Documenting Indian state crimes in Kashmir

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Waseem Shehzad

Rabi' al-Awwal 20, 1434 2013-02-01

News & Analysis

by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 12, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1434)

Indian occupation forces have been involved in horrible crimes against defenceless civilians in Kashmir for decades. While India refuses to allow international human rights organizations or the media to visit the state, an Indian human rights organization has painstakingly documented specific crimes and identified the names of perpetrators that the Indian government refuses to punish.

Two stories have dominated news on the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent in recent weeks. One was the December 16, 2012 gang rape of a 23-year-old female student on a bus in Delhi, and the other the threats and counter-threats between India and Pakistan about violations on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. The rhetorical volleys between traditional rivals have periodically turned into shooting matches in which both sides have claimed the other killed its soldiers.

While these parleys between India and Pakistan have overshadowed more serious internal problems plaguing both countries, it is revealing that since the December 16 gang rape of the student and her subsequent death on December 28 from injuries sustained during the horrendous assault, there have been several other incidents of rape in India. One took place on January 12 when a bus driver and his assistant abducted a lone female passenger at night, drove her to a remote village and then “invited” five more friends. The 29-year-old woman was gang raped by seven men throughout the night. There is outrage in India over such frequent cases of rape against women — in 2012 there were nearly 24,000 registered rape cases across India; the actual number is much higher — and they have demanded swift action against the perpetrators. Most people in India believe that neither the police nor the authorities are serious about taking action against offenders. There is also a widely held view among men in power that women get raped because of the way they dress and the fact that they are out late at night. Scores of politicians accused of rape crimes have actually been given tickets to run for major political parties.

If this is the attitude of Indian officials toward their own women, what chance do the poor women of Kashmir have against Indian predators in uniform that use rape as an instrument of war? The question of rape of Kashmiri women as well as the killing of Kashmiri men, women and children was the subject of a scathing report released on December 6, 2012 by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered Kashmir (IPTK). Another organization, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Person (APDP), also participated in the two-year study.

Titled Alleged Perpetrators — Stories of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir, the report’s findings were announced at a press conference on December 6 in Srinagar, capital of Indian-Occupied Kashmir (report available at: www.kashmirprocess.org). The report examines 214 cases of human rights violations and for the first time, the role of 500 alleged perpetrators in these crimes. Among the authors of the report are such well-known human rights activists as Gautam Navlakha, Kartik Murukutla, Pervez Imroz and Khurram Pervez.

In preparation for two years, the report used information obtained from official state documents in addition to witness testimonies. Researchers examined police records, judicial and quasi-judicial records and government documents. Using the “Right to Information” legislation, the two organizations sought information on First Information Reports (FIR), High Court petition numbers and other documentation to painstakingly piece together a composite picture of the culture of impunity prevalent among security personnel operating in Jammu and Kashmir as well as Indian government officials in Delhi.

To better understand what is taking place in Kashmir, it is important to bear in mind that India maintains an army of occupation of 700,000 in the state with a population (under Indian control) of some eight million people. These comprise the regular Indian army, Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Of the various forces, the latter are the most notorious. Its ranks are filled by racist Hindus who harbour a particular grudge against Muslims whether in India or in Kashmir. Another military wing, the Rashtriya Rifles, are equally demonic in their approach and take special pleasure in humiliating Muslims.

In the capital, Srinagar, there are 300,000 Indian troops and other security personnel for a total population of one million. Thus, there is one soldier for every three civilians in Srinagar, making it the most militarized city in the world. There is a military bunker at every street corner. Naturally with such high concentration of armed personnel, the number of killings is also very high. Virtually every locality now has its own graveyard. Parks and open spaces have been turned into cemeteries. What is equally shocking is the total disregard for human dignity, especially the honour of Kashmiri women of whom more than 10,000 have been raped by Indian occupation forces since the latest uprising began in 1989.

