Co-Written by Dr. P. S. Sahni&Shobha Aggarwal
For over a month practically the entire Kashmir valley has been under a state of curfew. The innocuous term curfew camouflages the extreme torture and suffering inflicted on the people; curfew actually is ‘house arrest’ of every citizen from a newborn to a person in his nineties. The orders for a curfew may emanate from a magistrate imposing section 144, IPC which restricts people from assembling in public place. Thus millions are put under house arrest without as much as trial by any court of law. Adinfinitum the curfew hours keep on getting extended into days, weeks and months. Meanwhile the fundamental rights of people to life, liberty and equality are flagrantly violated. Long term use of curfew violates the norms laid down by the United Nations and is also in breach of the international law on the issue.
Indefinite curfew limits movement of people; they cannot go to the market place to buy food and medicines; people cannot attend to school, colleges or offices; arranging a funeral for a deceased is a harrowing experience. Reaching a hospital for a medical emergency would jeopardize the patient’s life as also that of the attendant,since both of them could be shot at sight. If the patient and the attendant escape death due to being shot at, they risk being injured or blinded by rubber pellets used by the police/ para-military/ army personnel. Since sanitation and garbage removal is practically impossible wherever curfew has been imposed for long, people risk facing epidemics of gastroenteritis; stagnant water breeding mosquitoes could lead to large number of cases of malaria, dengue, chikungunyaetc. People are at risk of getting any infection since they are unable to get proper nutrition and food. It is an understatement to say that these people are victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact all social interactions come to a standstill. A variety of steps taken by the authorities during indefinite curfew imposition viz stoppage of newspapers; clamping down of internet service (internet curfew) and cable services/news channels and even telecommunication effectively ensures that individuals/families suffer the ignominy of being in a solitary cell. The feeling is no different from that of a death row convict kept in an isolation cell within the four walls of a jail compound. Ironically the whole of Kashmir has been compared to an open air prison. An apt simile indeed!
There is of course the Armed Forces Special Powers Act under which any house can be raided and the people terrorized into total submission. The under one million strong army personnel – viewed by Kashmiris as an army of occupation – would kill with impunity any one it deems to be a militant. The army personnel working under the umbrella of AFSPA are able to get away with crushing anyone’s liberty and freedom. To hammer this point for the benefit of those Indians who tend to distance themselves from the Azadi movement in Kashmir it would be instructive if they were to read up the political history of India under Mrs. Gandhi’s Internal Emergency years, 1975-77. At least Mrs. Gandhi had to promulgate an Emergency; at least the judiciary had to go through the farce of ADM Jabalpur case known as the habeas corpus case; at least the Attorney General of India had then confessed before a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court of India that the right to life stands suspended; at least there wasa redemption – that at least one judge by the name of Justice H.R. Khanna stuck his neck out. But what about Kashmir? The case pertaining to the ongoing developments in Kashmir is being heard by the Supreme Court of India but the truth is being hidden from the court by the rulers in Delhi. What is easily forgotten presently is that it is the political establishment in India as well as the independence of press and judiciary whose credibility is at stake. The whole world watches in silence. Worse, the U.N. has lately made it clear that it would shut its eyes to these developments in Kashmir.
Curfew as a psychological warfare
The torture suffered by the people during prolonged and sustained curfew should not be underestimated. The conventional torture of a single accused in custody may get to be in public domain occasionally, resulting in a sequence of events which may entail a magisterial enquiry and punishment of the guilty police personnel involved in custodial torture or unnecessary deprivation of personal liberty beyond the period stipulated in law. Such a process does not even get to be thought of and reported and acted upon to ensure that further torture is stopped and those responsible for perpetrating prolonged curfew on a mass of citizens get to face an enquiry. Such is the very nature of mass torture during prolonged curfew extending beyond months. The indefinite curfew imposed upon the people of Kashmir appears to be a collective punishment imposed upon those struggling for justice and freedom.
