring for his own family. "This will leave no one to care for me."

She believes government assistance would at least help her pay for medication or hire a domestic aid to take care of her. "They can make those arrangements for me if the government gives a job to one of my siblings; otherwise, they lack the resources to do so."

Image by Sameer Mushtaq

Article written by:
Sameer Mushtaq
Sameer Mushtaq
Suhail Bhat Picture
Suhail Bhat
Filori Jan.
© Sameer Mushtaq
Filori Jan.
Javeed Tak.
© Sameer Mushtaq
Javeed Tak.
A newspaper article reporting on Filori Jan\'s compensation case.
© Sameer Mushtaq
A newspaper article reporting on Filori Jan's compensation case.
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