By Dilnaz Boga
The Guardian (Guardian.co.uk), Tuesday 21 December 2010 12.45 GMT
Will the leaked communiqués mark a shift in western foreign policy, or is it to be business as usual in Kashmir?
Almost every household in Kashmir has a story to tell of human rights violation by the local police or the Indian security forces. Generations have experienced violence amid a culture of impunity spanning six decades.
Last Friday, leaked US embassy cables disclosed the findings of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on torture in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) between 2002-2004.
ICRC claimed out of 1,296 detainees it had interviewed, 681 had said that they had been tortured. Of those, 498 claimed to have been electrocuted, 381 said they were suspended from the ceiling, and 304 cases were described as sexual. Things haven’t changed much since that period.
Now, Kashmiris who have endured years of abductions, enforced disappearances, custodial killings, rape, torture and detentions want to know if the cables’ release will make a difference. Will there be a change in policy on torture internationally? Will these revelations fortify India’s justice mechanism after civil society’s intervention? Or will it propel the Indian mainstream media to report Kashmir’s human rights issues from the highest militarised zone in the world?
Kashmiris want answers.
Serious impediments to human rights can stall progress in any society. Kashmir is no different. In the Valley, the state feels free to flout its own constitution. Therefore, the people expect intervention from the international community.
The summer of 2010 brought on a significant change in the Kashmiri struggle for independence from India. From being a pan-Islamic militant movement sponsored by Pakistan in 1989, it has now transformed into a non-violent indigenous people’s movement. But the response of the state has not altered since the 1990s.
Kashmiris expressed themselves against what they view as an illegal military occupation by India through peaceful protests, civil strikes, sit-ins, internet and graffiti campaigns, rallies and demonstrations.
Despite the fear of arrest, young people have used the internet to post blogs, photographs of human rights violations and videos of killings, while the government gagged the press for weeks.
Since June, over 100 men, women and children have been killed at demonstrations for protesting against widespread human rights violations. All of this happened as the world watched silently.
The leaked US cables stated that, in 2005, ICRC’s findings were also communicated to the UK, France and Holland. They chose to stay silent. And why shouldn’t they, when there are defence deals to be signed and investments to be made in the soaring Indian markets?
Diplomacy, coupled with the prospects of a burgeoning economy, have shielded India from criticism by the global community. Even the UN only issued a statement, urging India to tone down its response to the protesters.
Responding to ICRC’s allegations, an official spokesperson from the Indian ministry of external affairs said: “India is an open and democratic nation which adheres to the rule of law. If and when an aberration occurs, it is promptly and firmly dealt with under existing legal mechanisms, in an effective and transparent manner.”
Meanwhile, J&K’s chief minister Omar Abdullah said the government doesn’t condone torture. Passing the buck, he added, “I am not getting into it… it pertains to 2005, and you know who was in power that time.” Omar was referring to the coalition of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress that ruled the state from November 2002-August 2008.
On Saturday, Indian broadsheet, The Times of India, chose to report on the row over a statement on Hindu terrorism, and comments about Indian Muslims made by former US envoy to New Delhi, David Mulford. In a commentary about India’s 150 million-plus Muslims, Mulford stated: “India’s vibrant democracy, inclusive culture and growing economy have made it easier for Muslim youth to find a place in the mainstream, reduced the pool of potential recruits, and the space in which Islamic extremist organisations can operate.”
There was no mention of torture or of Kashmir in the newspapers.
It is doubtful that India will make changes after these leaks, but hope never dies in places where violence is a way of life. Kashmiris are still hoping, against all odds, for a change.
Courtesy: The Guardian (Guardian.co.uk)