In good old days British colonial rulers used to impose collective fines and punishment on people demanding freedom and justice. Even as the entire populace in Kashmir is being collectively punished, could one dare ask for what crime? What is the crime of an infant or a ninety year old person that they are subjected to house detention under curfew? Why should a child be deprived of playing outside his/her house?Why should an old person be prevented from walking near his/her house? If the rulers in Delhi are hell bent upon punishing the entire populace of Kashmir, there should be a realization that the young child may not even understand that he or she is being punished. So even the very limited purpose of punishing the people may not be really achieving its ‘objective’. How is it that no Indian is able to score well in shooting in Olympics but the police/ paramilitary is able to scoop out the contents of the eye-balls and blind the Kashmiris through wanton use of rubber pellets as a method of dispersing the surging crowds which marched in protest at Burhan MuzaffarWani’s killing? Moreover under Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, those accused of a crime are supposed to be innocent until proved otherwise by a trial court; how come collective punishment gets imposed on a large number of people who are yet to be tried by any court of law. Prolonged curfew results in precisely this.
It is not that ordinary people in India and rest of the world are insensitive to the developments in Kashmir. Hundreds have expressed their solidarity with Kashmiri people and urged the rulers in Delhi to start dialogue with all stake holders in Kashmir. An activist friend has even urged Indians to shed tears over the developments in Kashmir. The dominant emotion at times appears to be of lajja (shame) but even this term used by TaslimaNasrin in another context does not fully convey the helplessness and turmoil in one’s mind. In other words, words fail to express the true feelings in one’s heart.
Eternal curfew for German JewsDuring The Holocaust, 1939-1945
“… Following the outbreak of war on September 1, 1939, the government imposed new restrictions on Jews remaining in Germany. One of the first wartime ordinances imposed a strict curfew on Jewish individuals and prohibited Jews from entering designated areas in many German cities. Once a general food rationing began, Jews received reduced rations; further decrees limited the time periods in which Jews could purchase food and other supplies and restricted access to certain stores, with the result that Jewish households often faced shortages of the most basic essentials.
In September 1941, a decree prohibited Jews from using public transportation. While ghettos were generally not established in Germany, strict residence regulations forced Jews to live in designated areas of German cities, concentrating them in “Jewish houses”…”
German Jews were systematically deported from south western Germany to areas of un-occupied France. Deportation of Jews was undertaken from areas annexed by Germany to Ghettos in – German occupied Poland; former Czechoslovakia; Austrian capital of Vienna; Baltic states and Belorussia (today Belarus); Netherlands; Brussels. In all the countries where Jews were deported to Ghettos, curfew was imposed ruthlessly. Many Jews died from starvation, illness or maltreatment. Jews had to relinquish properties like radio – a situation akin to ensuring no newspapers, internet, cable t.v., mobile phones in modern times.
Are the Kashmiris being forced to a similar plight?
Palestinians have faced one of the longest curfews
How the Palestinians suffered in Nablus, West Bank under a prolonged curfew imposed by Israeli authorities in the year 2002 is well documented by Chris McGreal in The Guardian dated 05.10.2002: (quote)
Colonel Noam Tibon and much of the city he has kept under lockdown for the past 100 days or more agree on one thing. Two young boys – Rami al-Barbri and Mahmoud Zaglul – should not have died this week. There is no such accord on the fate of Ari Weiss, an Israeli soldier killed within minutes and yards of one of the dead children.
Nablus and the neighbouring refugee camp of Balata, home to about 200,000 people, have been under 24-hour curfew since late June when the tanks rolled into towns across the West Bank in retaliation for a spate of suicide bombings in Israel.
The confinement is lifted for four hours every 10 days to allow people to buy food. The Israelis only dare go into Balata in force, so the curfew has been slack in the camp. But Nablus is a different matter.
The wheels of the Palestinian financial capital have seized up. Shops are shut, streets are empty, and the crumpled remains of the municipal administration centre remind residents of the price of resistance. It was bombed three times.
But this week people cracked and spilled on to the streets to challenge the Israelis. Perhaps they were prompted by the 100-day anniversary, or maybe it was revulsion at the death of the two boys.
“People can’t stand it anymore,” said HusamHasuna, whose boutique was razed by an Israeli tank shell the previous day. “I think one person encouraged another to break [the curfew]. They’re sick and tired. They’ve lost their jobs and have no money for food. Their phones are cut off. When you put 170,000 people in a big jail, what do you expect?”
Are the Kashmiris being consigned to a similar fate?
It is hoped that saner counsel will prevail in Kashmir! Right away.
[The writers are members of PIL Watch Group and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org]