The IPTK/APDP report confirms that crimes are not only committed but that there is no attempt by the authorities to adhere to the rule of law. “The defining feature of human rights violations here [Kashmir] is that in the name of countering militant violence the Indian State authorizes armed forces to carry out every kind of operation, often without adherence to laws and norms. In a majority of cases crimes are not noted or investigated at all.” The researchers admit that their analysis of cases is incomplete because they do not have access to all the information but they insist their findings shed light on a shameful aspect of Indian state practices.

Despite lack of full information, they emphasize that “even the rudimentary statistics contained in it [the report] reveal an appalling picture. Out of 214 cases a list emerges of 500 individual perpetrators, which include 235 army personnel, 123 paramilitary personnel, 111 Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel and 31 Government backed militants/associates. The designations of some of these alleged perpetrators points to a deep institutional involvement of the Indian State in the crimes.”

The report then breaks down the perpetrators by rank. This is where it surpasses previous efforts at drawing a more composite picture of Indian state crimes against the Kashmiris. “Among the alleged perpetrators are two Major Generals and three Brigadiers of the Indian Army, besides nine Colonels, three Lieutenant Colonels, 78 Majors and 25 Captains. Add to this, 37 senior officials of the federal Paramilitary forces, a recently retired Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, as well as a serving Inspector General.” When such senior officers are involved in crimes, it is not surprising that lower rank personnel will run amok. That is precisely what has happened in Kashmir.

While cold statistics cannot convey the depth of suffering, they do provide a glimpse into the scale of atrocities taking place in Kashmir. Since 1990, nearly 100,000 Kashmiris including women and children have been killed. Other statistics compiled by the Kashmir Media Service report there are 107,000 orphaned children and 22,764 widowed women in Kashmir, all as a result of Indian army brutality. In addition to 120,465 civilians arrested, nearly 7,000 people have been killed in police custody under torture; another 8,000 persons, according to the IPTK/APDP report, have disappeared after being picked up from their homes or place of work by Indian occupation troops. Proof of such disappearances and what the fate of those “picked up” by occupation forces was provided by the grisly discovery of 6,000 unmarked graves two years ago.

Despite the fact that the armed insurgency has ended and people have been involved only in non-violent protests, this has not deterred the Indian occupation forces from continuing with their crimes. Killings of men, especially the youth, and rape of women have not ended; this last is a ploy used to humiliate the people of Kashmir to force them to abandon any notion of seeking freedom.

Some episodes are so horrendous that they defy description. Perhaps the attack on the remote village of Kunan Poshpora on the night of February 23, 1991 surpasses all other crimes by the Indian army. It was Nisfu Sha‘ban (middle of the month of Shaban) that many Muslims consider to be auspicious. People of this village as elsewhere in Kashmir and indeed in much of the Muslim world, were engaged in nightly prayers when hundreds of soldiers from the Rashtriya Rifles entered it at night. They rounded up all the men and boys and took them away into an open field where they were made to sit in the bitter cold. Indian soldiers then went into the houses and throughout the night raped more than 100 women sparing no one: young girls, 80-year-old grandmothers and even pregnant women. This beastly ritual went on throughout the night.

In the morning, a senior Indian military officer came to the village and told the women that his men had done “nothing wrong.” One of the victims mustered enough courage to bring an 80-year-old grandmother in front of the officer telling him that even this old woman was not spared. “What kind of beasts are you?” she shouted into the face of the officer aware that her honour had already been violated and she had overcome the fear of death. According to local people, the officer left without uttering a word but the village was cordoned off for four days allowing no one to leave or enter. On the fifth day, the villagers went to the local police station to lodge a complaint. District magistrate, S.M. Yasin came to record the testimony of victims. In his report, he said the men of Rashtriya Rifles had “acted like beasts.”

The mass rapes were widely reported in the international media including one report by Barbara Crossette in the New York Times (April 7, 1991) as well as Human Rights Watch report on India released on January 1, 1992. Despite overwhelming evidence, the Indian government brazenly dismissed the rape claims as a propaganda ploy by “Kashmiri militants” to garner sympathy for their cause. Even the US State Department in its 1992 report on international human rights, rejected the Indian government’s conclusion, and determined that there “was credible evidence to support charges that an elite army unit engaged in mass rape in the Kashmiri village of Kunan Poshpora” (Barbara Crossette, New York Times, February 1, 1992).

