November 2002: The human rights record of the Indian security forces in Kashmir has been characterized by arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and extrajudicial killings. These have been extensively documented by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the PUCL (People’s Union for Civil Liberties) and others. Most of these violations routinely go unchecked and unpunished, “justified” as unavoidable in a proxy war managed by Pakistan; only a handful cases have been brought to justice by due process. Often, New Delhi’s response to the reports by various human rights organizations has been evasive.
2477 civilians had been killed by the Indian forces in the period 1990-1998 (PTI release, 13 September 1998), according to conservative estimates by official sources which mostly exclude thousands of custodial killings. In April 1997, the Minister of State for Home Affairs admitted that 454 persons were missing since 1990.
The insurgency that began in 1989 in the Valley involved hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris marching on the streets of Srinagar between January and May 1990. Under Jagmohan’s regime, India’s response to the protests was brutal with indiscriminate firings at unarmed protesters; The atrocities committed by Indian forces has been acknowledged by senior Indian officials including the Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi, Chandrashekhar and P.V. Narasimha Rao during their tenure and the State Governor Girish Saxena.
Balraj Puri, Kashmir: Towards Insurgency, New Delhi 1993, pp.72-3.
On 20 January 1990, an estimated 100 people were killed when a large group of unarmed protesters were fired upon by the Indian troops at the Gawakadal bridge.
On March 1 1990, an estimated one million took to the streets and more than forty people were killed in police firing.
In May 1990, an estimated 200,000 Kashmiris took to the streets in a funeral procession of the martyred leader Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq; over 100 were killed in police firing.
In January 1993, 40 people were killed in Sopore by security forces who burnt down a section of the town after two of their men were killed.
In March 2000, nine civilians were killed in police firing in a large demonstration at Brakpora protesting killing of civilians at Panchalthan.
In August 2000, 35 civilians were killed including 23 Amarnath pilgrims in Pahalgam; it has come to light that most of the people were killed in fact by the panic-stricken CRPF jawans who continued firing for another 20 minutes after the two suspected militants were killed; a commission under Lt.Gen. Mukherjee found 17 police officers responsible.Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Report On human rights violations in Kashmir.Indian forces also have severely beaten 17 journalists in May 2001.Human Rights Watch, India/Pakistan Summit: Call to Address Human Rights in Kashmir , 2001.In January 2002, Indian troops killed a civilian and wounded another in a firing at a demonstration at Sodal, protesting civilian beatings in search operations.Torture and Custodial Killings
Civilians suspected of having information about militants, many of them innocent, are routinely detained, tortured and killed in custody, besides militants. Methods of torture include severe beatings, electric shock, crushing the leg muscles with a wooden roller, and burning with heated objects.
In 1995, Amnesty International documented 706 cases of custodial killings in the period 1990-1994, nearly all after gruesome torture; In its response to Amnesty, the Government of India (GOI) responded to 519 out of 706 cases in an evasive manner, dismissing half of them as “encounter killings” without supporting evidence despite eye-witness reports to the contrary; The government indicated that there was prima facie evidence of human rights violations in 85 other cases which were said to be under investigation, however no one has been brought to justice till date.
Amnesty International, Torture and Deaths in Custody in Jammu and Kashmir, 1995.
Amnesty International, Analysis of the Government of India’s response to Amnesty International’s report on torture and deaths in custody in Jammu and Kashmir , 1995.
On 26 April 1993, The Kashmir Times run by Ved Bhasin carried a report of police records listing 132 persons to have been killed in custody in the preceding 33 days alone. The Kashmir Monitor, a human rights group, has reported around 220 custodial deaths for the period June’94-April’95 which represent the bare minimum. Estimate of the number of custodial killings since 1990 by human rights organizations runs in several thousands, many of them are civilians.
In August 2000, Amnesty International reported that the fates of up to 1,000 persons reported missing in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990 remain unexplained by authorities. Few of the hundreds of habeas corpus petitions filed by families of the “disappeared” before the judiciary in Jammu and Kashmir have been brought to a resolution. The Kashmir Monitor has also documented around 300 cases of disappearance during 1989-95.
