Thursday, June 17, 2010

The jungle laws of Kashmir

Drop-gates and concertina blockades emerge on most of the city roads, especially in the so called down town, whenever there is a possibility of public protests . Civilian movement is brought to a halt, so much so that even ambulances and journalists have a tough day out. Police and paramilitary men rule the lanes. The routine justification for these oft-repeated exercises is that it helps in containing escalation of tensions. Otherwise, officials say, angry protesters will attack security men leading to casualties on both sides.
But the problem in Kashmir is that while a curfew is imposed, it is not declared officially. The local newspapers describe the strange law and order management as an ‘undeclared curfew’ or ‘curfew like restrictions’ Curfew is not new to Kashmir, as the turbulent nineties have seen some of the longest and worst ones. Undeclared curfew, however, is a new trend, started by the ‘uncontroversial’ N N Vohra soon after he replaced S K Sinha as governor at the peak of the Amarnath land agitation in 2008. While Ghulam Nabi Azad government crumbled under the weight of the agitation, Vohra managed his days with the innovation. Paramilitary men beating early birds in the city became the routine method to announce an undeclared curfew. People expected the practice to go away with the civilian government taking over in January 2009. But the young CM seems to be at ease with the practice. Barring occasional statements, the civil society has been unable to stand up against this violation that not only takes the population hostage but also adds an element of uncertainty to life. This is not the only instance of Kashmir suffering on account of law and order implementation. Even the laws in vogue seem to be loaded against the people of the land.
The Public Safety Act (PSA) introduced by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah after returning to power in 1975 is one of the most misused laws. Abdullah had justified the law then, saying it would be used against timber smugglers, but it continues to be the major way out to keep people behind bars without a reason.
The act provides for detention of two years without a trial, and in practice authorities have slapped PSA repeatedly on people to keep them locked for as long as 14 years, and in most cases repeated it as soon a court quashes a PSA.
The section 10(a) of the Act, which may not have parallel anywhere in the civilised world says that the order of detention (under PSA usually signed by the district magistrate) cannot be deemed to be invalid even if the grounds of such detention are vague, non-existent , not relevant and not connected with the person to be detained. That essentially means that a person can even be detained on vague, irrelevant grounds or even if he is not connected to anything at all. Last year, when a lawmaker told the state legislature that the turbulence in the state owes much of its origin to “misuse, abuse and overuse of the PSA” and sought its amendments , the law minister replied the law was required for “running the affairs of the state” ! Along with the undeclared curfews the government is trying to quell street protests by booking alleged stone pelters under PSA and, concurrently , murder charges were also levelled. A good number of teenagers including some minors were booked under this law. Recently a young boy was booked under PSA apparently for being in love with a police officer’s daughter. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA ) makes another bleak reference to the laws that make contemporary J&K . Offering absolute immunity to securitymen, this law has converted counterinsurgency into a lucrative business in which blood sell cheap. Soldiers get innocuous individuals, kill them far away from their homes, dub them militants to claim cash and promotions. This is a standard practice with all forces that operate in Kashmir and the recent expose is just tip of an iceberg.
Politicians across Kashmir’s ideological landscape agree that this law must go as early as possible. Recommendations by many federal government committees also advocate its removal . Nevertheless, there are tough laws that will help fight militancy in absence of AFSPA. But things are unlikely to change given the strong resistance from the armed forces. Lt Gen B S Jamwal, who leads the prestigious Northern Command, recently drew parallel between the AFSPA and the religious books and described it as a holy law for the armed forces. And when its comes to the central government, it also has a record of preferring the security set-up over the people in Kashmir. Welcome to paradise!

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