Kunan Poshpora may have been the most horrendous crime but it was by no means an isolated case. Another heart-wrenching attack occurred on May 29, 2009 when two women, 17-year-old Aasiya Jan and her 22-year-old sister-in-law Neelofar Jan, passed near a military checkpoint in Shopian. The two women were abducted, repeatedly gang raped by soldiers and then murdered. Their half naked bodies were dumped in a nearby river. Their bodies were discovered only when water level in the river receded somewhat. Several weeks of protests followed but the Indian occupation authorities took no notice even when the local government set up a commission of inquiry and submitted its report on July 9. A Kashmiri business man, Mohammed Hussain Zargar was so upset at what had happened to the women that he took it upon himself to demand those guilty of this heinous crime to be punished. A few months later, his body showing clear signs of torture was discovered in an orchard. He had been abducted by Indian army personnel and tortured to death to make him an example to others that dare question the official version of events.

Given such horrendous statistics, it is reasonable to assume that there would be more media coverage especially in the West of Indian crimes. Instead, there appears to be a deliberate attempt to overlook such crimes. This is based on the Western notion that India is a vast market for goods. True, there is a middle class of 350 million people that need goods the West produces but this cannot excuse the horrible crimes the Indian occupation forces perpetrate against innocent Kashmiris or the culture of impunity at the official level refusing to investigate, much less punish the perpetrators.

The IPTK/APDP report acknowledges this fact. “Cases presented in this report reveal that there is a policy not to genuinely investigate or prosecute the armed forces for human rights violations. There is an occasional willingness to order compensatory relief, but not to bring the perpetrators to justice. On the contrary, alleged perpetrators of crimes are awarded, rewarded and promoted by the State.” This clearly amounts to state complicity in crimes against humanity.

Indian government complicity in such crimes was also confirmed in documents released by WikiLeaks in December 2010. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that does not reveal its findings publicly for fear of antagonizing the host government presented a rare briefing in 2005 to then US ambassador to India David Mulford. It expressed grave concern over human rights violations in Kashmir and spoke about torture in detention centres. Following this briefing, the US embassy sent a cable to the State Department that was declared “classified” (not to be released in public) by then Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Blake, who later served as the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. The embassy reported the ICRC concluded that India “condones torture” and that the torture victims were civilians, as militants were routinely killed.

According to the leaked cables, the ICRC staff told US diplomats they had made 177 visits to detention centres in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India between 2002 and 2004, and had met 1,491 detainees. They had been able to interview 1,296 privately. In 852 cases, the detainees reported ill-treatment, the ICRC said. A total of 171 described being beaten and 681 said they had been subjected to one or more of six forms of torture.

These included 498 on which electricity had been used, 381 who had been suspended from the ceiling, 294 who had muscles crushed in their legs by prison personnel sitting on a bar placed across their thighs, 181 whose legs had been stretched by being “split 180 degrees”, 234 tortured with water and 302 “sexual” cases, the ICRC was reported to have told the Americans. “Numbers add up to more than 681, as many detainees were subjected to more than one form of IT [ill-treatment],” the cable said. The ICRC said all branches of the Indian security forces used these forms of ill-treatment and torture. The embassy cable also said ICRC has been refused access to the “Cargo Building, the most notorious detention centre in Srinagar.”

The authors of the IPTK/APDP report have called for bringing charges against the alleged perpetrators in the International Criminal Court (ICC) because India has failed in its responsibility. They make a compelling case for doing so and have called upon the ICC to take suo moto notice of these crimes. Given the international environment and Western governments and institutions using the ICC as an instrument against opponents or countries/officials they do not like, it is highly unlikely that Indian officials would be brought before the court. The fact that some organizations are beginning to raise this possibility means awareness about Indian crimes in Kashmir is growing. This in and of itself is a positive development and should be welcomed.

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