Hundreds of women have been raped with impunity and most of them go unreported given the social stigma and fear of retribution by the State; The GOI has been quick to deny and cover-up most of those cases which do get reported; The reported gang-rape of nine women at Shopian in October 1992 by an army unit was dismissed off-handedly after investigation by army and police, the very units charged with the crime, despite solid medical evidence to the contrary; no independent investigation by an impartial agency was carried out. The reported mass rape of over 20 women at Konan Poshpura in February 1991 was also handled in a similar evasive manner; the complaint was not investigated in a timely manner by an impartial agency and the medical evidence was dismissed without good cause; one of the victims who was nine months pregnant during the incident delivered a baby with a fractured left arm; Governor Girish Saxena who denied the incident admitted to mass rapes in the past by the Indian forces however. Rapes continue to be reported, an example from this year being the April 17 gang-rape of a 17-year old girl in Pahalgam.
Amnesty International, Torture and Deaths in Custody in Jammu and Kashmir, 1995.Asia Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, The Human Rights Crisis in Kashmir: A Pattern of Impunity, 1993, pp.98-107.Tavleen Singh, Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors, New Delhi 1995, p.177
BBC News, Kashmir troops held after rape, april 19, 2002.Pro-India Renegade Militants
The phenomenon of renegade militants has been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch. Renegades are former militants who have surrendered and changed sides to the Indian forces. Since the 1989 insurgency in Kashmir, renegades have been used for extrajudicial executions of militants (besides human right activists, journalists and other civilians) and later conveniently dismissed as “intergroup rivalries”. Many of these groups have been responsible for grave human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and illegal detention as well as election-related intimidation of voters. They are never arrested or prosecuted and go scot-free.
In 1997, the Director General of Police Gurbachan Jagat acknowledged that the continued services of the renegades had become counter-productive in view of their excesses; an estimated 5000 renegades were reportedly ‘rehabilitated’ as Special Police Officers (SPO) in the State police and many others were absorbed in the security forces. The present number of renegade militants continues to be significant and the estimates vary; In 1999, Gurbachan Jagat acknowledged that there were 1,200 renegades in the payroll of New Delhi; According to a renegade representative Javed Shah, the number of renegades exceeded 2,000; Renegades remain a dreaded group.
The Chattisinghpora cover-up
In March 2000, around the time of US President Clinton’s visit to India, unidentified gunmen gunned down 35 Sikhs at Chittisinghpora; India blamed foreign militants; Kashmiris blamed renegade militants employed by Indian security forces; A few days after the massacre, security forces killed five persons in an “encounter” at Panchalthan village and claimed they are “foreign militants” responsible for the Sikh massacre. Later, in July 2002, DNA testing of the corpses proved that the five persons killed were civilians.
The relatives of the five murdered villagers held a series of demonstrations for public exhuming of the bodies; A crowd of five thousand unarmed civilians at Brakpora was fired upon by the police; Nine more men died; When the bodies were finally exhumed, they were discovered to have been burnt and defaced, but curiously dressed in brand new army fatigues. They were identified by the relatives as the local villagers who went missing. Initial attempts in DNA testing of the exhumed bodies were compromised by fudging of the DNA samples in a cover-up attempt by the authorities; Later results indicated that the five persons killed by the Indian forces were indeed civilians and that Indian forces engaged in a deliberate subterfuge to portray them as “foreign” militants responsible for the Sikh massacre.
The Pandian Commission investigated the firing at Brakpora and pronounced that three police officers be tried for murder, however no action has been taken against them till date; No judicial inquiry into the Sikh massacre itself has been conducted till date despite repeated announcements. While some argue that the Chattisinghpora massacre may very well have been engineered by the Indian forces for political gains during Clinton’s visit, the least that can be said is that confirmed, unpunished atrocities of the security forces most certainly do not inspire confidence in the people, and fuel resentment instead.
The army-renegade nexus
Jalil Andrabi, the human right activist was abducted by the paramilitary and renegades in March 1996 in the presence of eye-witnesses and tortured to death in custody. Despite the GOI’s initial denials of the army’s involvement, the Special Investigation Team identified an army Major in April 1997 as the person responsible for the death; however the accused major was released with no punishment.
