According to a report written by an all-women fact-finding mission to Kashmir, as many as 13,000 youth have been picked up by the Indian security forces in the state, during the ongoing government crackdown. The situation on the ground is unprecedented with schools, shops, and other major institutions remaining shut for weeks. Minors as young as 14 and 15, have been taken away and tortured, the report alleged.
Activists Annie Raja, Kawaljit Kaur, Pankhuri Zaheer, Poonam Kaushik and Syeda Hameed were part of the fact-finding committee that visited Kashmir last week to compile the report. They found that what is happening in the valley is nothing short of a human tragedy. With a ban on communication and the absence of transportation, deaths due to inaccessibility to timely medical care have become commonplace.
A senior doctor of the Bandipora Hospital revealed to the team that there were now more cases of mental disorders and heart attacks coming in, than he could ever recall seeing. Another orthopaedic doctor from the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) told the activists that he was stopped at an army-imposed blockade, being held from duty for seven days.
Poonam Kaushik, while releasing the team’s report at Delhi’s Press Club on September 24, stated that the “High Court Bar Association office is locked and advocates have been arrested under Public Safety Act. According to the advocates whom we interacted with, the laws are silent and the judiciary is being paralysed.”
The report notes that the Indian military forces pounce on the opportunity to pick up protesting youths, often without placing any charges. Moreover, every time families go to rescue their children from the police stations, they are made to deposit large sums of money, anywhere between INR 20,000 to INR 60,000 (about USD 280 to USD 845), as a surety.
In northern Kashmir’s Bandipora, the report highlighted an incident where a girl had kept a lamp lit to read, on the chance that her school may open soon. “Army men angered by this breach of ‘curfew’, jumped the wall to barge in. Father and son, the only males in the house were taken away for questioning,” the report said.
Another woman from Bandipora district claimed that, “in a reflex action, my four-year-old places a finger on her lips when she hears a dog bark after dusk. Barking dogs mean an imminent visit by the Army. I can’t switch on the phone for light so I can take my little girl to the toilet. Light shows from far and if that happens our men pay with their lives.”
When asked how tense the situation was, activist Annie Raja said that “it is [an] Indian variant of genocide and army cannot remain as a holy cow anymore.”
The fact-finding mission has put forward the following set of demands in their report:
(i) For normalcy— withdraw the Army and Parliamentary forces with immediate effect
(ii) For confidence building — immediate cancel all cases-FIRs and release all those, especially the youth who are under custody and in jail since the abrogation of Article 370
(iii) For ensuring justice — conduct inquiry on the widespread violence and tortures unleashed by the army and other security personnel and free treatment to all those victims of torture
(iv) Compensation to all those families whose loved ones lost lives because of non-availability of transportation and absence of communication.