H.N. Wanchoo, the noted human rights activist had documented and filed writ petitions for hundreds of custodial deaths in 1992; Being a Pandit, his petitions were an embarrassment to the Central and State governments. He was assassinated by unidentified gunmen in December 1992; Although the government claimed that the persons responsible belonged to the militant outfit Jamiat-ul Mujahidin, human rights activists who investigated the case have alleged that the militants of that group were released from jail on condition that they kill Wanchoo. Following his death, none of the custodial death cases were heard in the court and lawyers attempting to get the cases listed have reportedly found that many of the files of these cases were now missing from the High Court premises.
Dr. Farooq Ahmad Ashai, chief of orthopaedics and a human rights activist who had spoken against the GOI was killed by gunshots from a CRPF bunker while travelling in a car clearly marked with a red cross. The government stated that he had been killed in ‘crossfire’, despite evidence to the contrary. Dr. Abdul Ahad Guru, a surgeon who had treated torture victims was killed by unidentified gunmen. A government source alleged to Human Rights Watch that Zulkar Nan, a militant, had been released specifically to carry out the murder. Shortly afterwards, Indian security forces shot and killed Zulkar Nan. 
Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone, two Kashmiri activists were killed by unidentified gunmen on 21 May 1990 and 2002 respectively. In both cases, the governments blamed militants while some Kashmiris blamed Indian sponsored renegades.
The National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) presence has not been effective in improving the human rights record; For instance, the NHRC lacks the jurisdiction to investigate complaints of violations by the army and paramilitary forces. New Delhi continues to deny permission for various human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, UN Special Rapporteur of Torture and others, to visit Jammu and Kashmir and investigate the violations.
Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitley
acknowledged that while disciplinary action was taken against security personnel involved in large massacres in the mid-1990s, no prosecutions take place as no witness will dare step forward. What action is taken is not made public. In the past, the GOI has made public a number of prosecutions of members of security forces for rape. However, even these amount to no more than a handful; many other incidents of rape have never been prosecuted. In its 1999 report, Human Rights Watch stated that was not aware of a single prosecution in a case of the torture or summary execution of a detainee in the ten years since the conflict began.
The fact that the officer indicted in the 1996 murder of a human rights lawyer Jalil Andrabi, has not yet been arrested, contrasts sharply with the GOI’s claim that it has ensured greater accountability from its forces in Kashmir.
Human Rights Watch, The Ongoing Problem of Impunity , 1999.
Amnesty International, Torture and Deaths in Custody in Jammu and Kashmir, 1995.
Amnesty International, Impunity must end in Jammu and Kashmir, 2001.Full force of the law
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 and the Disturbed Areas Act of 1976 give police extraordinary powers of search and arrest without warrants and detention. The Special Powers Act provides that unless approval is obtained from the Central Government, no “prosecution, suit, or other legal proceeding shall be instituted…against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers of the act.” To human rights groups, it is such provisions that allow security forces to operate with virtual impunity.
According to one NGO, there were 1,300 writs of habeas corpus pending in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in 1999 in such detention cases. The government is also known to abuse such powers, an example being the case of Yasin Malik, chairman of the JKLF, a separatist group. He was arrested under POTA on 23 March on charges of accepting illegal money, a charge which he refuted as a frame-up. Intriguingly the prosecution failed to present the mandatory challan within ninety days of his detention under POTA despite repeated directions by the court and the judge ordered his release on bail; subsequently he was rearrested under the Public Safety Act(PSA). The events clearly show that the POTA case was indeed a frame-up.
A charge which the GOI did not deny in a response to Amnesty was that it had issued secret orders to the Police to disregard complaints of human rights violations against the security forces in FIRs. This leads to the conclusion that the number of registered complaints are probably fewer than the number of excesses actually committed.
In October 1996, a Union Home Ministry report for 1995-96 stated that 272 J&K security personnel including 153 BSF, 80 CRPF, and 39 army personnel, had been “sacked, jailed or disciplined” for abuses committed in the past five years; a number hardly proportional to the number of violators, by most accounts.
Akhila Raman is a researcher on the Kashmir conflict.